After spending the majority of her childhood in South Africa, Tanya Seymour finished her schooling and studied at university in Australia, but is now living in Europe and is set on achieving her dream of riding horses at the Olympics.
Born in 1983 in Port Elizabeth to parents who were involved with horses, Tanya started to ride horses before she could walk. She competed successfully in eventing and showjumping, receiving her South African colours for showjumping and representing South Africa at the Horse of the Year Show.
Growing up mostly in the Durban area, Tanya has fantastic memories of Shongweni and believes that the start riders can receive in South Africa where they are encouraged at a young age to compete in classes that are designated for children, juniors and adults is an advantage.
Tanya completed her last two years of school after her family moved to Brisbane in 2000, and later moved to the Gold Coast. She completed a bachelor's degree in applied science and completed courses in bowen therapy and artificial insemination.
Having continued to compete in showjumping in Australia, Tanya was certain that there was nothing else that she wanted to do, but ride horses. “My goal of riding one day at the Olympics was firmly set in my mind,” she says.
So when she was given the opportunity in 2005 to spend three months training and riding with dressage world champion, Olympic individual and team gold medallist Ulla Salzgeber in Germany (the horse capital of the world), it was certainly something not to be turned down. Although she returned to Australia after the stint, her thirst for knowledge and ambition to succeed meant that she could no longer stay in Australia.
“Europe is shrouded in the history of horse sports and is home to the best riders in the world and many international horse competitions. Unlike Australia, overseas riding is seen as a professional career alongside being a doctor or lawyer. And becoming a rider in Germany is a tough three year long course that includes riding and competing, but also a general education, business management and horse studies,” says Tanya.
In fact, Germany has won more equestrian gold medals than any other country and, says Tanya, riding in Germany is like rugby in South Africa or Australia. “Riding in Germany is well advertised and attended by the general public. There is more sponsorship, bigger events and most events are televised.”
So in 2007, with her goals clear in her mind, Tanya sold her horse truck and her horses, except for one that she flew to Europe, packed her bags and headed to Germany to follow her dreams.
She spent a further two years training and riding under Ulla Salzgeber, travelling to some of the biggest competitions in Europe and competing successfully in young horse classes and international competitions.
With much regret, Tanya left Ulla to start work as a rider and trainer with Wolfram Wittig, who is the trainer of Isabell Werth, another Olympic individual and team gold medallist. Wolfram has produced eight home-bred Grand Prix dressage horses and 10 more at advanced level and has produced 35 horses of his own breeding at national and regional championships.
During six months at the Wittig's, she trained and had the opportunity to ride top young horses and international Grand Prix horses and to absorb all the knowledge that she could.
“It's not all fun and glamour,” says Tanya. “There are long days and hard physical work, there are often difficult horses, a lot of stress and high expectations. And it's not always easy when your family and friends are thousands of kilometres away. And then, of course, there is the language barrier and the long cold winters!”
In October Tanya started to work at Kathmann, a stallion station where she rides some of the most famous stallions in Germany, presenting them in stallion shows and competitions. In August she'll be competing in the world championships and has recently purchased a premium licenced stallion, Ramoneur. “With him I have high hopes of starting my international career this year and, of course, my goals are firmly set on the Olympics in London in 2012.”
Tanya attributes her success to her parents who got her started in riding and who've continuously supported her and her goals. “And, of course, the pure ambition to succeed, no matter what. When you really want something you can achieve it, but this takes a lot of hard work and sacrifice and many times you just want to give up, but it's in these times you learn to pick yourself up, learn from your mistakes and keep striving forward.”
Tanya's advice to up and coming horse riders who are interested in doing it professionally
Australia is continually improving and bringing in trainers from overseas and my advice for any rider who is looking to make riding their profession is to absorb as much knowledge and take up as many opportunities as you can in Australia. But in the end a trip overseas and time in Europe is the only answer. If you are genuinely serious then you need to look at spending a few years overseas. My intentions were to only spend a few months or up to a year in Germany, but once I arrived here and started training and competing, there was just so much to learn and see.
Tanya's most memorable riding moment
There have been many memorable moments for me and not really one in particular. Being able to compete at the Shongweni Sappi horse trials at a young age in South Africa, as well as representing South Africa at the Horse of the Year show in Kenya were some good moments. More recently, my jumping successes with my stallion in Australia and those here in Germany, particularly while riding under Ulla and winning the young horse class at an international competition. More recently riding at the stallion shows here in Germany with some of the most famous riders and horses in the world, and competing successfully with these horses at competitions.