Melissa Karutz was born into the saddle it would seem.
The 25-year-old Two Wells resident has been riding horses since before she could walk and had her own pony by the age of four.
Her mum, Joanne, was an accomplished eventer and her grandfather Barry Ewen trained gallopers and trotters, so Melissa’s love of horses’s is almost a genetic thing.
Even her fiancé, Michael Harding, has an equine link – he trains trotters.
A student at Angle Vale Primary School before heading to Balaklava High School and then on to Gawler High School to complete Year 11 and 12, Melissa was originally on track to follow a career in childcare but had always dreamed of working with horses full time.
Teaching children to ride was something she did on the side and in her free time.
But it soon became apparent the battle between working to ride and riding for work was a battle no more, and just over a year ago Melissa took a big risk and decided to give her passion all of her focus.
Her future lay with the horses.
“My passion is horses; it’s in the blood you could say,” Melissa explained.
“I worked to pay for my horses and initially started giving lessons to a few friends.
“It’s just grown from there really.”
During school holidays, Melissa runs two-day horse camps at her property, Melbrock Park, just outside Two Wells.
Kids bring along their ponies and horses, or Melissa can supply one, camp together and participate in fun, daily riding lessons and games.
It is an opportunity for the budding riders to improve their skills, develop broader relationships with like-minded youngsters and strengthen the bond with their mount.
During the week Melissa trains horses for shows, teaches horsemanship and gives weekly riding lessons for children.
Two Wells youngsters, Chelsea Nelson, 11, and Jazmin Phillips, 13, come as often as they can to help out with the horses and even show some of Melissa’s horses for her.
“I really like to aim things at the kids,” Melissa said.
“I think the kids are going to be the ones coming through.
“I’ve done eventing, show jumping, dressage, and even vaulting.
“I’ve done a bit of everything but showing is my first love.”
This love doesn’t come cheap, with Melissa saying she’s spent tens of thousands of dollars preparing, transporting horses to and from, and competing in show events around the country.
It’s a love that has seen her take part in the esteemed Grand National event since she was a young child.
Earlier this year Melissa was crowned Champion Rider at the Australian Grand Nationals in the 21-30 year old category on a horse she borrowed from interstate, which she had never ridden before.
“I’ve been going to the Grand National every year since I was seven,” she said.
“But this year was the first time I’ve actually won, so that’s pretty special.”
A top-ten place-getter over the years, Melissa says this victory is a personal highlight in a long riding career, particularly after suffering a broken leg 12 months ago which needed a rod, bolts and metal plate to put it back together.
“My next big thing that I’d love to do is the Garryowen,” she said.
“It’s a turnout class at the Melbourne Royal (Show).
“I’d be judged on presentation, riding ability, manners and paces of the horse.
“It’s a big thing in the horse world.”
So, what is it about horses that keeps Melissa going back for more?
In a world that’s seemingly sapping at your energy, money, time and patience, it’s the special relationship between horse and rider that has her hooked.
For her, every horse is unique.
“The partnership you develop with a horse is what gets me.
“I like the challenge of having to work with them, they’re beautiful animals.”
Melissa credits her success to the support of her family, particularly her mum, Joanne, who has backed her passion from a very young age.