Holly Moorman placed 6th with 70.7% in the CDI1* Inter I test on Very Special 2 at Hagen at the weekend. PHOTO: Foto Mhisen.

It’s 30 degrees in Düsseldorf, Germany and 10 horses are lined up for Holly Moorman to school for a sixth day in a row.   But tomorrow she can sleep in.  That’s the level of commitment that has taken her from pony club riding in Kaukapakapa, north Auckland as a child, to becoming a dressage rider on the international show circuit.  It’s the journey many young riders dream of, but few manage to navigate.

Holly has been working at the dressage stable of McLean Reitsport since 2018, owned and operated by Australian Grand Prix rider Warwick McLean and his Finnish wife Carolina.  She began as a working student for Warwick to experience a dressage stable in Europe and “hopefully get a little bit of riding in”.  She was given the opportunity to ride some of his horses and eventually got a riding job.  Her journey has been inspiring.

Holly started riding when she was nine, taking her own pony to the local Pony Club.  A typical kiwi youngster, she was more interested in jumping than dressage, and competed in show hunter until she was 21. 

She worked with Jody Hartstone who introduced her to Equitation Science and starting young horses, and also with Kieryn Walton who started more of an interest in dressage horses.  Holly went on to complete a Diploma of Equitation Science with the Australian Equine Behaviour Centre, established by Warwick’s parents Dr Andrew and Manuela McLean.

“Working with horses at the AEBC in Melbourne, learning their training theories then starting to apply the training, improved the harmony I was developing with the horses and an understanding of how they learn. This improved my work on the flat and groundwork skills – even when I was jumping,” says Holly. 

It was through this connection that she became a working student for Warwick and got to experience a dressage stable in Europe. At McLean Reitsport, there are approximately 60 horses in training, for sale and for competing.  There is a strong emphasis on groundwork and ethical horse training, with The Australian Equine Behaviour Centre philosophy behind the stable’s approach.

Holly and 7-year-old Vancouver aka “Big Red”.

Holly rides around 10-12 dressage horses a day, and this can mean anything from working with a team starting young 3-year-olds, to schooling advanced horses up to Grand Prix.  They’re mostly big German warmbloods up to 18hh, but size doesn’t phase Holly who, herself, is 188cm or 6ft 2 tall. 

“We often get horses that are a bit difficult or that other people have found hard to train, and develop them into safe, relaxed dressage horses. They can be sensitive and athletic, and sometimes we need to go back to basics to make sure their responses are good and the training is clear,” she says.

Holly also trains with the highly regarded Danish trainer Morten Thomson. She says North-Rhine Westphalia is a strong area for German dressage with many stables in the area, and some big names nearby including Olympic Champion rider Isabell Werth who lives 30 minutes down the road.

“Championship shows and seeing all the top riders and horses gives you a lot of inspiration.  Aachen is really amazing, with the three disciplines in the one spot and at such a top level.  It’s a favourite show to go to each year.”

“At the stables, we have a really good international community.  I have good friends here, some Germans and others are Australians, but not too many Kiwis.  Flying by have been visitors  Sarah Wilkinson and Melissa Galloway who I have enjoyed catching up with.  Otherwise, you get used to the German personalities when you are here for a long while!” she laughs.

She says being exposed to the high quality of horses, training and competitions has helped to improve her own riding and horsemanship skills by being immersed in such a stimulating learning environment.

Holly has been competing a number of horses, including an 8-year-old, a 7-year-old and a couple of 4-year-olds and achieved some good placings. The goal is competing Grand Prix, but also to keep improving her skills at bringing horses through the levels.

Recently, she began competing on Very Special 2, paddock name “Fluffy”, a 12-year-old dark bay warmblood mare by Royal Classic out of a Landioso mare, on whom she has achieved some wins and placings at S level (Prix St George/Inter I) this season in national German shows. 

Holly Moorman on Very Special 2.  PHOTO: Foto Mhisen

“She is a really consistent show horse, tries her best, and she has been feeling good, but I hadn’t been training her too hard over the past week as it had been so hot.”

And just this weekend, the great news came through to us that they placed sixth with 70.7% in Hagen in their first international show, at CDI1*.

“It was very cool riding under the NZ flag!” she says.

On days like that, she says, the personal sacrifices she has had to make, certainly pay off.

“It’s a sacrifice, but it’s definitely worth it for improving your riding and stable management skills as it makes a huge difference being in Europe.  Warwick and Carolina are wonderful mentors,  and the horses teach you a lot too.  In such a busy stable you get plenty of opportunities to gain experience producing different types of horses – whether they are hot and sensitive horses or less motivated ones, each with different conformations and abilities, they are all unique.”

Holly’s plan is to stay in Düsseldorf for a while longer, and take things as they go.  She says she will definitely go back to New Zealand to live eventually, after all that’s always home and where her family are.