Not so long ago, the name Melissa Galloway meant nothing to the Australian dressage community of competitors, riders, coaches and officials. Well, that didn’t last long!

Everyone is talking about Melissa Galloway and her wonderful horse Windermere J’Obei W. Melissa made their presence felt in a big way when the crowds at Willinga Park’s Dressage by the Sea absolutely fell for this charismatic combination. Her humble and unpretentious outlook and the obvious connection between horse and rider won the hearts of so many at the February competition, and through the worldwide livestream they had chins a-wagging.

The pair only rode their first Grand Prix in November 2019 and Melissa, at 26, swanned through the test as if it was a walk in the park. Dressage by the Sea was her first international competition, where she rode as if she was born to do it. She rode as if she has competed at the level since she was a child… not true, however, as at the age of 19 she had only ever owned a few horses.

Melissa and J’Obei at home in the vineyard!

But Melissa has long aspired to this level. As a 12-year-old at school she remembers so well having to write down her life goals. She only had one, and in bold writing she wrote: “TO RIDE AT THE OLYMPICS”. It was posted on the wall of the classroom for all to see and is imprinted in front of her eyes every day!

Melissa was born on the property where she still has her competition horses in Tuamarina, at the top of the South Island of New Zealand, about 20 minutes from Picton. The 200 acres of flat land and some forest were where her father was a dairy farmer and her mother a nurse with a keen interest in showjumping and hunting. The property that has been in the family for generations is now a vineyard where the family sells grapes to big wine-making chains.

Melissa is the middle child of three children. Her older brother is a mechanic with his own business and also works on the property, while younger sister Sarah is a serious showjumping rider. The word “Windermere” is synonymous with a very good showjumper that the Galloways bred, Windermere Cappuccino. Ridden by Tegan Fitzsimon, Cappuccino is a seriously talented horse known across the world. The family breed a few horses, and Cappuccino has a six-year-old brother, Windermere Lion Heart, that Sarah is campaigning.

“The obvious connection between horse and rider
won the hearts of so many.”

Melissa and J’Obei competing at Willinga Park. © Roger Fitzhardinge

Melissa on her wedding day with Lachy.

Melissa on her wedding day with J’Obei.

Growing up, the children shared a Shetland pony named Smurfy, and it wasn’t until Melissa was eight that she had her first bush pony, Harry, a Pony Club jack-of-all-trades… and sort of master of none, but they learnt a lot together. When Melissa was 13, she had a show pony called Annabelle with which she won many showing classes and also had a go at dressage. That was the beginning of the end.

Along the way, Melissa was a very dedicated and keen dancer. She started at the age of four and thought dancing may be her life, especially Irish and Highland dance, but no, it was to netball and wakeboarding. Her father and brother were very serious wakeboarders and Melissa competed nationally with success and her father competed internationally and in Italy at the world championships.

At 15, Melissa bought her first dressage horse, a five-year-old Australian Warmblood by Don Ramiro name Squizz. Melissa completed Year 12 at high school but decided to start riding and coaching full-time during Year 13 and left to start her 12-year-old goal in earnest.

Squizz was a super horse and Melissa took him all the way through the levels to Medium grade and started the changes. She had lessons from Hubertus Hufendiek when he was in New Zealand coaching, and she was so determined to go and ride and work in Germany with dressage horses that she begged to go back to work for Hubertus even if it was as a groom – but her begging fell short of an invitation.

The next year when he returned, she fronted him again, and this time he said she could come for a fortnight as a groom and see if she enjoyed it. “Enjoy” was not the word to describe Melissa’s delight and, of course, as if it was going to only be two weeks and as if she wasn’t going to ride there! Two weeks ended up being one year and she rode many horses, starting with schoolmasters and then young horses through to S Level. At this time, she decided to sell Squizz in NZ to help fund her habit.

On her return home she was keen to buy a dressage prospect and wanted something by the stallion Johnson, as her favourite to train in Germany was by Johnson. David Woolley, from Woodhill, near Auckland, had an unbroken two-year-old by Johnson for sale, a chestnut that was not super-inspiring, out of a thoroughbred mare by Pompei Court, who was a beautiful type. He also had another one by Johnson that was incredibly difficult, going under saddle.

Melissa asked around and was warned by everyone not to go near them, as they were not of good temperaments and had been for sale for a considerable time. The older chestnut gelding, Windermere Johanson, was difficult, to say the least, and Melissa knew this. He was cold-backed and could buck like crazy. But Melissa, being who she is, decided to go and make up her own mind.

She instantly liked the two-year-old, and David, knowing the rider Melissa was, told her she could only take J’Obei if she took the naughty one. The deal was done and on starting with Johanson she was bucked off with regular monotony. Not to say that she had been warned by all and sundry, but David had a feeling that under this quirkiness was a super-athletic dressage horse. Melissa is no quitter and has worked him out to a tee, and Johanson is now a competent and good Grand Prix horse at the age of 11 with scores between 67% and 70% at big competitions.

Her parents’ property has modest dressage facilities with two stables, but her horses live outside most of the time. The 60m x 20m is a sand arena and not so super fancy, but adequate. Melissa’s husband, Lachy, works on the vineyard as a mechanic and is behind Melissa’s dream every inch of the way.

“Lachy is so supportive of my equestrian pursuits and pushes me along with his caring attitude,” says Melissa. “He came to Willinga with my mother as support and that they absolutely were. If it wasn’t for Lachy and my fabulous family who I adore, I would not be able to do this sport nor have the courage and confidence that I gain from their positivity and consideration.”

