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NZL-Julie Brougham rides Vom Feinsten during the ATEED Equitana New Zealand Open Freestyle Grand Prix to Music Prizegiving. Final-1st. 2017 NZL-Equitana Auckland. ASB Showgrounds. Friday 24 November. Copyright Photo: Libby Law Photography

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Julie Brougham has ridden out the most challenging year of her life and she’s looking forward to seeing out successfully defending her two open dressage crowns at EQUITANA Auckland.

“I will be very pleased to say goodbye to this year,” says the Rio Olympian who has had a year of chemotherapy and surgery to combat a rare and aggressive cancer. In short, it has been the fight of her life and it all started unfolding when she was representing New Zealand at the FEI World Equestrian Games in the United States last year.

She’s had setbacks and emergency surgeries but through it all, her love of horses has given her a reason to live. And now, as 2019 draws to a close she is buoyed to be bringing to EQUITANA a vigour to life that belies both her size and age.

Julie and her German-import Vom Feinsten were comfortable winners of both the ATEED EQUITANA New Zealand Open Freestyle Grand Prix to Music and the Kubota EQUITANA New Zealand Open Grand Prix. Their efforts at both Rio and WEG were the highest ever by a Kiwi dressage combination. Their CV includes all of New Zealand’s top titles and they’ve competed at some of the world’s most prestigious events. They also hold the Australasia record for the musical freestyle – a mark that has not been bettered for several years now.

Julie is looking forward to EQUITANA. “This is like an overseas event,” she says. “A spectacle is made of it indoors and they provide a really good surface for us – where else can we go in New Zealand for that?”

Good surfaces – or the lack of – are a real bugbear for this Manawatu rider. “We need to be able to show the judges what our horses are capable of and for that we need a good surface. One that won’t lame them or get them jarred up. It just does everyone a disservice,” she says. “We should all be supporting EQUITANA for the effort this event puts in to ensure we have those good surfaces which look after our horses so well and allow us to shine. I am so grateful to them for this.”

It is challenging enough getting a top horse to a competition in peak health, as Julie well knows. Her lead into WEG last year looked good and she notched some of her best work ever at the CDI3* at Saugerties in New York. However, the showy chestnut was not himself at WEG. “He picked up a cough and cold at the Games and we just couldn’t do anything about it. It was amazing he did what he did.”

Their marks over the years have been impressive – 76.3% for the freestyle and 70%-plus numerous times for the Grand Prix and Grand Prix Special. “Seventy is the magic number in the Grand Prix and Special but you always want more than that,” she says. “I think the best two tests Steiny has ever done were at Saugerties. I looked at them again recently and they were so good.”

Julie and Steiny were only recently back in the competition circle and winning of course. “There was a time when every other day was awful, then it became two days a week and now I feel I can get my life back together. I do have to pace myself and have to accommodate my ileostomy, but that mostly doesn’t affect my riding. Riding is the best health tonic I could possibly have,” says Julie. “When I am riding I am in the zone – I am with my horse and I forget about everything else.”

At 16, Steiny is blossoming too. “He is not so hot now and I can actually push him rather than him taking over. I cringe sometimes when I think about how much travelling Steiny has done and how unbelievably fortunate we have been that he has coped with it. What a horse – even when he was not himself, he still got out there and did his best work. He is now mature and knows his job.”

She has no desire to wear the silver fern at an Olympic Games or WEG again but does have a tinge of regret that she was never in a New Zealand dressage team at a big event but is looking forward to competing at the CDI3* at Willinga Park in Australia next year.

In the meantime, EQUITANA Auckland is on her horizon and she is fine tuning her new musical freestyle which Christine Monaghan has done the music for. “I have registered the floor plan with the FEI and its degree of difficulty is 9.27. One of my goals is to break my old record, and hopefully that will happen this season.”

Given the year Julie as just dealt to, chances are high those at EQUITANA Auckland will be in for one very special performance.

// 21-24th November 2019