Simone Pearce has a favourite story about her passion for horses and her unorthodox journey to her first Olympics.
It’s a story that starts with her deciding, at the age of three, that she would compete at the Games, and become a young entrepreneur at the age of six to fund her dream.
Her journey saw her pursue a modelling career in Europe and fight back from a horror accident in which she was crushed under a falling horse.
“No one really knows me, no one really knows my backstory. It’s not the usual one,” Pearce said.
“I’ve alway wanted to do this. I was riding by myself at two and I remember rounding up the cows on my pony. But I started telling people I was going to the Olympics when I was three.
“I had a DVD about an Olympics my mum gave me and I watched it every day. I was obsessed with it.
“As a child you should do rising trot but I would say, ‘At the Olympics they don’t do that, so I won’t do it. I’m training for the Olympics’.
“I wanted to do sitting trot, which they did at the Olympics. I thought it was a little bit amateur that we weren’t doing it to be honest. I was three. But I was 100 per cent dedicated to going to an Olympics. Needless to say I never won anything.”
Pearce said mother Robyn, whose family have farmed in Victoria for four generations and who bought her a pony “before I was even born’’, has been a major supporter and driver in her journey to the Olympics.
“We aren’t your typical dressage family. We are not super wealthy, we are more modest people,’’ she said.
“We bought horses and sold them for more money to fund the campaign. We have been having this mentality since I was six when mum and I had our first project.
“I went to the sales and bought a pony for not very much. I broke him in, took him to shows and then sold him for more and it went in from there.
“At five or six I knew I wanted to do this in a big way. Mum said we can’t do what other families do, so you will have to be OK with selling the horses, understanding the business side of the equestrian world.
“At a young age I learned the value of making it in my own world.’’
Pearce was born in Bendigo but grew up on a farm at Lockington, 200km north of Melbourne, population less than 1000.
She relocated to Melbourne for the final years of her schooling, then headed to The Netherlands to model when just 18.
“After two weeks I just couldn’t bear to be away from the horses any longer,” she said.
She then picked up work riding horses for various companies and stables in Holland, Germany and Denmark, improving her skills and competing regularly.
But in 2018 the journey almost ended when Pearce was crushed by a horse, weighing around 800kg and believed to have suffered an aneurysm during a demonstration event at Horsley Park, in Sydney.
“I don’t remember too much,” Pearce said.
“Thirteen bones broke, I popped my lung, I had a haematoma in my abdomen and I was in intensive care for a week in a Sydney hospital.”
But not even this was going to stop Pearce pursuing her dream of competing at an Olympic Games.
“I was back riding in four weeks,” she said.
“Honestly, I’m not too fazed by things like this. I think it comes with the territory. Riding is pretty dangerous. I have had lots of accidents but I am very cautious and careful.”
In Tokyo, Pearce’s goal is to make the final of her event with her black stallion Destano, co-owned by Pearce and Gestut Sprehe, and with her groom Emily Reudavey.
At 29, she will be the youngest member of the Australian equestrian team and currently holds all three Australian Grand Prix dressage records.
Australia’s dressage team also includes grandmother Mary Hanna, heading to her sixth Olympics and Kelly Layne, making her debut at 46.
Dressage in Tokyo involves a team event and an individual event.
All athletes compete in the Grand Prix event, with qualifiers on Saturday and Sunday, where the scores of their performances count towards qualifying for both the dressage team event and the individual event.
The best eight teams, including all teams type the eighth place, qualify for the team event final. The top two athletes from each group and the six with an express score qualify for the individual event final.
Since Rio the team size has dropped from three to four athlete/horse combinations.