Ride of her life

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It’s hard to believe Queens­towner Jude Nickolls isn’t wearing a Wonder Woman outfit underneath her neat corporate attire. 

A successful accountant, mother of twin toddlers, and community volunteer, she’s also rapidly working her way up the national ranks of competitive horse riding. 

The 36-year-old recently won a national incentive award for dressage and placed sixth in New Zealand at the national dressage championships in level five. She’s also moved up to level six/seven – the grade below Olympic level, or grand prix. 

Nickoll’s spent the summer attending eight South Island dressage events and has just been named the high points prizewinner for the “advanced” category (level six/seven) in Southland. 

And she’s managed to achieve all this on an ex-trekking horse, Glenview Caballero, or Cabby, that she has spent countless hours training to perform at elite level. 

The mostly self-taught horsewoman is also coached by Auckland rider and horse trainer Lisa Blackborne, and one of NZ’s top rider-trainers Bill Noble, of Hamilton. 

Describing Nickolls as an over-achiever is probably an understatement. 

“Life is busy and fantastic,” she says. 

“I like to stay busy. Life is short. I think you should do everything that makes you happy. There’s no point in doing something that doesn’t. 

“But with everything I do, I have to be very organised with my day.” 

It hasn’t all been plain sailing, however. 

In December 2009 she and her husband Mark learned they were expecting twins. Nickolls worked right through her pregnancy till just before the twins were born and developed a facial paralysis condition called Bell’s Palsy, brought on by stress. 

“It was like I’d had a stroke. My eye was dangling open, I couldn’t blink, I couldn’t eat or talk properly because my mouth was open,” she recalls. 

The twins, Taylor and Jake, were born in August 2010. It took a total of 18 months before her condition disappeared, but Nickolls was back riding within six months of the twins’ births. 

“I’m just determined and a little bit stubborn,” she explains. 

The senior accountant and manager at local firm McCulloch’s has her average daily routine well planned out: Up at 6am, feed the twins, get ready for work, tidy the house before leaving at 7.40am with the kids to feed her two horses. The kids are then taken to either pre-school or Nickolls’ mum, Sharyn Stalker, before she heads to work for the day.

Nickolls finishes work at 4pm, goes to her horses to work them for two hours, then picks up the kids from her parents’ place in Shotover Country. The kids go to bed, the couple has dinner and then Nickolls works on her voluntary jobs as treasurer for Queenstown Childcare Centre and Wakatipu Riding Club. She also works part-time as financial controller for the Shotover Country development. 

“I miss my kids heaps when I’m working and I’d rather be hanging out with them and Mark, but I have a great job,” she says. 

“Riding is the only thing that lets me do everything else. You can forget about everything else in your world while riding. Mark knows that and he’s the most supportive hubby. We work really well as a team. 

“With my riding, I wouldn’t be able to do it without the team around me – my family, my friends, my workplace – everyone gives a little bit.” 

Like every successful individual, Nickolls has goals – and lots of them. 

“I want to get my current horse to grand prix level. Then the same with my young horse [Luminosa]. My plan is to keep producing horses to grand prix,” she says. 

“I want to win a grand prix title in NZ. I want to be exceptional. I want sponsors; I want the whole she-bang. 

Then I want to start travelling overseas once I have a good horse or two. 

“I’ve also got big plans for this valley and the horse-riding facilities here.” 

Competing at the Olympic Games is unlikely. 

“To get to that level you’d have to work with horses 24-7 and base yourself in Europe. 

“But then never say never – there was a 72-year-old rider competing at the Olympics last year, so I’m half-way there. It’s not on my goal list at the moment,” she laughs.