A Waitaki Bridge sister act blitzed a major New Zealand equestrian contest last weekend.
Emma (13) and Samantha (14) Gillies finished first and second respectively in the open pony championship at the national show jumping championships in Christchurch.
Less than three seconds and just five points separated them after five rounds of competition.
Winning the championship was made extra special by the presence of the former owner of Emma’s pony Benrose Playtime, who had travelled down from Wellington to watch her ride.
Samantha said she and Emma have contrasting riding styles, despite both being coached by their mother, Philippa.
“It just happens. We can both ride each other’s ponies, but we ride them so differently.
“I suit more ponies that take me somewhere.
“Emma’s pony covers the ground faster.”
Emma admitted she loves the speed factor.
Their brother Ben (11) has given up competition riding to play cricket and touch, but still rides around the dairy farm they live on.
Father David, when he’s not too busy with the farm’s 1100 cows, joins the rest of the family in their huge truck that accommodates the five humans and seven ponies and drives to events across the country.
The Gillies have eight of their own horses on their property, plus one belonging to a friend.
Daily chores for the girls include feeding ponies before and after school, cleaning their riding gear, grooming the ponies, and helping on the farm.
They train their ponies together over jumps built by Mrs Gillies’ father, Bill Pile, when his own daughters were young.
Mrs Gillies said although equestrian activities were a huge commitment, “it’s worth it for the life skills they learn”.
Mrs Gillies confessed that watching her daughters competing at Christchurch “took a few years off my nerves”.
Her children have met many friends through their travels and have not been allowed to slack off on their schooling while they’re away.
“They take homework books and school work. It’s important to keep up,” Mrs Gillies said.
Samantha is heading into year 10 at St Kevin’s College, Emma is about to start there in year 9, and Ben will be in year 7 at Oamaru Intermediate School.
“The girls have young ponies to work on — project ponies,’’ their mother said.
“It’s a sport that keeps them busy. And you have to be fit.”
Mental as well as physical fitness was required to handle the multiple facets of preparing a pony for dressage, cross-country, and show jumping.
Extra dressage tuition has been provided by Debbie Nelson to ensure they have “good flat work”, Mrs Gillies said.
The summer school holidays were not all about horses, though.
The Gillies escaped to Lake Hawea for a week, where the girls practised their single-ski water-skiing.