Mary Baker talks to event rider: Amanda Brewer
A few visits to Britain convinced Amanda Brewer that the thing she wanted most in the world was to leave her home in Australia and make her way to the UK. Looking out on muddy fields and pouring rain we may find that hard to understand but look at it from her point of view.
Amanda had climbed the eventing ladder in Australia to compete in Advanced 3* events. With her horse, The Thomas, she had achieved 2nd at Melbourne and 3rd at Gawler 3 Day Events. Her ultimate aim was the Olympics but she realised that the wealth of experience to draw on in England and nearby Europe was not available to her from Australia and she was desperate to learn as much as she could. An invitation to base herself at a well reputed training yard over here seemed too good a chance to miss. Amanda says "I decided to sell my cottage and successful livery yard at home and invest everything in a future over here". She waved a very sad goodbye to her family and friends and made the long journey with her three horses, The Thomas, Badger and Barkala Beaver, to England aiming to further her career and compete at such events as Burghley and Badminton.
That initial journey, made 8 years ago seems to have been the easy bit. Arrival in England did not bring Amanda's dreams closer. A catalogue of disasters, which would have sent most people running home with their tails between their legs, came her way. At their first event Amanda and The Thomas were unprepared for the deep going and, for the first time ever, parted company on the cross country. Despite excruciating pain in her leg Amanda remounted and completed the course only to find that she had badly smashed her ankle. This brought her eventing and training to an abrupt halt. Following a convalescent period Amanda and The Thomas got back to work but sadly after only two Advanced events, The Thomas had to be put down. The bad luck did not end there however; it was not long before Badger also had to be destroyed. If you have ever experienced the loss of a horse you may have some idea as to how distressing it must have been to lose not just one but two of your friends, thousands of miles away from home.
Not to be deterred, Amanda carried on with Beaver and they competed at Windsor, Osberton and Blarney. Then Beaver started to develop a problem with drop fences. Amanda was training with Mark Phillips at that time and he suggested taking veterinary advice. The upshot of that hailed the end of Beaver's eventing career with the diagnosis from Cambridge University showing he was unable to cope with the jarring on the big drops. With Beaver's jumping days at an end and with no other horses in the stable, change of direction was called for.
Buoyant is one word to describe Amanda Brewer. Push her down but she will soon bob back up again with that warm smile of hers. "Several people, including Carl Hester, told me I mustn't give up" she says "and I now feel a door has opened for me". The door Amanda is referring to is the one to Conrad Schumacher's training establishment in Germany.
Last June, Amanda's trainer, Sandy Phillips, invited her to go with her to Germany. "Sandy was going over for instruction with Conrad Schumacher and naturally, I jumped at it" she says. Amanda took Beaver with her with the intention of having schooling from Sandy as well as watching and learning from Sandy's training with Conrad. Towards the end of her first morning session with Sandy, Conrad came into the school, sent Sandy off to collect her horse and he carried on where she'd left off, helping Amanda with Beaver. When Conrad said he would teach her again the next day she couldn't believe her ears! For the next three weeks she was in heaven as her training with Conrad continued.
Amanda is now well and truly hooked on dressage. Reluctantly she has had to admit that Beaver is not top class dressage material but she does want to get as far as she can with him and says, "I have learned so much with Beaver simply because he isn't the easiest or most talented little horse". He is however a credit to her; he started life as a racehorse, went on to become a succesful 3 Day Eventer and is now competing at Prix St Georges and working at Intermediaire level in his new career as a dressage horse.
Conrad Schumacher only trains the riders he himself selects and with this privilege in mind, Amanda decided to look for a young horse to bring on. A lovely but rather wary face peeps over the stable door; this is Dream. When he first arrived, Dream was in fairly poor condition both physically and mentally but Amanda is gradually building him up and has high hopes for him.
The last trip to Germany included Dream as well. Conrad was impressed with the progress Beaver had made in the preceding months but as for Dream; well he was not convinced that this would be Amanda's Grand Prix horse. However, when the time came to go home Conrad admitted that although he doesn't think Dream is going to be at all easy, he does feel she is right in that he has the ability.
Amanda's enthusiasm spills over to those around her "I have a wide range of pupils but they are all lovely. We regularly go to demonstrations together and whilst I was in Germany I sent some off to the Instructors Convention to report back to me as I was unable to go myself. She seems to have a devoted group of pupils, one of them went to Germany with her to help with the travelling, stayed a few days to watch the training and then flew home. For the homeward journey two others flew out to spend 2 days at the centre before driving home with her.
Not surprisingly, this young Australian's reputation as an instructor is spreading and she is keen to continue learning herself in order that she may pass her knowledge on to others. Conrad too takes a great interest in Amanda's teaching and likes to know whether the training she is receiving with him is benefiting her students. "When I proudly told him my eventing pupils were regularly getting dressage scores of 16 and 17 he asked me whether that was good!"
She is now based near Henley-on-Thames and teaches either at the yard there or travels to her pupils. She recently instructed for British Dressage Training at Snowball Farm and was able to put what she has learned with Beaver to good use with one of the riders who was having trouble with changes. She is looking forward to doing more for British Dressage as well as her other clients; she may be hooked on dressage but adds, "I still love teaching jumping as well".