Talented Para Equestrian Natalie James has embraced the spirit of 2020, donating her time to encourage new riders.
The 16-year-old Y11 student has been riding since she was 7-years-old, although she admits she has loved horses since she was three. “I used to turn on the tv to trackside racing much to my parents surprise,” she says. “My grandad and uncles own racehorses in the South Island, so it must be in the genes. My parents even moved to the country to help support my passion! I was encouraged by a riding school instructor to be assessed by a NZ Para Olympic assessor based on my physical limitations. I am classified as a Grade 5 Para Equestrian rider. This allows me to use special reins to help manage control of my horses.”
Natalie formed NKJ Equestrian as a way to keep family and friends up-to-date with her riding achievements, and its through NKJ she has volunteered to encourage new riders. “It is always hard for shows to get sponsorship, and this year it’s been even harder as companies have been hit with struggles with Covid-19. So, in talking to the organiser of the Waitemata Show Hunter group, I suggested I could give back and sponsor a class as they mentioned they needed some help. I have received so much support from the Equestrian community over the past 5 years whereby they have helped encourage me, provided guidance and information to help me grow as a rider and a horse owner. So I thought it would be nice to give back and pass forward the support to someone to help them on their journey with their riding. This is the first time I have been able to do this.”
Natalie has two horses – who are clearly an important part of her family. “One is named Zee – a lovely grey mare (show name Zee Bee) that I have owned for five years. Belle who is a pinto (show name Galaxy Touch of Magic) is my other gorgeous pony that I have owned for coming up two years,” she says.
A member of the Silverdale Pony Club, Natalie mainly rides in Dressage (performing from memory a series of predetermined movements) and Show Hunter (a technical art of jumping) competitions. “We do quite a bit of travelling around the Upper North Island on weekends to different events, which is great as I get to see some of our countryside.” Horse riding proved to be the perfect sport for Natalie, who has physical difference, and it turns out she’s pretty good at it too. This year she placed at the 2020 Horse of the Year competition – which is the pinnacle event in New Zealand. Competing against some of the best riders in the country, Natalie placed with two seconds and first in the ‘Show Hunter Category C Pony’. “My goal was to get a top five placing, so I was very happy,” she says. ” I attended the Youth Dressage Festival in Taupō at the end of January and placed as Reserve Champion for Ungraded Level 1 and Para Equestrian,” she says.
“Riding gives me the opportunity to be equal against other riders even though I was born with physical differences. I tried other sports, however my passion led me back to horses every time. Owning and competing with a horse is a big commitment, as you have to put the horse’s wellbeing before anything else. They also have bad days, and have to be treated just like any other athlete. They need a great deal of care, love and attention. This gives me a purpose and a great satisfaction to see my lovely ‘unicorns’ each day.”
Natalie says she enjoys the comradery of other equestrian riders at Westlake. “We are very fortunate to have many successful and talented riders at Westlake Girls High School, who are very supportive and competitive.”