August 14, 2008

Daniel Meech has been forced to withdraw from New Zealand's Olympic showjumping team after his horse Sorbas suffered a hoof injury.

Meech will be replaced by Kirk Webby and Sitah. Had he been in a position to compete, this would have been Meech's second Olympic outing as he previously rode Diagonal in Athens.

Kiwis at the trot-up - pictures © Natasha Slavic


Katie McVean's Belgian warmblood gelding Forest impressed onlookers.


Sharn Wordley and Dutch warmblood (KWPN) Rockville.


Bruce Goodin and his Hungarian stallion Yamato.


Kirk Webby stands up his Belgian warmblood mare Sitah for the judges.

Sorbas was not presented at today's veterinary inspection, and also absent was Michael Whitaker's Portofino, and Alvaro Mirando Neto's Ad Picolien (Brazil).

Webby joins Katie McVean, Sharn Wordley and Bruce Goodin on the team. Goodin is attending his fourth Games but the others will be making their Olympic debut.

"The horses trotted well today, they all look healthy and fit and happy. We're looking forward to starting the process tomorrow," New Zealand Manager Greg Best said.

The well-performed Webby was right in the frame for selection after spearheading New Zealand's Olympic qualifying campaign in Europe with stunning success earlier his year.

It has since been a race against time to get Sitah healthy again after the mare underwent emergency surgery for colic.

"Kirk's horse had arguably been our first or second horse until recently. So, while losing Daniel's experience was a blow, by bringing Kirk back in we don't lose a lot," Best said.

"Daniel is a fantastically experienced rider. Kirk is not so experienced but has been there at crucial times in the past couple of years for New Zealand and performed very credibly.

"So I think the net effect on the quality of this team is not a very big effect at all."

Meech produced New Zealand's most successful Olympic showjumping result when he placed 12th in Athens four years ago.

The New Zealanders have been in Hong Kong for nine days and Best, a former US double Olympic silver medalist, said the facilities were second to none.

The team spent a lot of time practicing under lights while the horses were in quarantine in Germany prior to leaving for Hong Kong. In general, the New Zealand riders have little experience of performing at night.

McVean, 22, successfully campaigned for an Olympic spot from New Zealand. The others have all been based offshore for many years.

"These guys are seasoned competitors and although Katie hasn't spent as much time outside of New Zealand as the rest of them, she's ridden in an awful lot of team competitions and feels pretty comfortable being part of the team," Best said.

"She's going to be our No 1 rider, she's going out first. I have a lot of respect for her and feel very comfortable sending her out in that trailblazing role."

The showjumping comprises of individual and team competitions. The best three results count for the team score and during the qualifying competitions rider's scores are carried over.

One round will be held in Friday's first individual qualifier with jump heights at elite five star level, ranging between 1.40-1.60m.

"There's no easing into it," Best said.

"But I am confident of our build-up. Bruce won a grand prix just before coming into quarantine and Sharn has had some very strong results in the US.

"Katie has been the one that has struggled the most of recent and I attribute that to the travel and acclimatisation aspect. She's had six weeks now to get the horse fitter and more comfortable and Ive not seen him looking better."

A total of 87 horses were presented for veterinary inspection today, and all passed with flying colours, with no visitors to the holding box.


Katie McVean and Forest. © Natasha Slavic
McVean's 16-year-old Belgian warmblood Forest was one of the eye-catchers of the morning but, for many, the man of the moment was Jos Lansink's much-loved stallion Cumano who has only recently returned to the ring after an enforced break due to the tendon injury he suffered last autumn. Cumano is always a show-stealer with his flashy jump and teddy-bear personality and he looked in great shape today. If the 15-year-old horse can find anything like his top form then the reigning World Championship partnership will be ones to watch when the competition begins tomorrow night.


Britain's Nick Skelton on Russel stops to chat to Katie McVean. © Natasha Slavic
The loss of the experienced Portofino is a major blow to the British team, but the 14-year-old mare had been suffering from intermittent bouts of lameness over the previous few days and a decision was taken to withdraw her and call up the reserve partnership of Nick Skelton and Russel as replacements. Skelton will be competing in his fifth Olympic contest when the action begins tomorrow and his presence is all the more remarkable for the fact that he suffered a broken neck in September 2000 but made an amazing recovery to return to the sport at very top level.

For Alvaro Miranda Neto there was disappointment when Ad Picolien was declared unfit, and the man who finished 12th individually at the Athens Olympic Games in 2004 and who was a member of the bronze medal winning Brazilian team at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 will now be obliged to watch his colleagues Bernardo Alves (Chupa Chup), reigning Olympic champion Rodrigo Pessoa (Rufus), Pedro Veniss (Un Blanc de Blancs) and Camilla Benedicto (Bonito Z) from the sidelines.


New Zealand's Olympic showjumping team. © Natasha Slavic