Tophorse catches up with Judy Dierks

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Judy Dierks Judy Dierks
When you look back at the results of the major dressage competitions in Australia for the past 30 years there are only a handful of riders who have managed to stay on the podium for this length of time. Yes, there are always a few years where they seem to disappear but then out of the blue they are back on top showing their years of experience and expertise. One such rider is Judy Dierks. Judy seems to be a very approachable lady with lots of energy and a never ending passion for her chosen sport, dressage. As mentioned previously, she has been riding at an elite level for over 30 years and in 1994 represented Australia at the World Equestrian Games in Den Hague. She is married to one of the best trainers in Australia, Clemens Dierks, and her daughter, Daniella, is now making her own mark in the Australian dressage scene. It was only recently, at the NSW State Championships, that Daniella was champion of the Intermediate II, Grand Prix and Grand Prix Special competitions. And all with impressive scores. Judy and Daniella may be mother and daughter but that doesn't mean there's not healthy rivalry in the dressage arena. Judy has three top horses in training at the moment - Feramo K (owned by the Oatley family), Diamond Star (owned by Vicki Newham) and Highlight (owned by Janelle Duffy (Vic)). "Oh, I do have another one," laughs Judy. "I've just been asked by Debra Court (Vic) to ride her horse, Sandro Star, at the Nationals. He will be competing Advanced and Prix St George. See, it changes every day. I really don't know how many horses I will be competing!" As the National championships was only a couple of months away when I spoke with Judy, it was a worry to see that Diamond Star and Feramo K had been scratched from the State Championships. Judy explains. "Diamond Star who’s been a fabulous horse and an amazingly sound horse sustained an injury. It’s not good! It's very likely he won't be right for the Nationals as it has just happened." Judy is obviously disappointed. “And Feramo has some sort of allergy that we're trying to get to the bottom of. You know - different feeds, different beds, different shampoo. Hopefully he will be right by the Nationals."
Phto: Franz Venhaus Phto: Franz Venhaus
After all the worrying things we got to chat about Highlight. Judy smiled. "Well, he's really come from the rear. I've had him for just over a year. Initially he was quite a difficult stallion so it wasn't till the beginning of the year that I could get him to a competition". Judy has done a great job. Highlight just won both Novice classes and was the champion Novice horse of the NSW State Championships with scores in the mid 70's. "He's got three great paces, very correct. He's also got lovely self carriage and a super look about him". When you look closely at the event calendar for the year, it is evident that each competition leads to another and for some riders they end up competing at the Nationals. What is it about the Nationals or the Sydney CDI that makes them so important? "They're the pinnacle of the year," states Judy. "You have to start early in the year to make sure you qualify. If you leave your run too late, you don't get in. You have to prepare yourself to ensure you get there, especially when you're riding other people's horses." These bigger competitions are also beneficial for other reasons. "You get to gauge how you're going against other top horses. It keeps you honest, keeps you working towards something. The smaller comps have a purpose but you can't really gauge yourself compared to the Nationals. There are riders from all over Australia. The competition and calibre of horse is a lot higher." Even though Judy has been competing at this level for many years she stills feels the pressure. "I always feel the pressure because 99% of the time, I'm riding other people's horses. Regardless of where I'm competing, I have to perform the horses to the best of my ability. It's my living, my bread and butter." If all goes well in the arena, Judy still gets a buzz. "If you do something that's a hard task and you do it well, then there's always a feeling of satisfaction. It's never 'just another day'. It's about seeing how the horses react in different places - are they going to stay on your aids; will they cope with a number of different situations. If it all goes well, I'm always pleased and if we win well that's an extra bonus." When Judy prepares for an event like the Nationals she tries not to change things too much. "My routine is always consistent, I'm sure the horses are happier that way. The only thing I may change coming up to the Nationals is I may start to add the figures I have to do in the test. So between the exercises and manoeuvres I occasionally add a test movement. I very rarely ride the test because in my daily training I'm concentrating on exercises, suppleness and keeping the horse interested. Ultimately this will improve the movements in the actual test ".
Photo: Julie Wilson Photo: Julie Wilson
From our conversation, it's obvious Judy doesn't believe in reinventing the wheel - if it works don't change it. She is the same with her feeding program. Judy has been sponsored by Coprice for many years and although they have a wide range of products, Judy has always used 'Versatile'. "I've used it for years and never had a problem. It doesn't heat them up. I don't want to fight against energy, I want stamina at a good level. It's great." Judy looks fabulous. Excuse the cliché but she's 'trim, taught and terrific'. So how does she do it? "I'm quite happy with my stamina level. I'm not fit to do any other exercise other than horses. I force myself to go to the Gym twice a week. I have a personal trainer at the gym which I pay in advance so I make sure I go. I also do a Yoga and Pilates class once a week. The young riders probably don't need to do this but I do! - I need to keep myself supple, balanced and fit." It was only last month that I read an article by Roger Fitzhardinge where he quoted Judy as saying - You can never be too thin, too rich or have too much ‘collection!' What a great sense of humour. The Saddleworld Australian Dressage Championships will be held at the Sydney International Equestrian Centre from the 25th October to the 28th October. This will give all dressage enthusiasts a chance to see Judy challenge the best riders in Australia. Article supplied by Scott Pollock
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