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Edwina Tops-Alexander: "I think the break probably did me a world of good"

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Photo (c) Jenny Abrahamsson.
“You sort of realize that you enjoy it all a bit more,” Edwina says about coming back to the ring after her break. All photos (c) Jenny Abrahamsson.

Australia’s Edwina Tops-Alexander has returned from her short maternity leave looking better than ever, and with results to match. We sat down with Edwina to hear more about how having a child has changed her as a rider, her post-baby comeback in the ring and the way she is giving back to her native Australia. 

“I think it just puts things more into a perspective,” Edwina shares about how having a baby and a break from showing has given her a new outlook on life. “You sort of realize that you enjoy it all a bit more,” she smiles. “Even if you don’t have a great day, at the end there is always something good to look forward to. I think mainly I am a bit more relaxed now, and maybe I don’t stress so much.”

However, combining motherhood and riding on the highest level is not easy. “It is super important to be really organized, and obviously I need help, otherwise I cannot do it,” Edwina explains. “So it is really important to have good people with you.” 

Having competed at the highest level of the sport for years on end, the maternity leave offered Edwina a breather from an extremely busy schedule. “I think the break probably did me a world of good,” she tells. “Even though I was still travelling and going to most of the shows, I think it was good for me. At this level, to stay on the top, it means going as much as you have to. It is one of the few sports that doesn’t have a break – it is really hard. And although you can make it how you want, and you can do it how you like, you have to go as much as possible to keep up your ranking.“

Photo (c) Jenny Abrahamsson.
"I think that the FEI should give us a “proper” maternity leave," Edwina says.

Talking about the pressure of staying on the top of the game, Edwina admits how tough travelling week in and week out can be. But even though demanding, it is necessary to stay on the move. “First of all, you don’t stay in the rhythm yourself and your horses don’t stay in the rhythm either. I think that is hard, to do around 40 weekends of competition every year. Sometimes I have been doing 46 weekends in a year! So to have that break was in a way needed. I have been going for a long time at this level.” 

To try help the female athletes combine motherhood and riding, the FEI freezes the ranking points while a rider is pregnant. A rider  will retain 50% of the Longines Rankings points earned from the corresponding month of the preceding year until she recommences competing internationally. “It has been super important,” Edwina says. “But I think that the FEI  should give us a “proper” maternity leave."

To be able to come straight back to the top level of the sport and to perform well is a huge challenge, too. “I was lucky, because it did not take me long at all and I started very soon,” Edwina explains. "I stayed very fit and kept up with exercise to be able to bounce back, but everyone is different."

Edwina hopes to be an example to other women on how having children should not hinder you from having a successful career. “I think it is good for women to see that combining it all is possible; Malin, Penelope, Luciana and Meredith have successfully come back to the highest level. It is important to not only think about the sport; there are other things in life. For me, having a baby was something I always wanted, it was just a matter of when. I am really happy and fortunate and I feel blessed."

Photo (c) Jenny Abrahamsson.
"I feel fresh, I've got some great horses and that is really exciting and it’s nice to be able to step back into the sport with these kind of horses straight away.”

Not being able to go back to her native Australia as often as she would like to, yet still feeling like she wants to give something back, Edwina recently announced that she and her husband Jan Tops are sponsoring a new national series for young Aussie riders. “I hope to inspire the young riders and to encourage them,” she explains about the idea behind the series. “We want to give them a feeling of a championship.” 

Edwina and Jan are not involved in how the competition is run, but are simply sponsoring the events. “It was just an idea that George Sanna and I discussed to put something together,” she tells us. “We also try to encourage them to come to Europe; they can come to us if they like, for some of the shows to watch and learn. I think it is important for them to also see that Australia is a great learning environment. Australia doesn’t have anything like Pan Am Games or the Asian Games etc, we only have the World Equestrian Games and the Olympics – so for the riders there, to feel like they have something like a championship is really important,” Edwina says. “And I hope it is just going to grow more and more and that I can give something back. I really hope to inspire the younger riders and guide them”

Fresh from her break, Edwina feels more competitive than ever, although her plan is not complete yet. “There is the World Equestrian Games coming up, and of course the Global Champions Tour, so it is a big year,” she says. “It depends a bit on how my horses are coming back over the next few shows, then I can structure my plan a bit more. My goal is just to do the best I can, and to get back up on the ranking – depending on how my horses are.” 

“I was really excited and happy to come back, and really motivated. Like I said, the break was good for me. I think anyone who comes back fresh from anything, feels a bit more motivated. I feel fresh, I've got some great horses and that is really exciting and it’s nice  to be able to step back into the sport with these kind of horses straight away.”


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