Meg Johnston and BL About Time, Intermediate I NZL title winners at the 2021 FEI World Dressage Challenge in Christchurch.

It’s a long way from the home county of William Shakespeare in Warwickshire, UK to the tiny South Canterbury town of Geraldine, in New Zealand. But 18-year-old secondary school student Meg Johnston is taking it all in her stride after a whirlwind year.

Meg spent last summer working for international riders Gareth and Rebecca Hughes of Hughes Dressage in Warwickshire. Gareth, a British international dressage rider who was an Australian Eventing Dressage coach from 2012-2019, recently competed for the gold medal-winning team Britain at the European Dressage Championships.

“It was a very good experience to see what it’s like working in a professional yard and getting the experience to ride and learn from so many incredible people was great. I’d really like to carry on riding up  the levels to grand prix and hope to represent New Zealand one day,” she says.

Meg has recently been appointed as Dressage New Zealand’s first Youth representative on the national committee, after being nominated by her peers on the Youth Council.

“My role on the national committee is to be an advocate and voice for young dressage riders of all ages and levels.”

The appointment comes two years after she was nominated as an ESNZ #GameChanger for her work helping out younger riders.

“I was coaching a few young riders and I spent a bit of time with them at shows and I really enjoyed coaching and helping. I was stoked to get the recognition,” she says.

Meg is completing her final year at Craighead Diocesan South Canterbury, and lives in Geraldine with her parents who are dairy farmers.

“My parents have given me amazing opportunities to follow my dreams. Mum rode when she was younger. She rode in pony club and did a bit of everything,” she says.

Meg has been riding since she was five. When she was 11, she became interested in dressage and took her first dressage pony up to FEI pony level, before migrating onto horses when she was 14. She competed up to small tour recently on BL About Time (Harry) a Hanoverian (Anamour), that has since been retired from competitions.  She also rides and trains a young horse on behalf of a rider.  She trains with Andrea Raves.

Meg joined the Youth Council when it was formed and was elected financial coordinator in November of 2021.

“I knew how important it was to have a support system behind you and I experienced it with older riders who were there supporting me when I started competing. So, I knew that I would really like to do something with the Council.  It’s great to have such a nice bunch of like-minded riders on the Council and the support of Dressage NZ and the areas to get things up and going.”

The Youth Council, which includes young representatives from across the country, won the Youth of the Year award at the ESNZ Hall of Fame awards in July. Their Facebook group has 352 members.

“One of the Youth Council’s ideas was to have regional young rider gatherings. Alongside youth area reps from around New Zealand, they’ve helped us start these gatherings. From these meetings, we have been able to tell young riders who the Council is and how we can help them. This gives youth the chance to make more friends, for us to hear any concerns or get any positive feedback that they would like to tell us.”

Last winter, the Youth Council held webinars with people like Vanessa Way, Melissa Galloway and John Thompson that gave young riders the opportunity to listen, make new goals and meet someone they could look up to. At the same time, each Youth Council member hosted a webinar once a week for six weeks, giving a guide to starting out in dressage, how to travel your pony, how to register you and your horse, what you should wear and basic etiquette.

So, what does next year look like? Meg says she is still planning. She is looking at studying Political Science and International Relations at the University of Canterbury and also spending some time overseas again, riding and working on a dressage yard. Probably back in Shakespeare’s home county.

Meg Johnston and BL About Time “Harry” has since been retired from competing.