Another great article written by Erin Gilmore of ProEquest (the Professional Equestrian Community) for the Riders4Helmets campaign.
She didn’t set out to be a helmet-wearing role model. But as a former ER nurse, dressage rider and trainer Shiwon Green became just that when she donned a helmet in the dressage ring in 2011. In New Zealand, where Green lives and competes, top hats were still unquestionably ubiquitous in upper level dressage all the way up until last year. When Green pledged to wear her helmet full time, she was the first upper level dressage rider to do so in New Zealand. And she gained plenty of attention for it.
In 2010 Green also gained plenty of attention for marking scores that helped New Zealand earn a berth for this year’s Olympics, an accomplishment that she remains very proud of. And while she’s since retired the horse that got her there, 17-year-old NZ crossbred Gosh, Green is hoping to ride back into the international spotlight in time for the 2016 Games, helmet and all.
She took time out of her busy schedule running Fenlands Sport Horses in Kaipaki, New Zealand, to tell Riders4Helmets just how she came about the decision to permanently don a helmet, the benefit of spending vacation funds on equine training expenses, and the uniqueness of her home country.
Riders4Helmets: It seems a strong connection between being an ER nurse and wearing your helmet. How does your “real life” career impact your decisions around horses?
Shiwon Green: I guess the biggest thing from nursing that made me decide to always wear a helmet was the unpredictability of accidents. They just happen. To good people, to rotten people, to people who take risks and to people who never leave home. Just as with riding – people fall off in the walk, at the gallop, at home, at shows, from the breakers and from schoolmasters. You just can’t predict when it might happen to you.
R4H: How do you balance your working life with a grand prix dressage career?
SG: I’ve never worked fulltime – at least not since 6 months after I graduated. Unless you count having two school age children fulltime work! Up until New Years I was working about 20 hours a week . It was a struggle, especially with clients wanting lessons and sending the odd horse for schooling. Of course I’m not sure it’s any better now – I have more horses to work and it’s still just me – I’m only just getting to the point now where I can afford to hire a part time stable hand. I’d often go to shows on my own with two horses, which gets ridiculous. My day generally starts at 5 in the morning, I come in when it gets dark and fall in bed about 9 after making all my phone calls and catching up with emails. Good thing I love it! And my family is so tolerant…
R4H: What inspires you as a rider?
SG: Harmony. And Power. I love that feeling where you just have to think something and your horse responds – even I’m not aware of my aids sometimes. And when they really, truly try for you. As far as riders go, I’m a massive fan of the Brits – Carl Hester & Charlotte Dujardin.
R4H: Can you tell us a bit about your horses, is it true you just retired your top horse?
SG: That’s partly true. I decided to retire him from International competition. In my mind, he’d gone as far as he was capable of – a lot further than I ever dreamed possible when I first started, that’s for sure! The New Zealand officials decided that although we had helped qualify our first ever team for dressage at the Olympics, to actually get the nod to participate we were required to post a couple of 68% at CDI level. Gosh certainly was capable of gaining a CoC but I thought 68% was too much of an ask for a little horse who had already given me his heart & soul. After all we’re talking about a small crossbred gelding who didn’t get out of First level until he was 10!! Oh, and he was my first ever dressage horse… Anyway he is now playing schoolmaster for a friend who truly respects him and the journey we have taken together and is over the moon with the opportunity to ride such a cool little horse. He may compete again but just at National level.
My next up and comer is Da Vinci who is an 8yo De Niro x Flemmingh gelding. I’ve had Des since he was 4 and I have to say he is an absolute super star. I’m very excited by his future. Where Gosh did everything by heart alone, this guy has that and the physical talent, too. Last season he finished up with a 68% in the Inter I freestyle at our end of season CDI – that was just his 4th show at PSG level and he was still in 3rd gear. He will have another season at PSG/Inter I although he is schooling all the GP at home.
I also have a rather large, very green 4yo at home by NZ’s prolific sire Anamour – both our current Olympic contenders are by this Hannoverian stallion. KO Altitude is owned and bred by Angela Kelly and will hopefully debut at First level this season.
