Moray-based Matilda Haley, 15, has achieved outstanding success in the dressage arena over the past 12 months with her 14-year-old, 16.2hh dressage horse, Watch Me! or Gari as he’s known at home.
Kicking off their competitive career at the beginning of 2016, the combination won the British Dressage Winter Regional Freestyle to Music at Medium level in February last year, qualifying for Matilda’s first NAF Five Star Winter Championships at Hartpury College in Gloucestershire the following April.
Matilda said: “This was a great experience, what dreams are made of. I saw one of my heroes giving a lesson to a rider warming up for the nationals which was surreal – I was a bit star-struck as a 14-year-old. We came 12th out of 18 at Hartpury and we were the youngest by far. I learned a lot about myself and Gari there.”
Winning the Dengie Pony Club Winter Dressage Area Final, the duo then went to Addington, Buckinghamshire the following April and claimed the National Open Dressage Title and the Dressage to Music Open Title at the same event.
Two months later, they were selected to represent Scotland on the British Young Riders Dressage Scheme (BYRDS) Inter-Regional team in North Yorkshire.
August saw Matilda and Gari compete in the British Dressage Summer Regionals where they finished 6th in the Medium silver section and 7th in the Elementary silver section, a promising result from only seven months competing together.
In the same month, the combination headed to Cholmondeley Castle, Cheshire to represent their pony club, Deeside Branch, and contest the Pony Club Elite Dressage and Dressage to Music Open National titles. They came second in the Elite Dressage (Medium level) and took the Dressage to Music Open title at the championships the next day, putting them on the podium twice that weekend.
The highlight of each year for young dressage riders is the massive U25s Sheepgate Championships held in Lincolnshire. The competition draws many of the top U25 riders from all over the UK, including many who are already on Team GB U25. Matilda and Gari fought off 90 starters in the Elementary section to take the U25 Sheepgate Elementary Champions 2016 title. They also competed in the U25 Medium Championships and came second in a tough class with only 1% separating first and second place – two more podium places within 10 days.
October saw Matilda lift the British Dressage Scotland BYRDS A-Squad trophy at the inaugural BYRDS Championship show in Fife. The same month, she was selected to attend the national BYRDS High Performance Camps held over winter in Gloucester and the West Midlands for up and coming young dressage riders fulfilling a specific criteria.
In December, to end an incredible year, Matilda and Gari were selected to join the HorseScotland Development Squad. Matilda was the youngest member for the 2017-2018 intake and will now have access to top training, advice on fitness, anti-doping, biomechanics, physio and marketing and PR for the next two years.
2017 has already proven successful with Matilda and Gari competing at the British Dressage Winter Regionals last month. Matilda finished fourth in her section out of 15 riders in her straight Medium test and third out of 10 riders in her Freestyle to Music Medium test. In both tests, she was the highest placed under 21 and gained an award for her achievements.
The combination is now focusing on moving up to Advanced Medium level and will compete at various summer area and regional competitions. Her training will be aimed towards the BYRDS Home International where Matilda hopes to be selected to represent Scotland at the competition in July this year.
With the help of HorseScotland inspirational trainer Erik MacKechnie and top Scottish Dressage Rider, Jo Barry and the trainers at the BYRDS High Performance Camps, they hope to realise their dream of being invited before the BYRDS GB Junior selectors in September this year.
Matilda thanks her school, The Gordon Schools in Huntly, for their unending support, Dengie Horse Feeds of which she is a brand ambassador and HorseScotland for all the help and sponsorship she receives through them.