Amy Michau and Go to Blue are on form.
Their convincing victory in the Grand Prix at the 334 Sporthorse Stud Show after a challenging Easter Festival speaks to the quality of this pair and the strength of their partnership.
We caught up with Amy to learn more about this super-talented young lady and her journey to the top.
HQ: Please tell us about your riding career.
I started riding at Shortlands Riding Centre with Shaun and Ann Oliff when I was seven. I rode with them until I was in high school, and after that, I moved up to Summerveld to have my horses at home. Shaun and Ann are incredible instructors; they have so much knowledge to share and taught me so much about horses and riding. To this day, I still value everything they say and any advice they give me.
I got my first pony Flicka after only riding for a month. Flicks was a very kind pony! She taught me the need for speed in the smaller grades, and we won a lot in the PR.70 and PR.80. She was super-fast, and as soon as the bell went, she knew what she had to do.
A few years later, my dad bought me my open ponies, who all taught me so much. I loved my ponies and still visit them when I can. I competed in the 1.20s on my ponies, GI Jane, Waterside Gold Rush and Waterside Royal Sensation. We also bought a pony called Ludwig Klawer (aka Bugsy) when he was three years old, and I brought him on very slowly. When all my other ponies were sold, I started competing with him more seriously, and I took him up to the PR1.20s.
I competed in ponies until I was 16, even though I was way too tall, and my stirrups had to be three holes shorter than normal. Each pony taught me so much about riding, including how each horse has a different personality and likes to be ridden in a different way.
I eventually found my first horse Elliot Vance just before we moved to Summerveld, and that’s when I started riding with Graham Swanson. I rode with Graham for a few years. He taught me so much and helped me gain a lot of confidence. Elliot took me up the grades in Juniors all the way to the 1.35s. He is now retired at home and enjoying a life full of green grass, lots of carrots and being loved by Blue.
After matric, I moved to Stellenbosch to study Animal Science, and that is when I started riding with Damian Stevens, and I ride with Liam Stevens when I am in Durban or Johannesburg. I now only compete on one horse of my own – Go To Blue – who has taken me around my first 1.50m as well as my first World Cup Qualifier class.
HQ: Tell us a bit about Go To Blue.
Blue is by Zirocco Blue VDL and is certainly a smaller, spitting image of his father. I tried Blue out in Holland; he was the first horse I sat on the day we went looking, and the moment we went over our first pole on the ground, I knew he was coming home with me. I loved everything about him, especially the feeling he gave me over the jumps and his cheeky personality was the cherry on top.
It was a long wait for my boy to get to South Africa, and when he arrived, my mom and I could not believe what had just got off the horse box. He looked like an overgrown pony, and we examined him to see if it was the same horse. We couldn’t believe we had bought such a small horse.
A week later, he assured me he was not little and threw me off the second my bum touched the saddle. A few hours later, after being led around by my groom while I was lying on his back, he eventually let me put my leg over the saddle and walk around. Blue has had many hours of training just to allow me to get on. Even now, there are days he doesn’t let me get on, and I know I’m in for one interesting ride.
Every time I sit on Blue, he is a different horse. I have to adapt on the day to how he wants to be ridden, and I am grateful when he decides to be chilled. At home, he is the laziest horse on flatwork and just wants to stop and stand every two seconds, but show him a pole, and he is all game, even jumping them like he’s going around a Grand Prix.
He is a very nervous insecure boy when it comes to shows and I try and be as calm as I can when I’m riding him so I don’t make him even more nervous. I never fight with him when he wants to buck, jump around or even leap in front of the jumps; I know he is just excited or maybe just telling me to ride properly. He is a little firecracker on the days he decides to be an easy boy and a complete nightmare when he wants to bugger around and make my life difficult.
He certainly keeps me on my toes, and I know all his quirks are him just trying to make me a better rider for the future.
In terms of personality, my cheeky boy Blue has many names depending on his personality on any given day! He is the most lovable horse on the other side of the stable door when he knows there are carrots. He is also definitely the cleverest horse I have ever owned. He knows how to put me in my place every time I ride him, and as my instructor Liam says, “Blue has me wrapped around his little hooves”.
Blue is perfect in every way, and I believe all his little quirks are what makes him so unbelievable.
I am the luckiest girl in the world to have such an amazing horse like Blue, and I know he is my horse of a lifetime, and I will never have another horse quite like him.
HQ: Who is your coach?
I am very fortunate to have help from two of the most amazing riders and instructors. I train with Liam Stevens in Johannesburg and Durban, and when I am in Stellenbosch, I train with his dad, Damian Stevens. They have done a lot for my riding and have so much knowledge to pass on.
HQ: Was it difficult training Go To Blue all the way up to this point?
Blue didn’t compete in the Netherlands as he was backed very late, but I have loved every minute of riding Blue up the grades, starting from our first show at 60cm to four years later jumping in the 1.50s. We have had many ups and downs, which makes all our accomplishments together that much sweeter.
HQ: Where are you based now?
I am currently studying in Stellenbosch, while Blue is in KZN at home, where he gets ridden by my mom and Courtney Webber. Sometimes he stays in Johannesburg if the shows are close together, and then he is ridden by Liam. When I’m in Stellenbosch, I do quite a few shows here in Cape Town on Chanel, and I only really fly up to ride Blue at shows.
