August 4, 2008

World champion eventing rider Vaughn Jefferis has announced he will aim for the 2012 London Olympic Games after eight years away from the top level of horse trials competition.

Jefferis, who says he has only competed in a few pre-novice events since the 2000 Sydney Olympic games, will make his comeback with a promising young horse called Cuzzy Bro.

Jefferis was individual and team world champion in the 1990s. He is the second of a talented stable of riders from the 1990s to reignite their careers after Mark Todd succeeded in his bid for a record sixth Olympic Games appearance earlier this year.

"I honestly thought that my competitive riding days were pretty much done," said Jefferis, who is from Matangi in the Waikato.

"If it hadn't been for Jimmy [Cuzzy Bro], I would never have even considered it but I love the horse and I know how good he is. He's a terrific jumper and I just think he will be a fantastic ambassador for the New Zealand equestrian team and I'm looking forward to, along with Mark Todd, putting us back on the map again."

Cuzzy Bro formerly belonged to New Zealand Olympic team member Heelan Tompkins. "I pretty much haven't ridden since the Sydney Olympics in 2000," Jefferis said. "I've been dabbling a touch but nothing serious ... just a couple of pre-novice tracks. But I like what I see in this horse and all going well my commitment will go through to the London Olympics."

He described Cuzzy Bro, a seven-year-old dark brown thoroughbred, as one of the best young horses in New Zealand and predicts a bright future. "He's qualified three star, he's a very good jumper, he's beautifully made and a very sound horse," Jefferis said. "We just saw him as a world-class athlete. I do a bit of buying and selling and he was a horse that really caught my eye a couple of years ago."

In a similar situation to Todd earlier this year, Jefferis needs to qualify himself to ride internationally again. "The horse is qualified but I'm not, so I'm giving myself 12 months to do that," he said. "He's in work now, we'll do some dressage and jumping shows over the winter and just start in some lower horse trials in the early spring and progressively build our way up to get my three and four star qualifications again."

Jefferis enjoyed outstanding success with Bounce, the combination winning the individual world title at The Hague in 1994 and team gold at the 1998 world championships in Rome. The partnership won a team bronze at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games and was part of the Sydney Olympic team four years later. They finished third and second in 1994 and 1996 respectively at the prestigious Badminton four-start event. Jefferis and Bounce also pocketed four national titles.

Jefferis was a finalist in the Halberg Awards Sportsman of the Year category in 1994 and a team finalist in 1996. In 1998 the New Zealand team, including Jefferis, won the Halberg Award for Team of the Year.