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Posted by Marketing on 23/01/2023.

Vale Wanda Nelson

It is with great sadness that Equestrian WA has learned of the recent passing of Wanda Nelson.

Wanda was a pioneer of dressage in WA as the driving force behind the first ever competition and the only two national championships held here along with many other achievements during 33 years from 1961 to 1994.

She was a strong advocate for all of the equestrian disciplines and she will be sadly missed.

On behalf of the equestrian community in WA, EWA extends our sincere sympathy to her son Roger and family.

Our thanks to Joanne Fowler and Val Mayger for putting together this extraordinary reflection of Wanda's life. 



Wanda Mary Nelson (Nee Shilliday)

20 June 1927 - 11 January 2023

Wanda passed away peacefully at Box Hill Hospital in Melbourne at the age of 95 after a short illness. She was surrounded by all the Nelson family including her grandchildren and great grandchildren.

She will be fondly remembered for her enduring passion for the equestrian world as a competitor, horse owner, supporter, groom, FEI Australian International Dressage Judge, Chef d’equipe of the Australian dressage team and organiser of unique and original equestrian events.

In Western Australia, Wanda will always be remembered for the enormous influence she had o the development of pony club and equestrian sports here, especially in dressage and show horse.

Originally from Victoria, Wanda’s love of the horse world started in Box Hill. Wanda’s father, Ernest Shilliday, was the local GP and her mother, Iona Shilliday, taught Wanda to ride. Wanda was an only child and as her father was busy most days in the doctor’s surgery, Wanda and her mother rode their horses together for miles and miles through the then bushland of east Melbourne to attend events, gymkhanas and shows.

Young Wanda quickly became a committed and accomplished young rider. The Garryowen Trophy at the Royal Melbourne Show was the most prestigious event on the annual show horse calendar and Wanda placed at the turnout competition in 1950 and again in many subsequent years.

But Wanda was not only interested in show horse competitions. She became fascinated by the discipline of dressage and, appropriately, she competed in the first ever dressage competition in Australia in 1950 which was held in Melbourne.

All of this and other equestrian achievements were made while Wanda was working. She had graduated from the University of Melbourne in 1948 as a physiotherapist.

Marrying Bruce Nelson in 1955, they went to live in Highton, Geelong, where of course Wanda became immediately involved in the local equestrian scene and was instrumental in the formation of the Barwon Valley Pony Club.

Her contribution is acknowledged by the Club to this day on the Club’s website -

Barwon Valley Pony Club is one of the oldest clubs in Victoria beginning in 1956 on the Highton Recreation Reserve.

…….Mrs. Wanda Nelson was the first District Commissioner and a strong force in the foundation of the club. Long serving family names in the Club's beginnings are McCann, Birdsey, Collins and Hope

In 1957, their son Roger was born and in 1961 Wanda and Bruce moved to WA as Bruce’s profession of engineering took them to new opportunities in the booming economy of the times.

It was only a very short time before Wanda immersed herself in the horse world of WA and soon became a vital part of the scene. She immediately became involved in pony club and gave the first ever instructors school in 1962. The archives of the PCAWA say Mrs Wanda Nelson was a Visiting Commissioner from pony club in Victoria.  In 1961 she and her family relocated to WA.   She was a great help with establishing the Association, and conducted the first instructors school held at Crumpet Creek in Forrestfield.  She bravely answered questions many of them critical of what the pony club teaches, some of this criticism was so trivial yet needed defending.   One I remember was on dismounting, this argument went on for years, until quitting both feet from the stirrups and landing on the ground in the direction of the horse was facing, was eventually accepted. 

Submitted by Mrs Bobbie Fleay OAM 

Roger also learnt to ride at this time and Wanda started to devote herself to his adventure and growth as a rider, especially through their involvement with the WA Horsemen’s Pony Club. Roger competed very successfully on Balmoral Stella Maris and later on the magnificent chestnut Showday followed by another big chestnut called Patrick. It was during this era in WA that Wanda’s tremendous vision of what could be, not what was at the time, combined with her incredible energy and organising skills became evident and began to flourish.

Wanda organised dressage events, show horse events, administered judge training and set an example herself on the arena.

The Emily Pelloe Equestrian Turnout was the WA equivalent of the Garryowen at the time and Wanda took part in her Garryowen attire. Val Mayger, who to this day remains very involved in dressage and para equestrian through Equestrian WA, remembers this era very well.

“We had never seen anything like that,” says Val. “No-one had ever dressed up, so smartly and elegantly, to ride our horses. We were jaw dropped. I always said Wanda dragged us kicking and screaming into the 21st Century.”

And Wanda knew all about dressage which is something most of us had not even heard of at the time. Now, not only was Wanda riding but Roger was competing on the black pony Stella Maris being coached by Wanda. All Wanda’s horses went nicely and on the bit.

Says Val: “Until then, we thought being on the bit meant pulling their heads in but we could see there was something more to it than that.

“Wanda formed a dressage committee and before we knew it, we had dressage events in WA. “

Some people thought Wanda used to scare the judges into giving her horses good marks by standing at the edge of the arena and giving them the eye. She could be an intimidating presence to some but Val, along with many others, remembers her kindness and generosity.

“I had a good show horse at that stage and the judge at the Perth Royal told me he would look better if I pulled his tail instead of plaiting it,” says Val. “I had absolutely no idea what puling a horse’s tail involved and I said this to Wanda after the event.

