Off to South Africa we go…..

Off to South Africa we go…..

 It was quite a rush after competing in Saumur and presenting at the Simon Constable vets evening to get everything ready before leaving for South Africa.  Before I knew it I was on a plane flying out of the country – hoping that I hadn’t forgotten anything important.  The first time I travelled to South Africa was at the end of 2015 and this is my third visit over there since – I absolutely love the country, people and the lifestyle.

It is great to be back in such a beautiful country and I am so excited for the weeks ahead.  I am staying with my ‘adopted’ South African family ‘the Michalakis family’ and helping to coach their daughters Gabs and Dimitra (Noodle) whilst I am out here.  Gabs has only recently come back into the sport after an ACL injury last year.

We started doing a lot of barrel work in order to get routines ready for their first Pas de Deux competition back together in mid-May.  They vault individually on a beautiful dressage horse, Sacareo – who competes advanced dressage – but this would be their first time competing Pas de Deux on this horse.  He took to Pas De Deux (pairs) extremely well and with two weeks practise before the competition proved that not only is he a great individual horse but also a great pas de deux horse too.

I was extremely lucky that the Michalakis family put on a weekend vaulting camp at their home for me to coach at.  It was great to have a group of dedicated vaulters to work with over the weekend and I was so lucky to get to use their facilities from which to run the camp. We based the camp solely on fitness and Barrell work which was great to look at these aspects in depth. Whilst it may be coming into winter it was so nice to be coaching the whole weekend outside in the sunshine – something that is a rare occurrence for me in Scotland. They also have a moving barrel ‘mechanical horse’ which we could practise on – another novelty that I don’t have at home. The mechanical horse is extremely handy as well as their isn’t that much horse time so whilst it is never the same as practising on the horse it does simulate the movement and you can vary the speed etc depending on the kids level.

On the lookout for a new horse

We are on the lookout for a vaulting horse for the girls for the future. I have been to look at so many horses at home for vaulting and they are incredibly hard to find especially getting the right height, build and temperament whilst still possessing a good quality canter. The first horse that we went to see was unfortunately too small for what we were looking for; at 15.3hh it wouldn’t have been able to cope with their pas de deux especially with what they hope to achieve in the future.

I then went with the family to Underberg to look for a new potential vaulting horse. Firstly the scenery was absolutely beautiful. There are about 500 horses on the farm that we were staying on, it was amazing to see these beautiful horses living in the wild.  The farm has a range of different breeds and it was just like going on a ‘horse safari’. There were many horses I wouldn’t mind taking back with me to Scotland. Once you pick a horse from Underberg they spend a month backing the horse before you get it.  I have only ever previously been used to training horses that have already got some experience behind them; whether that is in jumping or dressage, so I am excited to see how the (fingers crossed) future vaulting horse progresses.

In competition

Although I have been over in South Africa a couple of times before, this was the first time I had ever attended a competition. I love experiencing vaulting competitions in different countries although we compete the same sport there is always a different unique atmosphere everywhere you go.  One big difference for me was the competition starting at mid-day, a lovely surprise and very different to our usual 5:30am starts on competition days back home.  Normally I am running around crazy with our horses or club vaulters so it was great to be able to enjoy the competition and watch a lot of vaulting over varying levels. Anna Auberet from Germany who has been over coaching and lungeing in South Africa for five months did an amazing job at the competition.

Taking a beach break

I am very good friends with Natalya the eldest Michalakis daughter – who was actually a part of the South African Lipizzaners for many years! We decided alongside Anna and Keagan (a fellow vaulter) to book a beach holiday to Durban for a few days as it is hot there all year round! Unfortunately it was torrential rain the whole time we were there. However whilst it may not have been a beach holiday it was so much fun to get away with the girls on a road trip, stay in incredible accommodation and eat delicious food. I believe that South Africa has it all and I love exploring the country as much as possible.

Back to business

I am now off to Cape Town for a few days to coach there which is extremely exciting. My horses and vaulters at home have a national and international competition coming up in the next couple of weeks that I am missing because I am out in SA so I am trying to stay as up to date as possible whilst also getting the vaulters out here ready for their next competition. Whilst I do get to be around horses here I definitely miss my horses at home too and just being with them day in and day out, but I get regular updates from my family at home and I wish my fellow vaulters the best of luck in their upcoming competition.

Watch Hannah’s video here


Hannah Eccles

HOYS Ambassador


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