In addition I do have one other trick up my sleeve. Nothing is confirmed as yet, so we’ll just call him my ‘second chance’.
R4H: And what about riding in NZ? What is the greatest challenge, and greatest benefit?
SG: I guess the greatest asset for riding in New Zealand is the accessibility for the ‘masses’ to the sport. We have lots of space and plenty of horses and the costs of keeping a horse here are low. So at least at entry level there are many options.
However as you move up the levels it becomes tougher. The isolation is an issue for many reasons. There are only two CDIs held in New Zealand every year and ridiculously they are both held in a two week period so if your horse is not ready then, you’re out of luck. Our nearest neighbours the Australians are a $20K round trip away, and that would just cover one show. We don’t have the culture of owners or private sponsors here – most of us are completely self-funded and there is not much money to be made training. I guess because everyone is used to everything being so cheap here, they aren’t willing to pay for it. Also those of us that are riding at the top level have very limited access to good trainers. Those that we do have come sporadically at best and are horrendously expensive by the time you factor in flights & accommodation… We don’t have many purpose built facilities – I personally operate out of a very makeshift barn with just a large misshapen outdoor arena – challenging at this time of year!
In saying that, New Zealand is a wonderful place to be. Gorgeous beaches & forests and the chance to keep our horses outdoors 24/7 all year round.
R4H: What are your riding goals? Will you be aiming for the Olympics, now that NZ has qualified a team?
SG: No, the option to aim for the Olympics was gone when I decided to retire Gosh. We have a limited pool of Grand Prix horses here in New Zealand and I would be struggling to afford a nice foal, let alone a schooled horse! However Rio in 2016 on Da Vinci sounds pretty good to me!!
R4H: What did it feel like to be on the team that helped qualify NZ for London?
SG: It was awesome to be part of that. Five combinations traveled to Australia to contest that competition and without exception the horses were self-produced. We had each sweated blood to get there with many sacrifices along the way. Just the previous year I had funded my own trip to Australia to gain mileage. It cost me our much need new kitchen and our family holiday (which never comes off anyway, because I always spend it on the horses) but was worth every cent when we went back the following year and I was able to use the knowledge of the venue and the relationships gained in my previous trip. The girls whom I had the honour of being on the team with are a fantastic bunch and so supportive.
R4H: Were you actually the first top dressage rider in NZ to compete in a helmet? (It’s not actually a rule there that you must ride in a top hat, is it?)
SG: Actually when I first wore a helmet, it wasn’t legal under Dressage New Zealand rules and as the first show I wore the helmet at was a regional show I could have (should have?) been eliminated. There was a clause in the FEI rules that ‘in the interests of safety’ a rider could elect to wear a safety helmet, so I guess the judges deferred to that even though it wasn’t an FEI level show. I wasn’t the first, I definitely know of one other rider who wore a helmet, I think at PSG level at a local show prior to my ‘coming out’ however she has reverted to the top hat since then.
R4H: Can you pinpoint exactly when and why you decided to compete in a helmet?
SG: Over a bottle of wine and a cake of dark chocolate with friend and head injury awareness campaigner, Elizabeth Charleston! Where all good decisions are made! The why side of things is a little more complex but basically I wanted to give other riders options. I think all over the world people bow to the traditional side of things and here in New Zealand we are no different. I thought if I was wearing a helmet and someone else wanted to they wouldn’t feel unusual doing so. It also fits in with my own beliefs, it means I can look my kids in the eye, and gives young riders a safety conscious role model.
R4H: We know, we know, helmet-wearing shouldn’t even be worth special recognition. From your experiences, how long do you think it will take for universal helmet-wearing to catch on in your country?
SG: Probably a lot longer than Europe now!! I’m not quite as idolized as Isabell Werth & Charlotte Dujardin, the fact these outstanding riders are now wearing helmets fulltime hopefully means it will become accepted generally. In fact that might have a trickledown effect here. I’m sure more riders will want to emulate Charlotte than me!! It’s kinda cool to be the trendsetter though…
Editor’s Note: both Shiwon Green and Elizabeth Charleston were recipients of 2011 Equestrian Helmet Hero Awards.