In August 2014, I first met Chris and Grant of Cristogracia Spanish Horse Stud and Training Facility of Tarzali, North Queensland. I did this to learn more about Dressage in particular, which has always fascinated me, ever since I first saw Olympic coverage of it on television as a child. To me, Dressage (particularly Classical Dressage which I am now discovering) represents and is (when performed correctly) the epitome of elegance and grace, communication and harmony between horse and rider.
I have always been passionate about horses, and have loved them from a young age, was hypnotised by their grace, beauty and spirit…This love was somewhat problematical for me, given my parents and I lived on a yacht. The nearest thing that I ever rode upon was the waves, and the only animals I had contact with were dolphins and other forms of ocean life.
It was only in later childhood years, when my parents stopped voyaging for my schooling, that I was able to have a few riding lessons.
After my diagnosis of being on the Autism Spectrum in 2007, after a lifetime of misdiagnoses, discrimination and stigma, I began riding and volunteering in 2010 with North Queensland Riding for the Disabled. They are the organisation which gave me my start with horses as an adult, for which I am forever grateful for. Whilst I was there, I also completed a Certificate 3 in Outdoor Recreation (Trail Riding) though www.horseridingcoach.com, qualifying me to be a Trail Ride instructor, in addition to completing a Level O (Riding) NCAS RDA coach qualification through the Riding for the Disabled Association of Australia. I was also selected to compete from 2012 to 2014 in the Riding for the Disabled Association of Queensland State Championships in dressage and mounted games, and placed consistently in the top five. Seeking new challenges, I found Cristogracia Spanish Horse Stud and Training Facility and with the knowledgeable guidance, mentorship and generosity of Chris and Grant, 2015 saw me competing in mainstream competition for the first time, in Working Equitation. Initially I was competing in the Dressage phase only, but with the encouragement of Chris, extended myself to compete in all three phases. Indeed, I also competed at the 2015 Queensland Working Equitation State Championships and was awarded with Best Presented. I have made great progress in terms of developing greater confidence, skills and abilities, and have now also competed in EA Dressage at Preliminary level (training Novice at home) and Pony Club Dressage competitions with good results. Some of these results have included:
Atherton and District Equestrian and Dressage Association 10 June 2016
EA Preparatory B Second with 61.316%
EA Preliminary 1.1: Fifth with 43.636%
Malanda Pony Club Dressage Day 25 June 2016
PCAQ Walk Trot B: Second with 65.27%
PCAQ Preliminary 1.C: Third with 55.38%
PCAQ Unofficial Preliminary 1.1 (i) Third with 59.16%
Under the dedicated tutelage and patronage of Chris, I also achieved a good result in the 2016 Queensland Riding for the Disabled State Championships , which were held on the 9 July 2016 QSEC Caboolture with the following results:
SO Canter 1: Second with 70.83%
RDA Trot E (Para Equestrian Test Grade 1.b.2) Eighth with 68.17%
RDA Canter C: (Para Equestrian Test Grade 3.1) Second with 63.88%
RDA Trot B (Para Equestrian Test Grade 1.b.1): Second with 69.46%
I also achieved a personal best result when I competed with Diestro Bengala of Cristogracia, in the 2016 Riding for the Disabled National Video Dressage Championships, which is video competition taking place biennially between the live RDA National Championships held in Victoria.
RDA Trot E Class: First place with 64.33%
Some of my other achievements in 2016, I also attribute to the positive influence of Chris and Grant, the wonderful human team and magnificent horses of Cristogracia. Being surrounded by a positive environment means one can have resilience to deal with life’s manifold challenges, which is vital for a person with Autism. These other achievements have included being engaged for public speaking events, and being nominated for the 2016 Autism Australia National Recognition Awards in the Inspiration category. I have also been nominated for the 2016 Start Playing Stay Playing Excellence Awards (Inspiration category) and have also been honoured with both being nominated and also a finalist, for the North Queensland Sports Star Awards in the category of North Queensland Athlete with a Disability. I also received a Special Commendation for Individual Achievement from Autism Queensland as part of the 2016 Autism Queensland Creative Futures Recognition Awards.
