MOODY BLUE is feeling playful the afternoon we meet, nibbling at Jana Stadelmann’s shirt and making her giggle. The graceful 17-year-old Maleny High student pats her horse affectionately, and he laps up the attention.
The rapport between the two is clear — a mutual respect that has enabled Jana to win three state dressage titles in the space of two months.
On June 9 she won first place in Equestrian Queensland’s Young Rider Dressage Championships held in Caboolture, competing with riders between the ages of 12 and 21 from all over Queensland and NSW.
“It was completely unexpected,” says Jana. “It felt amazing and surreal. I was expecting to come mid-field. When we got the results it was crazy, I had no idea I would win. It didn’t sink in for a while.”
Jana also won first place at the Equestrian Queensland Interschool State Championships in Maryborough in late June, and the Queensland Pony Club State Championships in Yepoon in July.
The prestigious wins qualify Jana to compete in Equestrian Australia’s National Dressage Championships, held in Toowoomba in October.
“Some of the riders Jana competed against were members of the National Youth Elite Squad and are already earmarked for the Olympics,” says Erwin.
“Jana had really only competed in Pony Club, but her coaches Lea Bierman and Jenny Gerkhe encouraged her to take part in bigger competitions. Lea said ‘you can be either a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond’.”
Jana spends an average of two hours a day on her sport, including feeding Moody Blue twice a day, as well as weekly lessons and competitions. She’s a straight-A student at school, and between riding and studying for her Year 12 exams, has little time left for a social life and regularly turns down invitations to go to parties or shopping with her friends.
“I’ve had to give up a lot of social stuff,” says Jana. “It’s not a big sacrifice in the scheme of things. It is a little bit — when it happens and I think ‘I should just go with my friends because I do enough with the horses’ — but I know it all adds up. All the time I’ve put in has really worked out, the effort has paid off.”
“Horse riding is not one of those sports where you put the horse in the cupboard like a tennis racket or a bike,” says Jana’s mother, Zita. “You have to deal with it every day. Once you commit yourself to owning the animal it becomes a responsibility and it’s not easy to get out of. We’ve always encouraged Jana to choose to ride her horse instead of doing something else.
“Erwin gives a lot of support, even on a daily basis, like feeding the horses when Jana can’t,” says Zita. “It’s not something she could do totally by herself, she definitely needs the support of the family.”
“When it comes to competitions, she needs to be professional,” says Erwin. “We’ve seen in Pony Club, that the kids who get full support from their parents in getting ready, usually do better in competitions, because there’s a lot to do. There might be five or six hours of preparation the day before a competition.”
Jana got her first horse, Benny, when she was eight and has loved riding ever since. In the beginning, it was all about fun, but Jana was attracted to the precision and skill of dressage, becoming more serious about the sport when the family bought Moody Blue two years ago.
“I like the fact you can control an 1800-kilogram animal without strength,” says Jana. “And it’s really nice to see the development of a young horse, to see him put on muscle and put on condition and really improve the riding.
“I get a lot back from Moody Blue. He loves me and looks up to me. He respects me —most of the time,” she laughs.
“Sometimes he can be a man of his own will. He’s like my best friend, but we do have problems. Sometimes he makes me very angry and I have to walk away. He’s not very cooperative some of the time; we fight and then we love each other, it’s that sort of relationship.”
While Jana plans to study primary school teaching at university, she dreams of a career working with horses.
“Ideally this is my dream,” she says. “The ultimate would be to make it to the Olympics.”
For now, she’s working towards the nationals in October and the NSW Pony Club State Championships in January. Next year she’ll apply for the Queensland Young Rider Squad, and from there, she could well be on her way to the Olympics.
“I wouldn’t have thought I could do it a year ago, or even before I won these competitions, but now it has definitely become my goal.”