A powerful human-animal bond has propelled Tenterfield reining competitor Sidney Paech and her “forever” horse, 12-year-old gelding Onya Wozza, or Chewy, to the cusp of a national title.
Their strong connection helped soothe the anxiety Chewy had felt when the 19-year-old took possession of him about two years ago – the result, Paech says, of the horse being “pushed” by previous owners – and laid the foundation for her best year in the sport.
In her final year as a junior, she finished 2017 as the No.2 ranked youth competitor in Australia, with her best result second place in the 14-18 age group at the nationals at AELEC in September. She was also a top 10-ranked rookie for levels one and two.
Paech will eventually get another horse, but she will never part with Chewy.
“I don’t want him to go to another home where he is pushed,” she said. “I want mine to be his forever home, even if I stop riding him.
“He’s won a lot and he’s a talented horse, but he deserves to have a break.”
Before Chewy, Paech had a mare, and they “just didn’t get along”. Initially, she had a “few problems” with Chewy but he was “a lot easier” to work with than the mare.
“He helped me and I’ve helped him and it’s been really good,” she said. “He’s very talented. He’s just had a hard life.
“So I gave him what he wanted. I didn’t push him, and it worked in my favour.”
Reining is a western riding competition where the rider guides the horse through a precise pattern of circles, spins and stops.
After the “settling in” period of their relationship in 2016, the duo began 2017 with a win, and continued to do so all year – competing at ribbon shows and large shows in Gatton, Caboolture and Tamworth.
The first large show was in March at Gatton SQRHA Slide and Spin, where Paech won three buckles to place first in the 14-18 age group.
She was also first for rookie levels one and two.
In June she competed at the Pacific Coast Reining Spectacular in Gatton, winning a buckle in rookie level one and finishing second in rookie level two and youth 14-18.
The Southern Queensland Reining Horse Association recently named Paech rookie of the year champion (levels one and two). She also won the high-points award for youth 14-18.
Paech said a key to harnessing Chewy’s full potential, and thus allowing her to do the same, was “slowing” him down.
“It wasn’t really hard [his life] but he’s had to run fast and everything like that,” she said. “I took him and slowed him down.
“Now he’s comfortable, and he doesn’t get worried when we go into the pen. Sometimes he used to take off and go a bit silly.”
Her decision to train harder – five or six days a week – has also fuelled her improvement, as has the maturing of her relationship with Chewy.
“I’ve had him two years. They say it takes about 12 months to get to know your horse really well and to ride really well with him.”