Young horse producer Emma Gaze is adamant her world of horses is still a hobby. She’s got a point because she works full time as a unit charge theatre radiographer at Waikato Hospital . . . but she’s also incredibly successful and well regarded when it comes to producing horses.
She adores both streams of life. “I enjoy the different dynamics of them both – horses fulfill one side of my psyche and with my job I meet so many people along the way. You see the very best and worst in people but you can actually have an impact – it also grounds you a little too. You don’t know what life has in store for you so you should always enjoy what you have.”
And she does. Emma has certainly inherited her passion for horses from her mum Wendy. “Mum has always loved horses but never got a lot of opportunities to ride in the UK so when they immigrated here it became the one thing she wanted to give us kids.” Emma, her brother and two sisters always had horses as they grew up in Te Awamutu. Emma and Kate were the only ones to pursue it with any sort of seriousness while the other two were far more talented on bikes.
As a child, Emma did the usual mini gymkhanas and one day events around Waikato. “There are photos of me trekking next to mum as a five-year-old on Squeaky. I can remember even before I could ride off the lead, tucked in behind her horse just following along. We always did lots of that.”
Her competitive career started in lead rein and went from there. She competed in eventing at Timberlands and did a lot of eventing however, Wendy had always pushed for her to understand that she needed to fund her own sport. That was compounded when she was trying to juggle her studies and her riding. “So I discovered showjumping!”
Her home-produced showjumping grand prix pony Miss Melody started their breeding programme along with Bush Bug her first hack. She has had plenty of success on her homebred Woodland Bug as well as Jitterbug who is now in the brood mare paddock. “We were producing two a year but dropped back to one since grandchildren have started to appear on the scene.”
But it was winning the Pro-Amateur Rider of the Year aboard Firebug that remains a true highlight in her career. The mare had been badly injured after getting hung up in a deer fence overnight. While her legs were clear of cuts, with just skin burns, she had a lot of edema which burst out of her hocks three days later. Wendy treated the mare twice a day for 18 months and they started to slowly bring her back into work, initially just trekking and hacking out. “You could really feel her excitement as she got better. That win at Hoy was a complete fluke but so very special. For just to come back from such an injury was fantastic . . . and she’s one I didn’t force to do anything.”
Emma and partner Brendan live on a 10-acre block at Ohaupo where she keeps her competition horses and a few others. Brendan is not at all horsey but Emma says he “tolerates” her hobby very well and supports her passion.
The young and old stock are with her parents at their dairy farm that boasts a run-off retirement block for the horses. Emma is the first to admit just how important her mum is to the whole horse operation. “It just wouldn’t happen without her,” she says.
Emma does a bit of teaching and helps others along the way, bringing horses on. She credits her mum and Job Bruins for shaping her equine talent. “Job came on board three years ago, training me and the horses. Until then I had never really had a trainer. He is absolutely brilliant and has the same mentality as me – we do it for the horse.”
She is inspired by Marcus Ehning and Penelope Leprovost. “I know my training philosophy and how I work my horses is a lot different than most but this is my hobby and I have built it around a tight time frame because I work full time. This works for me – and it has taken a long time to get a method that works so well. Each horse I have ridden has taught me so much along the way. Even the most unsuccessful horses when it comes to winning have taught me a lot.”
Emma’s talent of producing youngsters is about to be put to the ultimate test – she and Brendan will welcome their first child in early October. “It will be a whole new world being a mum but I think you just have to roll with it. I have produced enough young horses to know you have to be responsive and flexible.”
She rode fairly late into her pregnancy but is quick to add how much she trusts her “boys” Kowhai Bug and Woodland Bug. “I trust them implicitly,” says Emma. “I am excited and petrified at the same time. I know life will change soon and my horses won’t be my main priority but I know it is a massive love to balance.”
Riding will always have a place in Emma’s world. “Brendan says he will forever support me in my riding because my personality changes when I don’t ride!”
Emma’s top tips
- Always have diversity in your training – Emma does a lot of lunging which she says teaches a horse about its own body, flexibility and balance. She gets a lot of value from watching a horse from the ground where she can figure what its natural tempo is and identify strengths and weaknesses.
- Hack out – it gives horses variety and is good for their head space as well as their bodies.
- Emma does a lot of pole work and bounce work, and not a lot of high jumping.
- Play days are important – instead of being precise, she plays with her bravery and her horses, seeing how much of an angle she can get into a fence, how short a roll back she can do. “It’s about building confidence too because once you knock that it is really hard to build it back – that goes for both horse and rider.”
- Set realistic expectations for both horse and rider. “If you’re not comfortable to do something, then don’t. Take the extra few rounds to get that confidence up, and then it is fun and you are committed in your ride. Every horse is so different.”
- Always stop and reflect on yourself rather than just blame your horse.
- Always know when to end a training session when you are working with a young horse. “Every time I train I have a plan in my head and what the goal for the day is. I always end the session on a positive note.” Fatigued young horses generally result in conflict. “Short and effective is better.”
Photo Credit: Cheleken Photography
// EQUITANA Auckland 21-24 November 2019