Melissa trains Mondays and Tuesdays in the arena, Wednesday is a hacking day in the forest and then Thursday and Friday it’s back in the arena. “I give them the weekends off unless there is a competition, and then a day or two off after a big competition,” says Melissa. “This works well for me and I train a lot of basics and stretching and suppling exercises in the arena; it’s not always hard days, but more strengthening and fitness work and, of course, keeping them mentally happy.”

Melissa is a fan of snowboarding as well!

Melissa is also a skilled wakeboarder.

Melissa is skilled at a range of outdoor sports!

Melissa with (L-R) J’Obei, Zeilinger (now sold) and Johanson W.

As for J’Obei, the chestnut gelding (J’Obei is French for “I obey” and was named by a French girl working at David’s, as he was so compliant), Melissa had him broken in at three years old by Jeff Hill. “He was a delight in his temperament and showed a very accepting and willing manner to train,” says Melissa. “He certainly was very spooky and not initially a great mover in the trot, but rather scampered around. I knew there was a trot in there as I had seen it on the lunge and in the paddock, and so I set about finding a way to give him the confidence to show it under saddle.

“As his training improved and time progressed, and the transitions within the pace and the half-halts allowed me to get the balance and the weight over the hind leg, so he started to develop the carrying strength and a wonderful, cadenced trot has now developed. With great eyes and help on the ground, initially from Andrea Raves and now with Vanessa Way, I have developed the two horses that I was advised not to go near into international Grand Prix athletes.”

J’Obei competed as a four-year-old but was not so successful and was extremely spooky. As a five-year-old, he still wasn’t that decent but did manage an 85% in a young horse class once and was the South Island five-year-old champion. He had talent and with his good genetics and ability to be trained, it was the higher the level, the better he was going to be. As a six-year-old he was improving, but according to Melissa still not that inspiring – but in saying this, he won national titles at Medium level!

“Then as a seven-year-old at Prix St Georges, he hit his straps. It was really an American international judge who noticed him in the World Cup Challenge and gave him a 75%, and that was the catalyst that really fired us all up and it just became better and better from then on,” Melissa explains.

Melissa and J’Obei were successful, even in the early days.

“To this day, I have never had a bad ride on Joey and every day I look forward to working with him no matter what. He always gives 100% and the expedition we are having is beyond any of my expectations and that is one hell of a ride and time!

It’s very, very exciting and been an amazing journey so far. It’s also great to see David Woolley, who breeds so many fantastic young horses with great bloodlines and natural ability, to be so involved in the journey as well. He even came to watch J’Obei at Willinga and what a team and what a thrill for all of us.”

After only having his first Grand Prix start in October of 2019 and only having had four starts at the level before Dressage by the Sea, Melissa decided to make the trip across the ditch with a very strong group of experienced New Zealand dressage riders. They were the babies of the group and didn’t they shine! J’Obei had six starts in the two weeks at the head-to-head CDI competitions, and at the first event finished third in the Grand Prix on 69.174%; second in the Grand Prix Special on 69.660%; and second in the Freestyle on 75.565%. At the second event, they finished second in the Grand Prix on 70.087%; second in the Grand Prix Special on 71.234%; and capped it off with second in the Freestyle on 75.655%. The only rider to beat her over the two weekends of competition was Olympian Mary Hanna. Not bad considering only four Grand Prix starts prior to these competitions!

Melissa and her support team.

On asking Melissa her thoughts about her first CDI she says: “What an amazing venue. Willinga Park is like a competition dream come true. From the stables and superb footing in all the arenas, to the friendliness and the kindness the staff, and the amazing gardens and surrounds to the park… the best facilities possible we were given and the relaxed attitude made competing fun and I felt so proud to be a part of it.

“I never dreamt of the success, but on the other hand I have a great rapport with J’Obei and we trust each other. He is a consistent horse to work and gives his all. We are young at the level and I know I have a lot to learn and work on, but to be able to be amongst this quality of horse and rider, and rub shoulders with them and watch and learn every day, is like heaven on earth. Two competitions of CDI status in two weeks, wow! I have to say it was an experience that I will hold dear forever and I have to feel proud of the training we have done. And to all those along the way that have had a part of this journey, I have to thank them immensely.”

Melissa and J’Obei will be back again to Aussie shores soon (post-corona) to compete, and it will be a better and stronger and more confident combination. Since returning to New Zealand, they have won every class at the NZ Horse of the Year Show and were honoured with the Horse of the Year Award. Melissa and J’Obei, in their first season in Grand Prix and at only nine years old, have won every NZ Grand Prix championship they have entered.

Melissa is one of those rare athletes who manages to remain focused on the prize yet keeps the big picture in perspective. She is not one to fuss or become frustrated in a sport that is far from uncomplicated. Her family means the world to her and her life. They are so supportive and want to see that 12-year-old’s goal become a reality through dedication and hard work with those eyes on the prize. What a great story and life so far, and this talented lady will go a long way. Her rides were inspirational to all dressage enthusiasts from young riders to judges, breeders and coaches. Her riding, and the empathy and harmony she develops between horse and rider are what it’s all about. EQ

This is a unique website which will require a more modern browser to work!

Please upgrade today!

Enter your name and email to view the content.

* By providing your email via this form, you agree to receiving emails from Equestrian Life. You can unsubscribe at any time.