On a mission for dressage
THE SMELL OF HAY. The clink of the bridle and stirrups. The rugs folded and the water buckets filled. She puts on the jacket, boots and hat and leads her horse out of the stable.
Akoele Shorey is on a mission to change – one trot at a time – the way how dressage is viewed in Barbados. She is as passionate about equine sports as she is passionate about horseback riding, which she wants to be a communal activity that includes all sectors of society.
The owner of Cleland Equestrian Club started riding horses when she was two years old. Born in Sweden to Bajan parents, she and twin sister Roli represented their stables in Scandinavian junior competitions in dressage. She came to Barbados when she was 11 and settled in Roach Village, St George.
“Living in the tropics was different. Horseback riding was not the everyday thing I was accustomed to but I was still able to spend time with horses as my parents used to take care of two former racehorses as a hobby.
“We took care of sick horses in bad conditions too,” she said. “Sometimes we would wake up and there was a new horse in the yard. And we eventually ended up with over 20 horses. There were so many that we started a riding school and a lot of people in Roach Village used to come and give us a hand.
“Even men that were considered to be ‘block men’ came and we would offer them lessons. After, the guys would play volleyball and lime, so riding became an integral part of the weekend. That is something I am trying to regain. I want horseback riding to be a part of weekend activities. You can meet new friends and have a good time.”
Shorey said horses make great best friends because of their honesty. If you made a horse upset or did something that hurts them, they would let you know, she told EASY.
“A horse is as straightforward as they come and my personality works really well with them. I am told I am undiplomatic and need to work on my social skills because I am a frank person. I am not the type to smile up in your face and talk behind your back. If I don’t like you I would tell you.
“So my love for horses stems from the fact that they are true. And being able to see the truth helps you to adjust things and helps you become a better person. Not just a better rider, but a better individual and improve how you treat people.”
Shorey is determined to change the perception of horse sports such as dressage, vaulting and show jumping as being elitist.
“Many are of the idea that it is for white people and cast judgement based on that. The local dressage competitions can be quite boring. They play no music and if they do it is not local music and there are no attractions.
“We need to set it up like how other sports are set up. We need to play music at intervals and allow people to move around and buy food and drinks. It needs to be an environment where people are happy to see you feel entertained and are welcomed when they come to the event. It also needs to be opened to the public and have a children’s corner.”
A lack of sponsorship was another pitfall in the industry that Shorey highlighted. It takes about $62 000 to compete at international events and with difficulty acquiring funds on your own, it could affect the number of competitors representing the island at the Grand Prix.
Speaking of the Grand Prix, one of her proudest moments in dressage was when she represented Barbados at the International Equestrian Federation World Dressage Finals in 2004 and 2005 in Hagen, Germany.
“I was the first athlete to ever have our National Anthem played. It was really special. I placed second in 2004 and third in 2005.
“Bringing home bronze in 2005 was the biggest moment in my life because I had serious kidney problems that year. I actually had a ureteral stent placed on my kidney to drain it.
“Our country is like a dot on the world map and I stood there humming the anthem in front of bigger countries like Russia and Australia. I just felt like a boss.”
She has also competed at the Pan American Games, Central American And Caribbean Championships and Caribbean Equestrian Association games.
“I want horseback riding to be in the eyes of the people. Horseback riding gives you a workout and it is the best form of hippotherapy. Right now I am in the process of finalising a partnership with the Ann Hill School so that children who never had the opportunity to feel or remember how it is to walk can ride horses as part of the school programme.
“I can share countless stories of horses that helped children and adults create muscle memory in their brains, which led to them getting out of wheelchairs and walking again.”
As a mother of three, Shorey found a way to juggle her career and spend time with her family. She argued that both meshed together as she recalled breastfeeding one of her children seconds after a performance. She said she was blessed to have a supportive husband whom she could rely on, noting she could not accomplish her dreams
without him. (SB)