“Wanda immediately told me what to do and, not only that, said she would do it for me, which she did straightaway.

“She was always willing to help anyone and she did have a great sense of humour as well.”

Another time she told Val how to bone her dressage top boots, which was quite a process.

“It helps if you drink claret while you’re doing it,” Wanda advised Val.

“I can’t speak highly enough of what Wanda did for dressage in WA and for show horse too,” said Val.

In 1979, Wanda was the driving force behind the first Australian National Dressage Championships held in WA which took place at the Cannington Central Greyhound track. Wanda even organised a judge to come from Germany.

Zoe Harrison OAM was the secretary of the championship committee and she says Wanda worked incredibly hard to make it all happen the way it did.

“She was absolutely amazing,” recalls Zoe. “She was determined that the championships would succeed and they sure did, we had an international judge and numerous competitors from other states as far away as Queensland.”

Around that time, she was also the force behind West Australian riders being included in the Haig Cup, later the Samsung Dressage Cup, an international event for Prix St George’s level horses which Australians could participate in because the judges travelled from country to country to do the assessments.

Wanda was good friends with dressage rider and judge Joanne Fowler. Joanne who worked as a journalist was sent by her employers to report on the equestrian events at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and the two decided to make the trip together, hiring a bed and breakfast at Santa Anita near the main equestrian venue. 

Joanne recalls being amazed at Wanda’s capacity for networking.

“While I was working, either writing reports or interviewing people, Wanda was chatting to riders, coaches, grooms, and so on from numerous countries and from all equestrian disciplines,” says Joanne. “She absolutely incredible at getting virtually anyone to talk to her and, in the evenings, she would give me all the news she had gathered which quite often was a lot more interesting than anything I had managed to find out through official channels.”

Wanda was also brilliant at keeping in contact with the people she had met around the world. Joanne recalls Wanda had a writing desk in her home and she regularly allocated time to corresponding with her international and national contacts. Of course, this was very handy when WA needed visiting judges or coaches. Wanda convinced them to come here and so the sport of dressage continued to grow and develop.

By the mid 1980s, Wanda had become very involved with what was then the WA Branch of the Equestrian Federation of Australia (now Equestrian WA) and with the national federation itself. She was a national A Level dressage judge and an FEI *** International judge as well as a national dressage selector. In WA, the sport of equestrian was booming and a new equestrian centre at Brigadoon was under construction. Wanda convinced the Board of the WA EFA  to adopt of new logo that properly represented the dynamic way the sport was developing. When the Board was not impressed with any potential designs presented to it, Wanda mentioned this to Roger who by then had graduated from university as an architect and was working in that profession in Subiaco. Mother and son put their heads together and came up with a logo that featured a horse’s head and neck with three stripes and the southern cross on the horse. It was immediately adopted as the official logo of equestrian in WA and placed on the front of the new SEC when it opened in 1987. The logo was well regarded and endured for decades as the symbol of equestrian in WA.

That same year, Roger, his wife Jane and their children moved to New Zealand to pursue Roger’s profession as an architect and instead of coaching Roger, Wanda spent her spare time riding again. She acquired the warmblood mare Zarina and although she had retired from competition riding at that stage, she enjoyed watching other riders compete on the mare and loved riding her and practicing dressage movements or just going out for a hack. Zarina reached Grand Prix level and Wanda especially enjoyed riding the high school movements and just basically having fun on this lovely horse who had the best ever trainable nature.

In 1990, Wanda was chosen as the chef d’equipe for the Australian Dressage Team for the FEI World Equestrian Games in Stockholm. The team spent some months training in Europe prior to the games and Wanda joined the team based in Holland during this time and oversaw training and competing before going to Stockholm. Of course, Wanda put her networking skills to good use and when she returned home, the result was a whole new group of visiting coaches and judges coming to WA for many subsequent years.

In 1994 Wanda and Bruce returned to Melbourne to be closer to Roger and Jane and their now large family who had returned from Auckland to live and continue in a successful architectural career and, as Bruce had now retired, they wanted to be near family in one place together.

Wanda took Zarina with her, and she went on to compete locally. She continued to ride daily until she was 75 and introduced the grandchildren to the joys of pony riding and pony club life. Wanda put in huge effort to help them learn to ride and enjoy the ins and outs of the equine world.

Back in Melbourne, Wanda continued to do exactly what she had done in WA, organise international events, being chef d’equipe for international teams and was instrumental in the development of the young dressage riders in Australia, but that is another chapter in her equestrian life that goes beyond the WA years.

Younger equestrians in WA may not have known Wanda but many will have competed in the Wanda Nelson Trophy for pony club dressage which is still a feature event to this day.

Wanda was a vital part of Roger’s riding success as well as others who she encouraged and helped in so many ways.

Some people found her a rather daunting presence. Indeed, she didn’t stand for much nonsense and could be very direct in the way she spoke to anyone who tried to buck the rules or showed disrespect for officials.

On the flip side of that though, she was an equally formidable advocate for anyone who showed signs of commitment and dedication as well as unreservedly supporting the efforts of the WA contingent on a national stage and for the sport overall.

Says Roger – “She will be most missed, and her memory will be strong and ever present in all the family affairs having left a legacy of generosity and a forthright character on all.

“She was a force of nature indeed.”


A celebration of Wanda’s life will be held in Melbourne on Thursday 9 March 2023. More details will be announced very soon.

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