Rider Series: Discussing Work/Riding Balance with Sarah Micallef
We are introducing our new rider series where we tackle horse-related topics with some of our favourite riders!
This blog post discusses finding the elusive work/riding balance, dealing with disappointment and setting goals. We thought there would be no better person to dive into these topics with than our very own sponsored rider Sarah Micallef. So join us for our first rider series Q&A, and get to know Sarah a little more along the way!
Where did your love for horses begin?
None of my family were into horses. I tried everything from ballet, swimming, karate, tennis and badminton. Horse riding was the only thing I wanted to stick at, despite both my parents discouraging me. At the age of four-years-old, I had a pony ride up and down a 50m driveway at a riding school, and from then on, I continued to have lessons, and eventually, I leased horse. In the end, I talked my grandad into buying me an OTT at the age of 12, which was crazy chestnut mare. The rest is history!
What are some of your most significant riding achievements to date?
Re-educating ex-racehorses is my most significant achievement and by far the most rewarding. It tests your patience and dedication, along with teaching you not to give up. Riding at Equestrian In The Park (EITP), which is one of WA's most prestigious events would have to be one of my most recent highlights. Looking back on how Movie (one of Sarah's current Off The Track horses) and I got there over the three years is incredible, and our partnership started back at the basics of re-education.
What horses are you currently competing? Tell us a little about them.
Movie is my 16.1hh 7-year-old OTT who was purchased 50/50 with a friend of mine for $150. He was only supposed to be a project horse (said everyone whos owned at OTT), but after re-training him for six months, I fell in love with him and decided to buy my friend out. As a 4-year-old, he was only 15.3hh, and his head didn't look like it belonged to his body, but he developed into something perfect for me. Movie has been textbook in regards to re-training and is a big cuddly thug who loves human attention and always has a fear of missing out. We are currently competing at 1*, and consistently producing clear showjumping rounds. He is still very green cross country but improves every event, and at our last event of 2019 we finished on our dressage score.
Blitz is my other OTT, 16.1hh, 6 years old, steel grey. He is extremely sensitive and occasionally spooky, the type that wants to know everything that is going on. Blitz has a charming nature, and although quirky, I know he's going to be a really lovely horse. He's super bold cross country, but his spookiness makes him careful in the showjumping ring, while his personality gives him that wow factor in the dressage arena. He finished 2019 at EvA80, placing in two out of the three events we did. We will start this year at the same level aiming to finish year at EvA95.
What do you do for work (outside of horse)?
I am Claims Broker for an International Insurance Broker specialising in litigation claims and large losses for Mining Companies and Mining Services. Nowadays, I only work four days a week with a couple of agisters at home. Occasionally those four days tend to spill into my days off; this tends to happen when you have your laptop at home and your emails on your phone.
How do you try to balance working and riding competitively?
I have a lot of dedication to my riding because of my love for horses and competing. It also helps me to forget about what is going on in the real world, so I see it as therapy. It is easier having the horses at home and having a floodlit arena to ride in the evening through the winter months. Coming from the UK it isn't so cold, and a bit of rain doesn't bother me. I often get up at 4:30am if I have work commitments and just put a weekly plan together to avoid the horses missing out. Both of them have a fitness and schooling program with Thursdays for lessons and gallops. I generally ride both of them 5/6 times a week before or after work. I do get exhausted, so a couple of early nights through the week are a must, so I don't burn out. TV is overrated anyway!
Do you ever feel your horses don't get enough attention because of work & how do you deal with that heading into a show?
On the odd occasion, but I know how important it is to have my horses fit for the job and if I am not dedicated to work them both, then I wouldn't take them to a competition. Even if I was out riding at 10 pm my horses are always competition fit through the season. Thursday is my day off, so I always pack for the weekend if I have a competition, so on Friday I can either leave straight from work or do a little preparation for an early start on Saturday. My float is always organised, so it's usually not a very big job.
When you're at the show, do you find it easy to forget about work and focus on competing?
There was one event I retired on XC last year because my head was with a presentation I had to give on Monday morning and my client was continually emailing me over the weekend. Generally, I can switch off and have learnt over the years that I work to live, not live to work. Dont get me wrong, this doesn't mean I don't take my work seriously, but I try to remind myself that I work so I can enjoy what I love doing the most, and that is Eventing!
Things don't always go to plan with horses, and disappointment is part of the sport. What are some of the ways you deal with this?
Disappointment is always heartbreaking when you put so much effort in, but I see it as... if you don't have the bad days, you don't appreciate the good days! If you said that to me after a bad performance though you might get a different answer! At the end of the day I try to keep it in perspective, horses are still a sport (although a very life-consuming one) and having bad days will tell you what you need to work harder at.
How do you go about setting your goals for the year?
Every year I put a calendar together, work out what I want to achieve, what events I want to do, and at what grade. Taking two horses is hard work, so I tend to take only one horse to an away event, and two to the local events. I mix it up with some showjumping and dressage for some practice at the start of the year. Reassessing throughout the year is key to excellent goal setting (with horses in particular), evaluating my their progression and whether they are becoming sour, sore or need a mid-season break. I try to give them a couple of weeks off every four months, so they feel refreshed but at the same time don't lose too much fitness. Overall the process is quite broad, but the end of the year goal is quite specific.
So that's the end of our first Rider Series! We would love to know your thoughts and leave us a comment below with any other topics you would like us to cover!