Katie Umback & Gronskovlunds Marquis - The Journey to Rio!
Katie Umback & Gronskovlunds Marquis Bio.
I’m 43 years of age and I began riding horses at 3yo on a lead then by 4yo I was riding independently and joined my local Pony Club. By 5years of age I was competing in Pony Club Gymkhanas and competing in the show ring. By 8yo I first started riding Dressage and competing in Eventing, then when I was 12 yo I was selected in my first big National Dressage competition for Pony Club.
I then developed a passion for Eventing in my childhood and teens and got very serious about the sport & had great success. When I was 16yo I was selected for State Representative team for Eventing and weeks before the major competition I had a very serious fall on the Cross Country course and broke my neck, I was super lucky and walked away from the accident with no spinal cord injury, because I could have ended up paralysed from the neck down. Recovery from the accident took me several years to overcome but because of the damage that I sustained in my neck, that then ended my Eventing and show jumping career because I could not afford to have another serious accident with my neck.
After recovering from my accident I stuck to competing in Agriculture shows and Dressage, then In my late teens/early twenties, I started breaking in horses, educating, re-educating and specialized in problematic horses problems and went on have a very successful career doing that for the next 20years.
I also was a serious and professional show rider, riding for other people, as well as my own horses & travelled extensively throughout Victoria, NSW and Qld show runs and competed on a National level, Royal shows & Horse of the year events, which I had great success with my own horses and other peoples horses that I showed.
In 2005 I was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of Multiple Sclerosis which was going to render me totally disable within 10years. My horse riding days were over because I was so sick and my physical disabilities the MS has caused to my body left me partially disabled and unable to ride horses again.
I never gave up hope that I will ride again one day and go on to fulfil my life long dreams of one representing my country on an International level, whether it be in the show ring or ultimately at the Olympics in Dressage. I had 7 years out of the saddle and was continuing to deteriorate & on my way to being wheel chair bound, because all the autoimmune medications failed to work on me as well as extensive Chemotherapy.
3 years ago, all thanks to new autoimmune medication that came on the market and I finally responded to & it started to alleviate my symptoms enough that allowed me to get back in the saddle, so soon as it was possible to get back on horse and start riding again, I was there with bells on! But riding a horse was very different to what I had even know my whole life because I have 70% of my body in numbness & partial numbness now, major loss of strength in my limbs and I had lost all core strength and my balance. I had to teach myself how to ride how to ride all over again from scratch with the capability MS had left me and that was a very difficult, frustrating and lengthily process. I had lost all my physical abilities and the only thing I was left with was the knowledge but that was not much good to me because my new MS body didn’t work like my old body, so I had to work out a new way of being able to ride again.
I spent months just walking on a horse because that’s all I was capable of, I had to learn how to improvise with my new MS body & work out way to keep myself on a horse. After months of walking, I had built up enough strength to keep myself in the saddle, then I finally progressed to a trot and that was pretty scary because I really struggled to learn how to trot again without feeling but I hung in there and kept persevering and backed it up with a tonne of dedication & stubbornness, I was determined not to let this disease take away from my love of riding and one day competing again.
Then again after months of walking and trotting, I finally started to learn how to ride a canter again, I was far, far from a pretty sight on a horse but at least I could ride all 3 gaits again, I had many falls in the learning process and hit the ground more times than I would have like to but then thought I have made it this far and I’ve survived the learning process again, I’m still in one piece but I still had a darn long way to go with this new MS body yet.
Then I made the conscious decision that I am going to keep persevering and was determined to get good enough to get back into Dressage and the show ring one day but needed a very special horse that would be suitable for my special needs.
I was then classified as a Para Equestrian grade 3 rider, so I then started the search for that special horse that would be suitable for me. It took me almost a year to find ‘Gronskovlunds Marquis’, he was owned by a very successful Australian Dressage rider and trainer in Holland, so I took a trip to Holland to meet Marquis. From the moment I sat on his back we just clicked and he was perfect because he ticked all the boxes for my special needs, super quiet in nature, a very sweet honest horse, super intelligent and very kind and he looks after me so well & he adjusted to me very quickly, rather than take advantages of my weaknesses and disability.
I imported Marquis 1.5years ago & started out in very basic Dressage, it took me some time to learn how to ride him because he has such big extravagant movement, movement I was not use to, let alone how to ride him when I was still very unstable in the saddle but it took him no time at all to adjust to my disability and limitations with my wonky way of riding.
The first 6 months of owning him, we were doing ok in the Dressage ring. I don’t ride like a normal person rides because of the lack of feeling in my body and riding is all about feel. I had invented a new way of riding and with little feeling in my body, I relied on his foot fall, because that I could feel and so his footfall and timing became the new way I had to ride. The foot fall became very heightened to me because of the lack of feeling throughout my body, so over time I mastered my timing to his foot fall and we have gone from strength to strength ever since. We definitely still are a work in progress and always will be but long as I keep improving, we can only get better.
Beginning of last year we had we reached a point where we both had each other worked out and became very competitive in able body and Para Dressage. I had a very successful year competing in 2015. We won the grade 3 Championship at the Prestigious Sydney CDI, then went on to win the NSW state title for grade 3 and the National title of grade 3 Champions, which then ranked us number one in grade 3 in Australia and I was the highest scoring Para Equestrian rider across all 4 grades in all 3 major events.
In June last year I was one of 6 Australian riders selected to represent Australia in Hartpury England in a CDEPI Olympic qualifying event. I borrowed a horse in Holland and had very little time to get use to her and she was world away in difference to Marquis and I found that very challenging. I had a great show though in Hartpury, I placed in all 3 FEI tests amongst some of the strongest European riders in the world in my grade and was the highest scoring Australian rider
We were also selected onto the Equestrian Australian High Performance Squad which landed us on the Green list for being in contention for being selected for Rio Paralympics in 2016 and also and the EA National Recognition Squad, which is a squad of riders scoring the International Olympic benchmark score or with 10% of the required score.
I then competed in my first Olympic qualifying event in November in Werribee Victoria and attained one qualifying score and that won us 1st place in the Rio selection list. In January I then went on to compete in my 2nd Olympic qualifying event in Boneo and attained my second Olympic qualifying score and took out the grade 3 Championship again but lost my number one ranking on the selection list by 0.4% which put us in 2nd place on the selection list.
2015 and 2016 have been enormously successful years for Marquis and not to mention Marquis took out many other Championships in able body and in Para Dressage at our local Sydney Dressage competitions.
We are moving to Holland in March to compete in a further 3 Olympic qualifying events in France, Germany and Belgium where I’m going to try to better my Australian scores & win back my number one position on the Rio selection list. With our current 2nd place on the selection list for Rio, I’m only behind 1st place by 0.4% of a margin and if I can better my Australian scores in Europe by a couple of percentages, I should be able to win back my number one position on the selection list.
At the end of May Australia will announce the Australian team and I’m just hoping & praying Marquis & I will be on that plane to Rio. Huge Thank you to my ever so supportive sponsor Stamanol, I absolutely love your amazing product, Marquis looks a million dollars and keeps him in tip top shape performing at such a high level. I feel very honoured to be a part of the Stamanol team and very proud to be representing such a great Aussie product. Marquis and I will be doing our absolute best in Europe and will be going above and beyond to make the Australian team for Rio and do Stamanol and Australia proud