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Learning English and keeping up with my equestrian pursuits

12 Nov, 2021
Learning English and keeping up with my equestrian pursuits

Meet new Kings Oxford student Michelle Durst, a young Swiss equestrian expert. We recently spoke to her about all things 'horsey' and found out more about her adjustment to life here in Oxford.

Hi Michelle. What was it like for you during COVID and how did it disrupt your equestrian life day to day?

In Switzerland there was nothing, it was a year of training, I'm currently at a three-star level, and hope that with the training I've done this year, and ensuring all the horses are fine, next year I should become four-star qualified.

Is there quite a sense of community amongst the equestrian community?

t’s nice sometimes when I go to competitions I'll see friends, but I mean I travel all over Europe and so not always, and obviously during COVID it made it difficult to see people, as it did for everyone. I’ve been doing this for a long time and so there are plenty of familiar faces, for my first European Championships I was eleven.

How did you balance your education and school life given how much of it is taken up with your horses?

I attended normal Swiss school for six years and then only went to sports schools. When you're in the National Charter which essentially is the big team, the national team, where you’re traveling internationally. You receive a Swiss talent card, this allows you to take the time off school, as it shows that you are clearly talented in whatever particular field you're in. But yes, you did have to be good at school, it’s not just like having a hobby or something, this way they know it’s something you do professionally and take seriously and are really good at.

How old were you when you first tried riding?

I was four years old the first time I ever rode, it was my best friend's mum who asked me if I would like to try a class riding a Shetland pony, she persuaded me by saying I could go with my best friend, and that we would have picnics! It was the owner of this yard that told me I was talented and that I should aim high.

"I was terrified of showjumping when I was younger, but now I love it and next year it will be ten years riding internationally for the national charter."

How many horses did you bring over to the UK and what do you intend on doing with them whilst you’re here?

"I have three horses over here at the moment, they're currently staying at a yard in Wantage, so I am able to see and ride them every day whilst obviously studying here in Oxford."

When they arrived here, I didn’t ride my horses for five weeks, as I was in Ireland riding my much younger horses in smaller showjumping competitions in which I came 5th and 6th.

What’s the next big event / competition you have coming up here in the UK with your three horses?

That’s a good question, it’s difficult to say there's nothing really happening until next year, next February when everything starts to begin again. So, for now, it’s just lots of training and preparation.

What British eventing competition do you aspire and hope to one day compete in?

In general – Badminton, that’s the goal but I need a few years until I get there both for me and my horse!

Do you tend to get nervous before you compete in big competitions?

No, I love it! I used to get nervous before I ride but as soon as I get on and start riding I'm fine and I feel relaxed again – it’s my whole life at the moment.

Have you had the opportunity to visit Blenheim, I'm sure you know about the horse trials is amazing; is that somewhere you’d like to one day compete?

I’ve been! It’s 20 minutes away, I went only for training earlier this year; but next year I'm going to compete here. With COVID, things have gone backwards, in Switzerland we didn’t have really any competitions, just a whole year of training.

What do you hope to get out of your time here at Kings, what’s your aim?

Well academically I hope to improve my writing mostly, my English speaking doesn’t seem to be the issue so much, but grammatically it’s not perfect, but I mean I'm here to learn it better. I’m reading a lot, I'm good at reading English. I love books, I grew up without a television so I'm always reading books, it’s more that I need help improving my writing and reading. But I'm here til March which is enough time, I hope.