FUN FIRST AND FOREMOST
Rising star show jumper Emma Watson has a great role model to follow in her mum Melissa, who is a former Pony of the Year winner. Morrinsville-based Emma (12) recently won the Speed Pony of the Year with her super mare Fun House, but she has her eye on an even bigger prize in the future, the Somerset Fair Cup. “I have always wanted to win Pony of the Year,” says Emma. “I finished fourth in my first time jumping in it this year.”
Emma’s mum Melissa (nee Rowe) won Pony of the Year in 1993 aboard the fantastic little stationbred Déjà Vu and was also in the winning Waikato team at Pony Club Champs in 1992, finishing fourth individually. Melissa (39) comes from a very horsey family, as both her great-grandfather and grandfather drove and trained trotters and were also both life members of Leamington Pony Club. Her parents both rode, and they hunted together as a family for many years.
Melissa’s husband Bruce is a keen polo player, and all three children ride: Kaleb (14) has just finished his first polo season, and ‘wee tornado’ Ari is six and has a pony too.
“I don’t remember ever having to push the kids into riding; it was just something we all did,” says Melissa. “We always put a pony on the truck for the kids to ride around at polo. Emma did hate being on the lead, so as soon as we had a trustworthy pony she was off by herself jumping everything she could – I think she was about four or five.
“We always wanted to give our kids the opportunity to ride, but it was up to them – they have to put the hard work in. This sport is too expensive to do it just ‘because’, but Emma wanted to jump and the bigger the better − she always had her eyes on ring one!”
Melissa was 25 when Kaleb was born and says her own riding has been a bit on and off ever since. In between Emma and Ari she had a couple of nice young horses and started to get back out competing in the age-group and Amateur series classes, but once Emma started doing show hunter, Melissa was torn between being with her daughter and competing herself, and ended up selling her horses.
These days Melissa still rides at home, helping Emma to work her ponies; most of the time she has three of her own and a couple of schoolers as well, which helps cover some of the costs of running her team. “I do look forward to competing again – when Emma makes me a nice horse and I can finally fit my riding clothes again!” she laughs.
Melissa says that when she was growing up she didn’t really listen to her mother at all when it came to riding, so she tried to approach helping her own children in a different way. “I wanted them to be cowboys
The best days of all are when the five of us get to go hacking together.”
first and learn by having fun and mucking around,” she explains. “I liked to ride with them and help by showing them, not standing on the ground getting sick of my own voice.
“Emma is one of those lucky kids who just has a feel for a horse. I would like to think we have a similar style but Emma is far more natural and has stronger legs than I ever had. Of course she has much to learn, but having confidence and feel is a great start. It does my head in when she forgets some of her courses, but to be fair I did plenty of that too!”
Emma goes to Jeff Mcvean for a lesson about once a month for a bit of fine-tuning; Melissa also trained with Jeff from the age of 13 so it was only natural for Emma to follow. Melissa confesses she loves handing Emma over to Jeff at shows for the big classes – then she gets to play mum and just take photos.
Melissa is a little sad that her family is split most weekends, with the boys heading to polo, and Melissa and Emma off show jumping, but says they are lucky to be doing things they love. “The best days of all are when the five of us get to go hacking together,” says Melissa. “We support our kids in any sport they take up and are with them all the way, coaching, managing or just there watching… except for cricket. We have decided no more cricket − it’s far too boring!”
Emma, meanwhile, thinks riding is a cool way to spend time with her mum. “It’s very special knowing that Mum has done it all before and that I can trust everything she tells me,” she says. “Another positive is that Mum is good at picking nice horses and ponies for me. I am pretty lucky about that.”
ABOVE Melissa won the Pony of the Year trophy with Déjà Vu in 1993, and Emma is keen to emulate her. LEFT AND FAR LEFT Melissa says her talented daughter Emma has a natural feel for a horse