Having access to horses is helping this young Victorian ride out the lockdown and ongoing challenges of 2020.
On the front cover of the September-October 2020 edition of Horses and People Magazine we have a portrait by Louise Sedgman of Ashelee Capizzi and her first pony Mary. A veteran in her early thirties, Mary is now retired but helped Ashelee learn to ride and rekindled her love of horses after a break.
The photo was taken three years ago when Ashelee and Mary were winning pony club ribbons. It is a cherished memory of more certain times. There is no doubt that 2020 is exceptionally challenging but, for the Capizzi family as well as many other Australians, the upheaval started much earlier – with a long drought that brought many rural communities to their knees and was followed by the most horrific fire season on record.
Gippsland, where Ashelee’s family lives, was one of the worst hit areas. Hundreds of thousands of hectares and many homes burnt to the ground but the Capizzi’s property was spared. “The fire came up to our back fence” says Ashelee. “We had helicopters water bombing the area but the wind changed direction” she explains.
Ashelee and her brother were evacuated and stayed with their grandmother for a week while their parents, Nicole and Steve, remained to defend the property. No sooner had the fires gone out that the next crisis hit.
Victorians have simply had no time to recover. While compared with other countries Australia had early success controlling the first COVID-19 outbreak, Victoria is currently living through a more deadly second wave and a second round of restrictions, including a nighttime curfew.
The Capizzi’s home is in a rural area but close enough to metropolitan Melbourne to fall within Stage 4 restrictions. Ashelee and her brother are back to home schooling.
“It’s alright. You get used to it after a while. It could be worse” says Ashelee who then adds, “it’s been a week today… five more to go.”
We talk about her horses, her riding and what she enjoys about it. “I love learning new things about them. Having new experiences. I like riding them and learning what they are capable of.
“My dad is my teacher and has taught me everything from day one. That helps. He teaches me new stuff, different mindsets and different skills I can take to teach myself.”
Her pony Mary, who she says still has the ‘go’ of a two-year-old, is happily retired and a companion to Ashelee’s second horse, Ebony, a 14-year-old stockhorse with a background in campdrafting that she hopes to compete in Western Pleasure, cutting, team penning and even jumping events, when the lockdown eases.
“I am looking forward to trying team penning” says Ashelee. “I have a team I can practice with, and the grounds are across the road. There’s a big adult riding club that normally gets together once a month to do cutting, team penning and other events.”
In the meantime, Ashelee continues enjoying her daily rides. “We have our own arena and the property” she explains. “Home schooling is just as boring this time around but we have a routine now. We know when to login to our classes and we get in and get it over and done with.” After school work is over Ashelee can go on a trail ride on Ebony around the property and practice a few different activities.
“Riding is definitely helping during the lockdown, definitely helps with my mental health” she continues. “Helps after being cooped up in the house doing schoolwork to finally go outside and go for a nice ride”.
Young people’s resilience is certainly being put to the test as households juggle with the uncertainty, sadness, frustration, worry and disappointment of the suspension of normal life. Horses and being able to engage in horse-related activities are playing a big part helping them stay active, continue to build skills and set goals.
Now, Horses and People is joining in, and will be donating $2 from each magazine sold through the online portal during September and October 2020 to Headspace Australia.
Headspace works with young people to provide support at a crucial time in their lives – to help get them back on track and strengthen their ability to manage their mental health in the future.