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Posted by Equestrian Australia on 08/04/2024.

Jodie McKeone’s Triumphant Return to Exloo

Australia’s Para Driving superstar Jodie McKeone recently left her Macedon Ranges property in Victoria and returned to Exloo in The Netherlands where she previously enjoyed great success, taking on the best at the FEI World Championships for Para Driving Grade 1 Class, in August 2023.  Jodie wowed Dutch enthusiasts and fellow competitors who praised her gutsy, winning Marathon drive.  Her teammates on this occasion were the KWPN Hackney Royal Walker, generously loaned by legendary UK driver George Bowman, and backstepper Sietske Flobbe. The Australian finished the competition in 3rd place overall at this prestigious event.

Shortly after returning home, Jodie and Sietske began making plans for a return to Exloo to compete from 27-31 March 2024, and at Kronenberg from 17-21 April. Jodie explained, “In 2023 I decided to return to The Netherlands in 2024 as the next step in honing my skills and qualifying for the World Para Driving Championships in 2025.”

Equestrian Australia was pleased to speak with Jodie and find out more about her trip and what arrangements she had to make to get away for six-weeks to gain international experience and help foster the rising interest in Australian Driving, particularly as a way of opening doors for para equestrians to participate in this discipline.

There was much to do for this Aussie dynamo, and those who follow Jodie’s story know that she has a completely dependent, special needs son, Jake, and his care takes No 1 priority in the management of everyday life.  Apart from the checklist of tasks to ensure that OS plans were in place, Jodie had to set up daytime help for Jake and support for her husband Jason, who was in charge of transport and after-work care, whilst juggling the demands of a full-time job. Jodie praised the many people who helped and particularly thanked Jason for taking on the big task of keeping Jake and the property going.  

At the time of this discussion, Jodie told Equestrian Australia that she had just finished an emotional video call with Jason on a day that delivered a long-awaited milestone for their son.  She said, “We have been waiting three years for Jake’s new wheelchair and on the 3rd of April, the dream finally came true.  There were lots of tears when I saw the video of him receiving the chair and having it fitted to his needs.  This is the first chair that Jake has had as an adult, he has outgrown the one he has had since he was 16. Now at 24, Jake’s needs have changed and advancements in the technology and design of mobility aids have significantly improved. This new chair will be life-changing.”

Jodie’s return to The Netherlands is another step in her quest to further Driving in Australia and she said of her trip, “Exloo offers so much more than just an equestrian destination, it is a very scenic, quaint historical village in the province of Drenthe that lies about 12 km north of Emmen. The region is known for its many tourist attractions and travellers as well as dedicated equestrian fans flock to take in horse sports held in this picturesque part of the World.”  Jodie sees her time in The Netherlands as more than competing for personal achievement and said, “It is about building skills and gaining international experience that will contribute to the sport.

“Competition and training for enthusiasts at home is improving. Case in point, just before I left Australia, I travelled from the Macedon Ranges to Holbrook in NSW to be part of a week-long Driving clinic with Tor Van Den Berg.  Tor is another Aussie success story, joining our country’s most successful equestrian Boyd Exell, who has put Australian Driving on the map.  I enjoyed Tor’s clinic and it was a good lead-up for the Exloo competitions.

Jodie shared details of her trip and said, “Between jet lag and getting a severe cold that just did not want to leave me, I had to rely on my support crew and they did an incredible job to get us through the event. Here in The Netherlands, I am staying with Lysanne DeGroot, who will be my backstepper for the 2024 Exloo and Kronenberg competitions. I am so grateful to the people in the sport and fellow competitors here, we share a passion and help each other between competitions. Despite being so far from home, I have felt very fortunate to be at a venue that I know.”

Over the recent Easter weekend, Jodie got the job done and gave all praise to the wonderful mare Merlemont Rosina, a Welsh Cob bred in Belgium.  Jodie said, “I sincerely thank her owner, Brenda Kaptien.  Lysanne has access to great driving trails in the local forest and we worked together for a week before the competition, this was a great way for me to get to know Rosina as well as a chance to test out our Aussie/Dutch communication skills.

“The usual show routine starts 3 days prior to arrival at the venue and we use the FEI App to record the horse’s health information every day.  Horse welfare is very important and we take temperatures AM and PM daily. Wednesday was arrival day and Thursday was Dressage for some and training for others. Friday, the Para Dressage was a feature event, and on Saturday we took part in the Marathon. Sunday was the day for Cones and my entire team was happy with our results - Dressage 5th, Marathon 2nd, Cones 1st, for 2nd place overall. We still have work to do and there is room for some improvement, but my team here and supporters back home are pleased, as results show that the planning is right and we are on an upward trajectory.”

Jodie was impressed with the way the competition ran and said, “Before the commencement of the event the Head of the Ground Jury explained the rules and expectations of the Organising Committee and passed on a recent request from the FEI.  The International Peak Body for equestrian sport asked that everyone at the competition keep in mind that equestrian sport needs to ensure that photos for articles and social media are good in nature and show the sport in a positive way.”

Jodie concluded by sharing details of a special evening in Exloo. “A highlight of this competition was the stallion show that took place on Saturday night. Some incredible horses and ponies were presented, ranging from American Shetlands, Hackneys, KWPN, Lusitanos, New Forest Ponies, Welsh Ponies from all sections and sizes, Baroque Pintos and amazing Friesians, that are so loved here in their homeland. We were treated to spectacular led demonstrations, long-reining and horses in Harness, with commentary in Dutch, so I didn’t understand all of the words but enjoyed it anyway.  Great music set the mood and the show worked seamlessly to keep everyone entertained.”

For more information about the competitions, follow these links (in Dutch) with a button for the English version on top right-hand side of the home page.

Exloo 2024 (NED)  27 March - 31 March 2024

Kronenberg 2024 (NED) 17 April - 21 April 2024

Photography by: Bianca Douwes 

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