Melissa Galloway (Right) and her sister/groom Sarah, Parkes (Left), ready for the next stage of their Road to Paris. Photo Credit NZ Olympic Committee

The ‘pinch me’ moments just keep coming for New Zealand’s top-ranked dressage rider Melissa Galloway who leaves on Monday for a run of pinnacle events that she hopes will culminate at the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.

“It is quite surreal,” says the Marlborough rider who finished 2023 as the 27th ranked dressage rider in the world. “It is hard to believe what happened last year and qualifying for all these huge events. It is literally my dreams come true.” The latest ‘biggie’ is being accepted as the wild card entry to the Dutch Masters’ in early March.

Melissa and Windermere J’Obei W – Joey to his mates – fly to Amsterdam and will base again with Van Olst Horses where they will continue to train under Anne Van Olst. Melissa has continued to train with Anne while back in New Zealand and says it continues to help them improve. The combination has cemented themselves in the New Zealand dressage history books for their rapid rise, record breaking performances, and results on the world stage.

“Joey is an absolute angel,” says Melissa. “He is just amazing. I never have a bad ride and he is such a happy chap. At 13, he has years ahead of him. The sky really is the limit.

“At this level, the smallest things can make the biggest impact. I feel we have unlocked a new level. If we have got this far, imagine how much more we can do. It really has opened our eyes. The gains in just one year have been crazy.”

They’ve got a big year ahead with the FEI World Cup final in Saudi in April, Aachen CHIO in late June, and then – all things going well – the Paris Olympic Games.

While Melissa has topped Group G FEI Olympic Rankings and in doing so earned New Zealand an individual slot at the Games, that has to be ratified by the FEI which will happen on February 19.

“Just saying all those events in a row is unreal,” she says.

And she is in a good space. “I feel really good about it and have so much confidence in Joey. We have such a strong relationship and he never puts me wrong. I just want to enjoy this year, remember why I do this, what I love and to fulfill my dreams.”

Her goal is simple – to continue to notch personal bests. “When I was younger I just wanted to win a title or class but you very quickly learn that is not the way to think. I always want to do better than I did last time – if I can, then I am happy.”

Her current bests are 74.3% for the Grand Prix, 75.7% for the Grand Prix Special and 79.89% for the Freestyle to Music.

The latter is her favourite but she has only ridden her new one twice. “I think it is the best thing ever.” She did the choreography and works with Finn Sami Tormi on the music. “He has worked with me on my last two freestyles and has a good understanding of my vision.”

She’s excited to have husband Lachy with her on this trip, her sister Sarah Parkes as her groom for the big events, and her parents ringside for every competitive outing. “I can’t do it without my family or my faith,” she says. Melissa wears a special little cross broach on her tails. “It has been passed down from my grandmother, who was a minister in the Methodist Church, to my aunt who passed it to me so is very special.”

By Diana Dobson – HP Media Liaison