Behind The Scenes: Winning a National Dressage Championship

brett parbery dressage performance team competition highlights Oct 24, 2022

Brett’s back! The Australian Dressage Championships are done and dusted, and Brett came home with the Australian Advanced Championship, riding Sarah Hanslow’s Iresias L, AKA Johnny. 

Sarah is a member of our Gold Program, so this win was extra special to our Performance Riders family. 

Brett and Johnny achieved a score of 75.135% to place them in first place in the Advanced 5B. In the Advanced 5C Brett scored 72.436% to place him third, running a very close race with his good friends Robbie and Dave Mckinnon nabbing the first two placings. With the two combined scores, Brett and Johnny came home with the overall Advanced Championship which was kindly sponsored by Lonsdale St Auto Electrics.

There is a tremendous amount of hard work, careful planning, management, and dedication that goes into getting a horse to a national championship. I’m going to give you an inside look into how Sarah, Brett and Johnny got to the competition, their thoughts on the week of competition, and what their plan is now going forward. 

Photo Credit ©️Sarah Hanslow. Image of Iresias L.


From the owner’s perspective 

Written by Sarah Hanslow:

Johnny was imported from the Netherlands in July 2016 when he was just 3 years old. He was campaigned with great success in young horse classes by Gina Montgomery. In December 2021 Brett took over the ride on Johnny after Gina moved overseas. 

 His young horse career highlights included:

  • Winning the 4-year-old class at Dressage and Jumping with the Stars (DJWTS) in 2017 and going on to win Champion of Champions. 
  • Winning the 4-year-old class at Sydney CDI in 2017. 
  • Winning the 5-year-old class and crowned Champion of Champions at DJWTS. 
  • At Sydney CDI in 2018 he was awarded an Australian record high score of 97.2% in the five-year-old class. 
  • In 2019 he was runner up as a 6-year-old at DJWTS. He was unable to contest the 7-year-old class in 2020 as the show was cancelled due to COVID. 

I loved Johnny’s tests at the Australian Championships. His first start was in the 5C where Brett rode a sensational test to score 72.436% and place third. The highlights were the half canter pirouettes which one judge gave both a 9. Then nailing the line of tempi changes was another highlight. The flying changes have always been a bit of a nemesis for Johnny so to see these come together with straight, clean, through changes was outstanding. 

The second start was the 5B and all I can say is WOW. An amazing test to score 75.135% and first place. The test literally brought tears to my eyes with the harmony between Brett and Johnny. 

I love being an owner but also a riding competitor at these big shows. Especially when the classes don’t clash. Riding myself brings a degree of pressure which isn’t there as an owner. As an owner watching from the sidelines, I just get to enjoy the moment, and it brings me so much joy. 

The last 10 months watching the partnership develop between Brett and Johnny has been an incredible journey. Then to see it all come together in the 5B at Nationals was outstanding. My goals for Johnny’s performance career are quite simple. I want him to reach his full potential whatever that may be. I want him to remain happy and confident in his work. I know that his full potential will be realised under Brett’s guidance.

Photo Credit ©️Angie Rickard Photography. Image of Sarah Hanslow's Iresias L ridden by Brett Parbery. 


From the rider’s perspective 

Written by Brett Parbery:


Coming away from the New South Wales State Championships, I learned that I needed to ride my tests a lot more accurately. I needed to go for a bit more expression. I needed to focus on the details, the halts, the rein backs, the walk, and the pirouettes. I've had this ongoing issue with the changes too. In the weeks leading up, I was just trying to get Johnny not only comfortable in the changes, but just knowing where to put his body, because a lot of the flying changes issues have come about from him blocking his body and him not allowing me to get him set up for the change. I've been really working hard on teaching him, through walk, where to put his body when I'm asking for the set up and as mundane and boring as that sounds, it worked well. 

The other thing that I learned was I needed to just sharpen up my test riding and have a lot more clarity in my lines. I needed to be better at my preparations. While I'm riding a movement, I need to think ahead to the movement to prepare as best I can. Mentally I had to rehearse that process a lot more. The more I ride the tests, the more comfortable I feel with them and the more I understand the set ups.


Competition week

We arrived on Tuesday afternoon and that was a full day of just driving. We didn't work the horses when we arrived, we took them for a walk and let them pick grass. 

In the days leading up to his tests I didn't do a great deal of the test work. I just worked on simple transitions, I worked on the changes, and I worked on pretty much just an extension of what I had been doing in the weeks leading up to the competition as I explained before. The key to a successful competition plan is to keep everything the same. What you work on at home you need to do at the competition because that's your system. 

As the test day came closer, I ran through a lot more of the training lines and a lot more of the test lines. I made sure I could do all the lines and transitions. 

In the warmup for the tests, he was quite fresh even though he had been worked in the morning. I really tried to keep it all contained and keep him bending hind legs, carrying weight behind, and staying in a balance. Then I just ran through the lines as per normal for the test.

In the Advanced 5C I had probably the best line of changes I'd ever had. I thought the test was good and I was particularly happy with the fact that we got the sequences. He felt very rideable through them, and he stayed on my aids.

The score didn't mean that much to me in the Advanced 5B. I just felt like he was a winner because I just felt that every bit of training that we've done this year came out in the test. I felt it verified my training is on the right path. When it all goes to plan, the score comes through, and the result happens. I was absolutely over the moon with the outcome. 


What’s next?

The next goal for Johnny and myself is to spend time establishing the Grand Prix work. That, of course, will take time. In the meantime, I will aim to compete early next year, somewhere in small tour tests. But, you know, my eyes are well and truly still on the prize, which is to get to Grand Prix.


Photo Credit ©️Angie Rickard Photography. Image of Sarah Hanslow's Iresias L ridden by Brett Parbery. 


Thank you to all 

The 2022 Leader Equine Australian Dressage Championships was an overall success. We would like to give a massive thank you to all of the sponsors who made the competition possible with their generous support. Thank you to Carlton Performance Horses delighted for once again hosting the Championships at Boneo International Equestrian Centre. A huge thank you goes to the event organising comittee Jade Woodhead Butler and Alissa Habgood. There are so many hard working individuals behind the scenes who make these incredible events possible. We also must mention the amazing efforts from the Parbery Dressage team. Brett's competition groom Ashlee Macdonald made the trip down with the horses caring for their every need and being Brett and Sarah's personal cheerleader. Back at home Melinda Parbery and Natasha Lyall held down the stables, taking care of all the horses, and cheering on team Parbery down in Victoria. A huge thank you and congratulations to Sarah Hanslow for entrusting Brett with Johnny, making the trip down with the team, and for riding some beautiful tests herself over the week. 

We hope you enjoyed this little insight into the behind the scenes of the 2022 Australian Dressage Championships. Now it's time for the next goal! 

Happy training! 

Photo Credit ©️James Abernethy Photography. Image of Sarah Hanslow's Iresias L, ridden by Brett Parbery, with groom Ashlee Macdonald. 



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