This week I’m excited to be chatting with New Zealand international dressage rider, Vanessa Way. Vanessa is one of three riders in the New Zealand high performance squad and runs her own dressage yard in New Zealand where she coaches other riders as well as schooling her own horses. Read on to discover more about this extremely talented equestrian, her horse, her ambitions, and top tips for success.
Tell us a little about you and your horses
Hi, my name is Vanessa Way. I am a New Zealand International Grand Prix Dressage rider. I run my own dressage yard and as well as schooling horses from youngsters to Grand Prix level I also train and coach riders.
How did horses come into your life?
Well, I was horse obsessed from the moment I can remember. I used to lasso my sister and make her pull me on a makeshift cart. My mother confiscated my sticks which I would’ve only used on my sister, not a horse :-).
I eventually stalked a local pony breeder Nola Ellis when I was 8 years old, Where I learnt to ride and then back all the young ponies. My parents were not at all horsey and I lived in a townhouse.
Nola was amazing and let me work for her to pay for my ponies, competing etc. My parents supported me as much as possible, but I was one of five children, and financing a horse obsessed child was an impossible feat. However mentoring me to work hard and teaching me the reality of my expensive sport, gave me the ability to choose wisely.
Eventually, I purchased an off the track racehorse for $500 when I turned 17 and was able to compete and ride Nola Ellises pony (riding for Nola I got my first taste of dressage, winning the 1988 North Island dressage championships)
I then turned my hand to eventing with my new project, Kungfu Boy. He was such an incredible horse, a super talented boy. I trained him up working for my instructors in any way possible, spraying vertical hillsides if needed for my lessons and rides to competitions.
Together we won the 1993 NZ eventing young rider championships. He was amazing. He later damaged a tendon and as he was my special boy and I didn’t have my own property I gifted him to my fellow equestrian boss Mary Wilson for her young daughter on the condition he was never to be sold and would be retired on their farm.
Along the way I learned to train racehorses and because of my parent’s advice instead of buying flash lorries (which as a youngster without their advice would have been my option) I bought a rental property etc.
Fast forward to 1998 and I had another top eventer Roman Abbie of which we had a second in the NZ one day championships only to have a rotational fall a month later while competing at the three day. Roman was killed outright breaking his neck. I fractured my back in five places, however I was heartbroken and from that point my personal love of eventing died. After I recovered enough to ride again I purchased another TB and with the encouragement of trainer Bill Noble, the new addiction of dressage was born.
Today I own a team of 8 dressage horses. From a foal up to 2 Grand Prix horses. I start and produce all my horses.
When and where do you ride?
I now have my own property now and train riders for my dream life.
What do you love about riding?
I just love horses and love spending my life with them. Our sport can be hard, but I just love smelling them, looking into those big brown eyes. They don’t care if I’m a winner, but they do care that I love them and make their lives happy and full. Everyone needs to remember this when it comes to competition, it is our egos! Horses don’t understand this and we owe it to them that they are everything not a silly ribbon.
What would you like to be doing in the future and do you have any goals?
I am currently on the New Zealand high performance squad (one of three riders, me being the only NZ based rider. The other my pupil Mellissa Galloway who is now based at Anna Van Holst).
I constantly concentrate on bettering myself as a rider and a trainer. That is my total focus. I would love to represent my country again internationally, however Covid is proving impossible being based in NZ and unable to leave and return.
However having trained and been based with My lovely friend Carl Hester, I am very realistic how good I need to be to be competitive on the world stage. In the interim I do believe I have exceptional young horses, so it’s up to me to keep being honest in my training and move forward.
Have you ever had to deal with nerves in riding and how do you deal with them?
I have learnt to compete, having worked with a fantastic sport physiologist David Galbrieth. I used to think too much and not feel my horses which would affect my performance. Now I truly concentrate on trusting my feeling and riding the test for what I feel. This has lifted my performance with a personal best of 75 percent in the Grand prix test.
In the early days I read a lot and did a lot of self talk and I still do that today.
Your Top Tip
Be your own judge! What movement- what mark!
e.g. Even in walk, pay attention. If its a free rein; how good is it? And what mark? Be like Charlotte Dujardin and ride for that perfect 10
The Final Furlong
Who would be your dream horse to ride?
Now at my age, I just love riding my own horses as they are the image of my training. I’ve been very privileged to ride the best horse in the world Valegro ridden by my other hero Charlotte Dujardin so I don’t think I can ever top that.
Who is your equestrian hero?
My equestrian hero is without a doubt Carl Hester as I have known him well for 12 years.. He is the most amazing human to all animals and people. I have witnessed living with him first hand and he really is everything you think he is.
If you could have 5 people to dinner who would they be?
My husband Brooke Hughes
Favourite colour horse?
Favourite horse event
World Equestrian Games
Chocolate Afghan biscuits made by husband’s mum Jan
Favourite way to relax
Spending time with my dogs and husband
If you enjoyed meeting Vanessa you might like to view more chatting with interviews here You can keep up with Vanessa’s progress and check out her instagram page here