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  • Writer's pictureFran Cleland

Nina drives from Daly Waters to Darwin to follow dressage dream

ABOVE: The station airstrip makes a good practice arena for Nina and Legendman.

SO you like competing at dressage but don’t like to travel far.

Imagine being Nina Harris, whose work area for training is often an airstrip and going to a competition means a 670km one-way drive from Daly Waters to Darwin.

Last weekend at the Darwin Dressage Club annual awards, Nina received the reserve champion off-the-track Thoroughbred trophy for the novice division for her efforts riding her bay Thoroughbred Legendman.

Nina usually travels to competitions alone, with her partner Barty needed at home due to the station work.

“It’s a bloody lot of work to do alone but I am so grateful I am able to do it,” she said.

“I usually split the trip up over two days for the horse’s sake.

“It’s 670kms one way so even if I do the trip in one day it still takes a good eight to nine hours with rest stops for the horse.

“The friends I have in Katherine and Darwin help me when I am away from home.”

ABOVE: Nina Harris and Jimmy Jim competing in Darwin. “It’s hard keep a grey this colour when you live in red dirt,” Nina says. “After the 30k trip on the dirt road before the highway the horses are absolutely covered in red dust so all the show prep gets done when I get to our destination.”

Horse mad as long as she can remember, Nina would as a child use a blanket and pillow as a saddle and a rope with loops in the ends as stirrups.

“We lived on the Fraser Coast and my older siblings rode, but we moved when I was very young and no longer had the facilities for horses,” she said.

“I got my first horse and started pony club in my early twenties. I mostly competed in jumping and eventing in the lower levels. It was just a hobby that I loved and did it for fun.”

Nina’s love of the outback saw her to move to the NT from Queensland to work on stations.

“That was the year I got Olly – aka Legendman – fresh off the track,” she said.

“He spent a few years mustering. I then moved back to Queensland to work at a feedlot where he was my main feedlot horse for two years.

ABOVE: Champion district rider with Olly.

“Doing all that cattle work and being exposed to everything stations and feedlot life throws at you has helped to produce a solid all-round legend of a horse.”

After a short while spent back home, Nina moved again.

“In 2021 I made my final move back to the NT as I just love it up here,” she said.

“Somehow in the weird ways of the world it’s allowed me to be able to complete my horses in the way I have only ever dreamed.”

Barty and Nina were first friends and workmates and Nina describes him as unbelievably supportive “and believed in me before I did”.

“He is an amazing horseman and having spent many years successfully competing in saddle bronc riding he has given me a lot of help with the mindset part of competing.

“He will even sit up with me holding horses while I plait manes until midnight the night before competitions. A very different scene that he was used to. He keeps my horses shod too, which great due to my location.”

Even though Nina spent time mustering, jumping and eventing – and still loves the idea of jumping – she admits she lacks the confidence for it, so she decided on the dressage path.

“The more I learn the more I love it,” she said.

“I absolutely love that it does not matter the breed or price tag on your horse you can achieve great results with time, training and consistency.

“I have taken Olly from prep to novice with limited coaching due to location. Now that I have access to a great coach in Nicole Mutimer, I’m able to progress with each lesson and always have her to chat to when I have questions.

“Olly has brought so many of my dreams come true, he has earnt me many broad sash ribbons in the past three years, something I didn’t actually think I could achieve.

“This is a reason I just love Thoroughbreds. They can be so versatile.”

ABOVE: This, according to Nina, is a typical afternoon if and when the horses decide to come in for dinner after being “god only knows where on the 400 something acre property. Having a riding schedule is dependent on them choosing the time and days they want to come home”.

Because one horse is never enough (as any horse lover will tell you) Nina's coach found her another Thoroughbred, Jimmy Jim, and a grey at that.

“He raced in Victoria and spent a few years in the NT before I owned him,” Nina said.

“He copes very well in both the dry heat that we have on the station and the relentless humidity in Darwin when competing.

“He is completely different to Olly … much more sensitive and he is really helping me grow and fine tune my riding and horsemanship skills. I am very excited about our future. At our first competition we scored 77.3 per cent in prep tests and I remember thinking that I would have never thought I would have a horse that could give me those scores.

“He also took out reserve champion hunter hack at our first hack show held by Darwin Show Horse Club.”

When Nina started dressage, like so many people she set herself a goal.

“I wanted to be able to ride a decent novice test, I didn’t think it could actually happen. But now I am competing at novice I have my goals set on elementary for both horses.”

Due to the vast distances to travel to events, Nina has taken advantage of online dressage competitions for feedback and help progress the horses.

She has her heart set on competing at the NT Masters Games in Alice Springs next year.

“Having the support of my coach Nicole and the NT Institute of Sport equestrian team has been a very big part of my motivation and success,” Nina said.

“Like the saying goes, ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ and I think this also applies to the horse competition world.

“I could not do what I do without Barty, my coach and dressage team, my friends, vet and chiropractor for both myself and my horses.”

ABOVE: Back home on the station with Barty and her boys.

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