Gretha Ferreira: Investing In Passions And Olympic Dreams

Professional Dressage Rider

Industry: Equestrian

Home Base: Mülheim, Germany

I've been riding horses since the age of 3,5, but as a child it was eventing that was my love. When I was 13, my wonderful children's coach helped me find my first horse. He was a Voigtskirch Namibian warmblood who had a lot of character and spunk. One day I was walking to the paddock when I saw him prancing around, which I today know was him showing talent for passage (an advanced dressage movement)! I will always remember that moment as clear as day; I said to myself, I want to learn how to teach a horse to do that with a rider on their back.

Before long the dressage bug completely bit me and I knew through and through this would be my lifelong passion!

I became a very successful junior dressage rider in South Africa and won numerous titles. The highlight being when I represented my country in the Youth Olympics 2005 in Sydney. After matric I decided to go study and get a good education behind my name and consequently obtained my degree in BCom Investment Management at the University of Pretoria. But after I graduated, instead of managing shares and bonds I decided to manage my investment in my horses and I have to say the reward compared to the risk has been much greater.

My journey in Europe started in 2013. I started competing on the European show circuit on Le Beau, known at the stables as Bobo. Bobo is my retired Grand Prix ride. He takes hotness and being on the rim of crazy to a whole new level and even today, being already 20 years old, his mind is still that of a 4 year old. It has taken a lot of time and patience to calm him down and he is like a little teddy bear in the stable. I owe the world to Bobo as he might already have been a GP horse, but I had to completely change the way he was ridden and in the system he was ridden in.

He was not easy to learn to ride the Grand Prix on, but it was the best possible thing as he has taught me so, so much and made it very clear to me what type of rider I want to be.

My trainer and my system is all about suppling and gymnasticising horses and once they are ridden this way it's wonderful to see how their body's muscle formation changes as well as their everyday demeanour. I have a recipe and it based on trying to make your practice as perfect as possible, add some repetition, Throw in some fun and end it off by always being thankful and grateful.

The next horse I got in Europe is Lavinia. So Lavinia is my very special project. Lavinia use to be a 1.50cm successful jumper. For unforeseen reasons her breeder had to sell her. The first day I rode her I just felt there is something very special in this horse and she had so much power that wasn't tapped into.

Long story short very few people believed that it would be possible to make her a dressage horse but I let the criticism roll of my back and kept believing in her character and what I felt.

When we bought Lavinia, I trained under Daniel Bachmann Anderson in Denmark. It was quite difficult logistically to travel from South Africa all the way to the north of Denmark so I soon realised I had to make a change. A year later I decided to move to Germany permanently and train under Bennet Conn. He is a pillar I lean on, who supports me and has taught me so much. The other very important person in my life is Ulrike Nivelle. She has really been a very influential trainer and has supported me to really reach my potential in this high sport.

But moving to Germany came with its challenges, initially the language gap was very difficult and the feeling of being an outlander.

Loneliness can creep in very easily and if you don’t take control of it and make a proper effort to improve something its an easy path to fall down into. Luckily, I have an amazing support system. My family no matter what has always been there for me through everything and currently my boyfriend is the most dynamic supportive man who I am so thankful for.

4 years since I made the move to Germany and I have trained Lavinia to Grand Prix level and this year achieved one of our biggest goals, competing at the World Equestrian Games. I has been a journey but persistence and perseverance always prevails. And when you remember to have fun on the journey you are on great things happen when you least expect it.

Isn’t it funny how we go through our entire lives chasing after our goals and dreams.

Please don't misunderstand me. I believe it’s very important for each and every one of us to have these. Without them there is little that drives us to be better and improve ourselves.

There I was with my ex-jumping, turned GP mare in Tryon, America. The world's best horses and riders surrounding me. Inspiring, yes for sure. Intimidating, no because while I was there these two weeks I can truly say I felt like I belonged. I felt that for the first time in my life my dreams and goals in riding became reality.

But, when your biggest dream to date becomes reality you usually have a moment of feeling lost and not quite knowing what to do next.

This is what brings me to the following. I was at WEG with what seemed to be a lot of odds against me but at the end of the day it came down to me putting the work and dedication in everyday and praying to God to please lead me on the path that he believes is right for me. I have said so many times that this sport is about the journey and not only the end goal and now more than ever I believe that fully.

Lavinia and I bonded even more after this amazing experience and when we both were unsure or a little unsteady we found strength and ease in the trust that we have built working together everyday at home. The smallest thing like giving her a small finger scratch at the wither when she was spooking at something or to keep my leg just that little bit closer to her side when she made a mistake in the twos because of the atmosphere calmed her down. That small gestures bringing her straight back to me. That, to me, is what made this the ride of my life - was it perfect, far from it, but it was a true test to how much my horse trusts me and that is a feeling that is plainly put, just priceless.

I have always had good nerves when it comes to competing - I owe that completely to my mommy, but while being at Tyron on the day of the competition, the most overwhelming thing happened to me. Lavinia and I were relaxed, calm and ready with no thought of how big what we were doing that day was. As I rode through the main entrance of the stadium and felt that amazing atmosphere, I for the first time in my life almost lost it.

My throat choked up and my eyes filled with tears. We made it, we actually made it.

I was so close to losing it when I remember clearly Lavinia's one ear flicking back at me and I knew I wasn't alone and we were going to do this together, her and I after all we worked for. True partnership.

This unbelievable milestone has made me even more hungry to achieve great things in this sport and just like before I have new goals that I would like to achieve.

My next goal is to represent my country at the Tokyo Olympics 2020 and many more to come. It has always been a big dream and will stay a big dream until I reach it. More than anything else though, I would really like to put South African dressage on the map as a contender in the world dressage scene and for that reason I think my biggest goal is to eventually be ranked in the top 50 dressage riders in the world. I will keep chipping away at my goal every day, year in, year out.


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