THE ‘brilliant’ equestrian facilities on offer at Charles Sturt University (CSU) were part of the reason behind Olympian Rachael Downs’ decision to make Wagga home.
Downs made the move from Hawkesbury to Wagga a little over three months ago and has quickly settled into the city’s vibrant equestrian community.
Downs was part of the Australian dressage team that finished sixth at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. She is a World Cup winner that now calls Wagga home.
“I’d been coming out this way for competitions the last few years, getting a feel for the area. I’ve got some lovely friends out here and it was time for a change,” Downs said.
“The kids were really happy to move out here so as long as the kids were happy to move out here, it was a done deal.”
Downs will be watching on as competitors from Victoria, Queensland, Canberra and across NSW travel to Wagga for this weekend’s Riverina Dressage Festival at CSU’s Equestrian Centre.
While not competing, Downs will be there as an interested onlooker with her 14-year-old daughter Romany Sanna set to take her place at the event.
The festival starts on Friday and goes through until Sunday with more than 300 dressage tests to be performed. The event is an important one with riders vying to compete at the state and national championships later in the year.
“Also being a regional qualifier, it’s quite a major event,” Downs said.
“To have a facility like this where you can have your grassroots right through to your elite athletes, very good judges come out this way as well, the facilities are fantastic, it’s one of the best facilities, if not the best facility, outside Sydney International Equestrian Centre.”
Downs said the facilities were one of the reasons she chose Wagga to live.
“It’s brilliant,” she said.
“The CSU have just got amazing facilities.
“I was out here this time last year and there were floods out here and we competed for the four days, we were here for a week, and the arenas held up amazing. I mean, they were under water, but they are all-weather footing and if you’re going to get wet, you’re going to get wet but as long as the footings good for the horses, there’s no reason not to ride.”
Downs is using her experience to help guide the next generation of dressage stars.
“I still love the training and I love the coaching,” she said.
She described her Olympic experience as unforgettable.
“Fantastic. Nothing beats that, everything is a bit of a downer after that,” she said.
“When you do something like an Olympics and do it in your home country, and my own home town, it doesn’t get any better.”
The Riverina Dressage Festival is hosted by Riverina Equestrian Association’s Wagga Dressage Club.
Competitors ranging from ages five to 85 will take part in sections ranging from Grand Prix to the lower classes.
Compeition starts at 11am on Friday and entry is free with a canteen in operation.