Chris and Grant have truly taken me under their wing, nurturing and guiding me with patience, kindness, and tact, just as they do with all of their superb horses. I am humbled by their belief in me and my journey, and strive to give back to them what they have given me. I am now a valued member of the team, both whilst at home and at competitions. I constantly have the opportunity to learn, one of my core values, and to broaden my knowledge, skills and horizons, and experience the heady world of competition and the hectic show season. More importantly, I am now acquiring the depth of knowledge, of the patient, exacting training and horse/stable management that is required to both produce and develop sound and healthy competitive horses. Being a part of Cristogracia has facilitated my personal development, quite apart from the stable management, horsemanship and riding skills that I have now acquired. I would like to sincerely thank Chris and Grant and the magnificent Spanish horses of Cristogracia, in addition to the wonderful support team for assisting me in my equine journey and for being so generous with their considerable skills, vast knowledge and finite time.
Danyele is proudly sponsored by Cristogracia Horse Stud and Training Facility and HHMAP of Ocean Easy Stables.
I spent six months or more searching for a place and person to start my young geldings. I was bombarded with ideas and methods and suggestions, however I didn’t feel comfortable with any of the rushed; forceful methods; old school ‘break their spirit’, let them buck it out, (right up to the) downright unkind and cruel ways of treating horses.
I realise now there are a lot of people around the equestrian world, who simply don’t know horses. They only know methods.
When a friend mentioned Cristogracia, I looked at the website…and I thought ‘Oh my goodness, these beautiful champion Andalusian horses, and a breeding program internationally acclaimed and their stock in demand all over the country and the world ! These people won’t be interested in helping with my cross-breed Quarterhorse,/Arab/Brumbies.!”
However, I rang them. And I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Chris and Grant are the most down-to-earth, genuine, kind people you could ever meet. Their knowledge of horses and everything equine, is simply unfathomable. Chris had no hesitation whatsoever in asking us to visit and then agreeing to take on my geldings.
Both Chris and Grant are entirely unselfish with the sharing of their vast knowledge, and in helping both rider and horse along the whole way.
And their prices are ever so reasonable. I had enquired about pricing elsewhere, and when Chris told me the cost she would charge for taking my horses for 4 weeks, I initially asked if that was the weekly cost…..No…It was the cost for the complete 4 weeks training. And no extra for agistment.
My 8 yo daughter is horse crazy and accompanied me every time we went to learn and work with our horses and see their progress, usually twice a week. We were ever so warmly welcomed every time ; it is such a relaxed atmosphere.
My geldings had never been under saddle – Chris and Grant worked patiently and solidly with both of them. No rushing. Keeping me up to date with all their progress and set backs. Video-recording their sessions when I wasn’t present. Constantly assessing why or why not they may be reacting in a certain way. Chris’s knowledge of different breeds and their personalities and peculiarities is so fascinating and something I had never realised was so indepth.
Grant’s gentleness and kindness is something very rare….indeed I have never seen anyone so gentle with horses before.
Yet both their horsemanship skills are beyond compare.
I was a little overwhelmed by the realisation of how much I didn’t know. Yet during the time our horses were at Cristogracia, myself and my daughter, (and I took my teenage son as well), learnt more than we could imagine. And we have come away with so much more knowledge and confidence to work with our horses now they are home.
Our horses themselves are so much more settled. They have been on a journey themselves. Chris and Grant don’t just start these horses to saddle…..They start them to understanding what is expected of them; to floating; to frights; to new experiences; to socialisation; to controlling anxiety ; to ground manners …… They start them to Trust.
I couldn’t recommend a better place for new horses, horses, with wee issues or problems, for riders.
We will definitely be staying in touch with Chris and Grant and visiting regularly for myself and my daughter to continue with some lessons and learning more and more every chance we get.
Chris and Grant, we can’t thank you enough.