HQ: Tell us about the build-up to the 334 show.
There wasn’t much build-up to the 334 show, as I only arrived in Johannesburg the week before the show started. Blue stayed with Liam after Easter so that he didn’t have to go home and come back up again for 334.
This meant that the last time I sat on Blue was at Easter Festival, which was a huge learning curve for all of us. Blue and I got eliminated in every class at Easter, and we soon realised that Blue does not like to jump on grass.
I then rode at Burlington the Friday before 334, which was our prep for the show. We didn’t plan on jumping bigger than 1.40m, but he jumped so beautifully at Burlington that we knew he was good to go.
I didn’t have any expectations for the show, and I honestly was just praying to get through the finish after all the drama at Easter Festival. Of course, Blue knew what he was doing and made up for his tantrums by winning the Grand Prix for me.
HQ: When it came to the Grand Prix, were you nervous? How do you cope with the show nerves?
At big shows or before big classes, my nerves are through the roof, and I often jump around or go for a walk to clear my mind and get all the tingles out of my body, but once I go through the start, it all leaves my brain because I know Blue will jump anything for me no matter how big or wide the oxers are.
I am very nervous while walking the course and in the warm-up because Blue gets very nervous. Walking the course with me, I think, must be a nightmare; I am always worrying about how high some jumps are or how wide they are and completely stressing myself. In the warm-up, Blue doesn’t enjoy horses coming close to him and even gives a little jump to the side if another horse gets into his space.
I try to be as calm as I can when he is playing around in the warm-up so he doesn’t get worse, but on the inside, I am totally freaking out. When the bell goes, all my nerves disappear because I know Blue will always try his best for me no matter how good or bad I am riding on the day. He always gives his all, and I trust him with my whole heart, which makes me feel so much at ease once we go through the start.
Blue must have known that the Grand Prix was an important class because he never gave me any hassles in the warm-up, so I knew he would be at his best as he wasn’t stressed at all.
He knew he had it all in the bag before the class even started.
HQ: Tell us about your round and the jump-off.
In my first round, all I was worried about was time, and after every jump, I just kept thinking to myself, “go, go, go!”. For how small Blue is, he really has a huge stride and covers ground quickly, so I don’t usually have trouble with time faults, but when the time is tight, it is still something I have to consider.
I remember going around the track and Blue jumping me out of the saddle at most of the jumps and having to try to sit up quickly and get ready for the next jump just to be thrown out of the saddle again. He felt absolutely incredible over every jump on the track so I knew he wasn’t going to touch a single rail.
The jump-off came, and I was extremely nervous as most of the riders and horses in the jump-off are very speedy.
All I did in the jump-off was follow the plan Liam had told me and just hope that we would be the fastest. It felt like I was a pony rider again, going full speed. All I had to do was get Blue to the jumps, and he did the rest. Blue is so careful and has so much scope that I know I can do any angle and stride in jump-offs, and he will plan to get over the jump without touching a pole.
I don’t remember much while going around the jump-off, but I do remember coming down to the last fence where we decided to drop a stride to and seeing how far away we were going to take off that I closed my eyes and just prayed Blue would lift his little legs and fly over it, which he of course did.
HQ: What are your plans for the future with Go To Blue?
Our plans are to get more experience in the 1.50s and to do as many World Cups as my studies allow. I want to get a clear in the World Cup and hopefully win a World Cup Qualifier together.
HQ: Do you have other horses in your string?
I am currently riding Chanel in Stellenbosch; she is owned by Sanne Klaasen. I am very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to ride her. She keeps me in the saddle while I am away studying and helps me stay riding fit for Blue. She is a small mare by Casall. She has done so much for my riding while being here in Stellenbosch, and I couldn’t be more grateful to the Klaasens for trusting me with their sassy little girl.
HQ: Is there anyone you would like us to thank for you in the magazine?
I need to thank all the ponies and horses that have been part of my journey to get where I am today, and then there are so many people I need to say thank you to!
First, I would like to thank my amazing instructor Liam Stevens for everything he has done for Blue and me, for believing in us, and for all the time he has spent getting us to where we are today. I would also like to thank Damian Stevens for all he does, especially the encouragement he gives me; he makes me feel like I can do anything.
I’m also incredibly grateful to Courts Webber for riding Blue and keeping him in good shape while I am away. Then I have to thank my groom Norest, who takes care of Blue and puts up with his moods and Anna and Sanne for giving me the ride on Chanel. Shaun Oliff, Ann Oliff, and Graham Swanson have all been amazing, and I am grateful for them.
Then, I must thank my dad for being my sponsor – thanks, dad, I wouldn’t be able to do this sport without you!
And last but definitely not least, my mom, Chantell – the most amazing mom around! Thank you for believing in me and always being there for Blue and me; for running after me at shows, for making sure Blue always gets the best care, for looking after him and for being his true mommy (because, of course, we all know he loves you the most). Thank you for being at the gate before every single round for our traditional good luck hug and kiss and always reassuring me that everything will be okay no matter what happens and that one bad round doesn’t make you a bad rider.
Thank you all for being there for me and being a part of myself and Blue’s journey together.