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24 June 2020

Take a break from the books and learn something new with equestrian elite athlete student Jamie

Meet Jamie Mita, an elite athlete student who is currently studying a Bachelor of Exercise and Sport Science at Deakin. Here she shares with us her thoughts about her university experience, love for equestrian and some of the more challenging times she has faced in life.

Equestrian is a unique sport, tell us how you fell in love with it.

Jamie and her former competition horse, Westewind .

Jamie and her former competition horse, Westewind.

Both of my parents have been involved in equestrian since before I was born and together built Balmoral Equestrian Centre in 1989, so I have been riding pretty much since the day I was born. My mum has been a competitive dressage rider for more than 40 years and was the High Performance Manager of Dressage and Para-Equestrian for the National Equestrian Federation. I think this inspired me to push my hobby to elite level as I was exposed to the elite way of functioning from a very young age. 

How have you adjusted to university life?

The first few weeks were quite overwhelming getting my bearings on campus and my sport was a great stress relief for me during this time. However, I don’t feel as though it took very long to settle in. I feel very comfortable now.

Study/work/life balance… how is that going for you?

While I’m at uni there isn’t much ‘life’ in my study/work/life balance. I train five days a week, usually for a minimum of four hours every morning and go to the gym five days a week as well. My uni schedule this year has me on campus two to three days a week and I also work three nights, coaching and managing horses. I try to squeeze in any social time on weekends when it doesn’t clash with competitions. Equestrian is a unique sport in which there is an incredibly strong partnership between the horse and rider. As the human element of the team, I have to stay accountable not only to myself but to my horses. Their physical and mental fitness and health are as important to the partnership as mine, so if I do feel for some reason unmotivated to train, the idea of not wanting to let my partner down keeps me accountable. 

Share your morning routine with us.

My morning routine starts with my training. I ride up to six horses a day, training each at different levels for about 30–40 minutes per horse, this involves tacking and untacking each, as well as washing and feeding them. As a dressage athlete, my training involves flatwork with my horses working on their strength, gymnastic flexibility and progressively teaching them the required movements. After this I either complete uni work if I have a break or start work coaching younger athletes or caring for the horses kept on our property. After I’ve finished for the day I usually have time to fit gym in, focusing on my core stability and strength.

How do you relax?

My horses are a huge stress relief for me so although they’re my profession, spending ‘downtime’ with them helps me to relax. Other than this, watching TV or listening to music also helps. 

You’re an elite athlete – why study?

I wanted to study as equestrian is an extremely expensive sport (with elite level dressage horses selling on average well into the hundreds of thousands of euros) and a sport in which it is difficult to make money. I wanted a financial back-up if working in the industry wasn’t able to support me. There is also a huge link between sport science and equestrian which I find extremely interesting and there are many options within this field that I could pursue and still be involved with horses.  

What overwhelms you as a student?

I find it quite overwhelming when there are a lot of assignments due close together and really struggled with the combination of that and maintaining my training last year. This year I am lucky enough to have extra support with this from the Deakin Elite Athlete Program which helps me manage my studies, particularly when I’m away for competition or training both interstate and overseas. 

Can you tell us a big challenge you have had to overcome in life?

My goal since I started competing at elite level was to represent my country at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. The horse that I was planning on campaigning with was ‘Westewind’, a stallion bought by my parents as a six-month-old in Holland. He was trained to the highest level by my mum and together we were two-times national champions and three-times state champions as well as winning the 2017 World Challenge for the Oceania/Asia region, in which I was the youngest competitor, finishing eighth overall in the world. In December of 2018, Westie and I were asked to travel to Sydney to partake in the ‘Stars of the Future’ masterclass. During training at the event, Westie had an aortic rupture while being ridden by an international rider and died instantly. A lot of people don’t realise that selections and qualifications are based on a combination, not on the rider, so I didn’t just lose my partner and teammate, I lost the chance to potentially compete at Tokyo. 

After this, I seriously considered ending my career in the sport. It was only due to pressure from clients to ride their horses that I got back in the saddle, and I’m so thankful that I did. It took over a year to find a new young horse however, and it will take around eight years to train her back up to Olympic level. 

Horses are big, strong animals but are more fragile than people think.

Deakin is proud to support elite and emerging athletes as they balance the demands of high-level sport with their studies via the Elite Athlete Program (EAP). The EAP offers support and benefits to student athletes in various ways, ranging from academic assistance and course flexibility to financial support and gym access.

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