A three-week interstate equestrian show odyssey saw admired Two Wells rider, Melissa Harding, take home a raft of awards including back-to-back titles in the prestigious Grand National Champion Owner/Rider class at this year’s Sydney Royal Show.
Melissa, 32, has been riding since she could walk, entering her first grand national show when she was just six.
She purchased the big, dark brown warmblood as a weanling and over the past few years has nurtured and educated the loveable equine, who at eight years old, now stands at 17.1 hands high (that’s a very big 175 cms).
Danson Dakota, or Koda to his family, was named after a song, with Dakota meaning “the one”.
“He has a wonderful personality (and) is a big gentle giant,” Melissa said.
“He’s definitely a favourite to everyone in the stables; the kids just love him.”
Melissa runs a successful horse training, education and riding instruction business, with an emphasis on showing, from the Two Wells-based property she shares with husband Michael, and two-year-old daughter Harper.
The Melbrock Park team recently travelled to Sydney to compete in three major shows over 18 days.
The first was the Equestrian NSW Southern Spectacular held at the Sydney International Equestrian Centre (SIEC) on March 26-28, where Melissa and Dakota were crowned Champion Owner/Rider in the large hunter hack class.
“The winners of each section then go against each other, with multiple judges, and Dakota was named Grand Champion Owner/Rider winning a beautiful rug, garland, $5000 cash and $5000 to spend with the sponsors of the show,” a thrilled Melissa said.
The second show was the SHC Australasia Grand National Championships, also held at SIÈC.
Again Melissa and Dakota excelled, taking home the Champion Grand National Large Hunter Hack and Champion Owner/Rider Large Hunter Hack titles.
“We then went on to Sydney Royal Show where Dakota won his height class and went on to win Champion Large Hunter Hack,” Melissa said.
“These wins meant so much to me.
“The first show was just the most amazing prize which will help me continue my journey towards competing at the Garryowen.
“Grand Nationals is a show everyone strives to get to each year.
“To get there is so special, you are amongst the best horses and riders in Australia, so for him to win this, and a back-to-back win for Dakota, was amazing.
“This was our first time doing Sydney Royal and it is a dream of all show riders to have a championship from Sydney Royal, so this truly was a dream come true.
“It truly took me a day or so to process it all and what Koda and I had done winning at these three shows.”
Training and preparing for these big events is basically an ongoing process.
Dakota is ridden at least five days a week, even when no competitions are upcoming, and it is a full time commitment to keep the horses looking their best, comfortable and happy.
“This is a very full on sport, one that you have to be so dedicated towards, make lots of sacrifices for and most importantly have a huge love for as it will test you more than you can imagine but it is certainly worth it all,” Melissa said.
Despite her recent success, Melissa is working towards a bigger goal.
She has a dream to take part in a prestigious national riding event, The Garryowen Turnout, where the best lady riders and best horses from around the country are on show.
“It is a very expensive class to compete in as you need completely different gear and attire to what we would normally compete in,” she explained.
“Although in the short time Dakota has been showing he has been very successful, I still feel like I have a long way to go with him.
“I feel like we have just begun to gain a great partnership together and are only getting better and better.
“Dakota certainly has helped me achieve many of my goals (but) my biggest goal is to compete in the prestigious Garryowen turnout event at the Melbourne Royal, which we are aiming for this year.
“A dream would be to one day win it.”
Dakota has earnt a few weeks of downtime before the pair will pick up training again to prepare for royal shows in Adelaide and Melbourne prior to attending the Equestrian Australia (EA) Nationals in Werribee at the end of the year.
Melissa says she could not have achieved all that she has so far without the love and support of her family, especially husband Michael and mum, Jo, her friends, Melbrock Park team and sponsors.
“I am very lucky to have an amazing support network around me,” she said.
“When I was a little girl my school teachers asked what I wanted to be when I grew up.
“I would reply ‘a horse rider’.
“They would say ‘no you need a proper job’.
“I could only have dreamed to be living the life I am living, training horses for a living; and I certainly never thought I’d have a horse like Dakota.”
With a motto of “Dare to Dream” there is little doubt Melissa’s dreams may very well come true.
Best of luck on your equestrian endeavours Melissa; one to watch for sure.