Joanna Mathers’ first ever ribbon day was a personal triumph. It wasn’t just that she and the handsome Thomas won several ribbons. For Joanna, it had taken 35 years to realise her childhood dream.

Growing up in Hamilton, Joanna was obsessed with horses and constantly begged for a pony. At 13, her wish came true, but it proved to be a case of be careful what you wish for.

Joanna was a nervous rider who had lots of falls. Cocoa often bolted and was replaced by Banner who, despite his beauty, bit and kicked. Pony number three, Oklahoma, reared all the time.

Her fear of horses replaced her love of them. Oklahoma was sold when Joanna was 16; her dream on hold.

Getting back in the saddle

In 2012, her job as a journalist took her to Kawhia where she was invited to join a horse trek. It took a lot of courage to get back into the saddle.

“They put me on this beautiful Arabian mare – she was so quiet and so sweet and the moment I got back on, I just felt so happy and realised that this is what I had always wanted to do,” Joanna says.

Back in Auckland, she found a riding school that specialised in teaching adults in Helensville.

Once again she experienced feelings of terror and being out of control while on a horse. But she persisted.

Thomas the gentleman

Persistence paid off and Joanna struck gold with Thomas, a beautiful white Arab.

“He’s a really quiet old gentleman; he was absolutely divine.”

Joanna is enjoying dressage events and the huge about of learning involved.

“Like position, the way in which to make the horse move backwards, forwards, sideways. Also, when you’re learning new physical skills, I’ve learnt about tension. I get on a horse and the instructor will say to me, ‘you need to slouch’. And I will say, ‘I don’t know how to slouch’ because I’m usually sitting upright at a computer.”

Gaining confidence

“Riding has given me the confidence to feel like I actually know what I’m doing now,” Joanna says.

“And feeling that you are gaining expertise in something is such an amazing boost – especially something that you really love.”

She says the intensive exercise has been beneficial to her physical and mental health.

“The process of actually getting there – driving out into the countryside; it’s kind of like going on a little holiday each time. Also I have had massive anxiety and depression in my life. I had actually forgotten that I’m a physical person. Becoming aware of the external you is quite amazing and I think quite important for people who exist in their head a lot.”

Now that her love affair with horses has come full circle, Joanna would like to have her own horse again.