We recently touched base with one of our newest sponsored riders Amber Patupis-Retsas, who at the age of 18 has lived a very interesting life with horses. Amber grew up in Eucla, and for those that don't know where that is, it's a small town on the border of Western Australia and South Australia, 1,500km from Perth. We discussed how living remotely has shaped her life and love for horses.
Where did your love for horses begin?
My mum has always been around horses, working at racing stables and owning rescue horses, but she only rode for a fun and never competed. When I was online schooling in Eucla I obviously couldn’t play a team sport like most people my age, so my mum decided horses were a great option so I could train at home and then compete and go to Pony Club when we were in Esperance (900kms from Eucla).
Tell us a bit about your life in Eucla with the horses.
It was definitely a challenge. We had to find ways to get feed from Esperance which usually ended up being trucks with some spare space. Our closest town is actually in SA but due to quarantine we couldn’t take feed across the border. Every time I wanted to compete or attend Pony Club in Esperance it was a 10-hour drive which was a huge hurdle but I feel this contributed to my determination as a rider.
At what age did you start competing, what was your first competition & on what horse?
I started attending Pony Club and doing local events at around 7 years old on my pony Dolly. She was a 12hh Australian Riding x Welsh with the usual pony, mare attitude! Our first competition would have been the Esperance ODE in 2014 when I was 9. I fell off at the first cross country jump and it actually took me two years to get around a course! Dolly was definitely a challenging pony but she for sure taught me resilience.
What horses are you currently competing on, tell us a little bit about them.
I am currently competing on Touchstone Felix and I will be upgrading him to the 2* level at our next event. He was previously campaigned by Tegan Lush up to 3* until we purchased him in 2019. He is a 14-year-old, 16.1hh Australian Stock Horse x Thoroughbred who was actually bred for polocrosse but grew too tall! Felix is a very challenging horse and doesn’t give me any room for error but for this reason he has taught me so much. I also have my 7-year-old OTT Elena Park Sobrero who started competing last year and is now competing at Eva95, looking to move up to 1* soon. I also have Elena Park Pontiac who is a 6-year-old ASHxTB who used to be ridden in western disciplines but it just wasn’t for him. He has been a real challenge for me and I’ve had a few accidents on him even though I’ve only owned him a year due to his unpredictable personality. He just did his first event at Yalambi however which was a total success and I am looking forward to his future in show jumping.
What are your greatest achievements to date, and what’s your goal for this year?
My greatest achievement on Felix would probably be placing at our first Equestrian in the Park in 2020. My goals with Felix have never really been about placing, especially in the last year since he has been really challenging for me and can be very hesitant and unsure in the jumping phases. Now that we have got those issues, both in training and soundness, under control I feel that I can start being much more competitive. I am also very proud about the way Soby has been progressing, he has never come back from a competition without a ribbon and I am so proud to have been able to produce such a consistent and competitive horse by myself. My goals for this year are to complete some successful 2*’s on Felix and hopefully some 1*’s on Soby and then get them both to EITP in the Grand Prix and Diamond class respectively.
Has moving to Esperance made competing easier even though it's still considered quite remote? Tell us a little bit about your new property and what you're doing there.
It definitely has made competing much easier although the travel to Perth (8-9 hours) is still a huge barrier. I think the biggest difference between myself and Perth competitors is that I don’t do nearly as many competitions during the year. It would be far too strenuous on the horses to ask them to travel to every event but I think the longer training time between competitions can also be a positive. A year and a half ago I moved to our new 100-acre horse property located 15kms from Esperance town. I started up my own business, Elena Park, where I run agistment with up to 20 horses and a Farmstay. I also coach in my spare time. This has been a great way for me to start paying for my horses myself but definitely can be very difficult to jungle the business with riding and school.
Is getting enough preparation & coaching in the lead up to competitions difficult living in Esperance?
Yep, it is very hard to get coaching down here, in fact the only time I ever get lessons is when coaches fly down for the odd clinic or when I am in Perth and get the chance to stay an extra couple of days and see my coach, Philippa Collier. Part of preparing for competitions is also making sure I have the correct gear for my horses, I feel very luck to be apart of the Kentaur Australia team as they are always prepared to post me gear to try on my horses, finding great quality gear in Esperance is hard! They recently posted me a saddle to try, and I ended up ordering a new Kentaur 'Elektra' Dressage Saddle for Felix. I also use the Kentaur 'Arras' Breastplate and Kentaur 'Mega' Jump Boots. Not to mention the girls in the shop are always happy to make sure I'm also looking my best dress in Cavalleria Toscana and KASK.
You are in your last year of school online, what are your plans for the future?
I’ve recently put in my early entrance for Law at UWA. I might still take a gap year to ride and hopefully compete overseas and then I will be moving up to Perth. I am hoping to still run Elena Park remotely as I’m studying and then see where life takes me from there!
What is some advice you would give to a younger Amber?
The equestrian world is amazing and full of such supportive and encouraging people and you can make some amazing friends along the way, but unfortunately there also can be times when it isn’t so inviting. I would say to younger Amber to not worry about what others think or say and instead of focusing on where I’m placing, focus on how much I’ve improved as an individual. Once I started to aim to improve my riding from event to event instead of my placing I found the sport much more enjoyable and I wasn’t putting so much pressure on myself.