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  • Writer's pictureFran Cleland

Young rider shares what it's like to represent Australia at just 18

ABOVE: Mackenzie Walch and Will flying high. Picture: CHRISTINE CORNEGE

MACKENZIE Walch, 18, has only been riding seriously since 2014 but the talented young eventer has just represented her country for the first time.

Taking up riding when her older sister gave up, she was so keen that her mother said the family had to move to a bigger property to cope with the growing horse population.

With eventing as her first love, she rose through the ranks and is now part of a group of young Tasmanian riders who find it necessary each year to compete on the mainland to get strong competition experience.

It was while competing in Victoria two years ago that Mackenzie became aware of an opportunity to ride for Australia.

“I first heard about the Oceania Teams while competing at the Melbourne International in 2022 and was immediately inspired to set that goal,” she said.

“To represent your country as a young rider was just a faraway dream and little did I realise that I would actually be selected to compete in New Zealand less than two years later.”

The Oceania championship should have taken place in 2023 but was postponed as the Horse of the Year show was cancelled due to a cyclone that hit New Zealand a few weeks prior.

ABOVE: Mackenzie with Will. Picture: LIBBY LAW

Selection meant Mackenzie had to be eventing at three-star level so she set out to do that in Victorian events.

“I successfully competed at a number of CCN and CCI3*S events and then my coach Sonja Johnson suggested I give the CCI3*L at the Sydney International a go,” she said.

“The only issue was that I was finishing Year 12 and my exams were on the Friday and Monday either side of the Sydney International.

“Luckly, I managed to get an exemption to use derived results for the Friday exam and I flew straight home from Sydney to Tasmania on the Sunday night after jumping off my second horse after showjumping to catch a flight home for exams on Monday.”

The Sydney International event was a successful one for the youngster with a personal best dressage score and double clear cross country and showjumping in the very hot conditions.

The results put Mackenzie on the National Young Rider Talent Identification squad.

“I submitted my application for the Oceania Teams and in the meantime, I moved with my three horses all the way from Tasmania to Albany, Western Australia, to train and live with Sonja on her remote sheep station.

“I was so excited to receive a call in December congratulating me on being selected on the team with my horse Eliva Corduroy, or Will as we call him at home.”

Now all the planning and logistics had to start and Mackenzie found it was not easy to join a team leaving from Sydney while based in faraway Albany.

A fundraising campaign was needed as while senior teams are fully funded, it’s not the case for young riders.

“I did loads of training and was lucky enough to benefit from lessons with Bettina Hoy and Chris Bartel over summer in Perth.  We also had team zoom sessions to get to meet everyone and start preparing for the trip,” she said.

“A week prior to leaving Perth, Andrew Barnett came over to conduct a high-performance clinic which was excellent. We arranged that Will and I would head east 10 days or so before the team left Sydney.”

The team, which included fellow Tasmanian rider Britany Hirst who trains in NSW, plus support personnel from Equestrian Australia, grooms and horses met at the Sydney International Equestrian Centre and then flew to Auckland.

The horses stayed in quarantine facilities on the Sunday night in Auckland before the team travelled to Hastings where the Horse of the Year Show was held.

ABOVE: Job well done in the dressage. Picture: LIBBY LAW
ABOVE: Heading out on the cross country course. Picture: MICHELLE CLARKE
ABOVE: Looking confident across country. Picture: LIBBY LAW
ABOVE: Just one rail down in the showjumping for fifth place. Picture: CHRISTINE CORNEGE

Mackenzie was impressed by the huge event.

“This show is massive and held over six days,” she said. “It encompasses showing, breed horses, mounted games, dressage, show jumping and eventing.

“It is the biggest event I have ever been to and the crowds were huge.”

Will performed admirably, rising from 13th after dressage, clear with time across country and one rail down in showjumping to place to fifth individually.

The Kiwi young rider team won, but the Aussies are hoping for a return bout on home soil later in the year.

“It was an amazing experience being on an Australian young rider team,” Mackenzie said.

“Having the Australian flag on our saddle blankets, Australian team uniforms and Australian team back numbers was quite surreal.

“We were supported by so many people and learnt so much, from flying horses internationally to riding with a team.

“It was an amazing experience that I would do anything to do again.”

ABOVE: The team – chef d’ equipe Amanda Ross, Bethany Hirst, Olivia Shore, Mackenzie Walch and Molly Lines. Picture: LIBBY LAW

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