New Zealand Trans-Tasman eventing team profiles

November 12, 2009

Clarke Johnstone - Oakley Vision

Clarke Johnstone is one of New Zealand's most consistent riders, and certainly one to keep an eye on in the future. He grew up in Dunedin, and started riding at the age of 12. "My younger sister was into it and I was encouraged to have a try," he said. "So, one day, we took the ponies down to the river and I loved it; I've been riding ever since."

After finishing a Finance degree at Otago University, Clarke moved to Matangi, near Hamilton, to be "closer to the action".

Clarke has already had a lot of international experience. He competed in Canada with Pony Club, and he's traveled to Australia twice, including spending seven weeks there earlier this year, winning a 2** and placing fourth in a 3***.

"There's no substitute for experience, for exposure to top level combinations like Megan Jones, to difficult courses," Clarke said. "It takes you out of your comfort zone and places you in a new environment with new challenges."

Oakley Vision was Clarke's first horse and, at 17, is still going strong. "I've had him for eight years," Clarke said. "He was my first horse after coming off ponies and we've gone through the grades together. He was great in the sense that anything I wanted to do, he was up for the challenge. He's always been quite difficult on the flat, but he's a great teacher, a good jumper, and every experienced."

Clarke and Oakley Vision competed at Adelaide 4**** in 2006, finishing just out of the top 10, and Clarke said he's looking forward to going back.

"Team events are always fun and I'm looking forward to the competition," he said.

Jenna Mahoney - Santos

Jenna, 29, is based in Clevedon, Auckland, and has always been a true competitor on the National Eventing circuit. She has had several successful horses during her eventing career that have enabled her to compete at the top level of the sport.

Santos, Jenna's Trans-Tasman mount, is an 11-year-old bay thoroughbred gelding by Grosvenor. The pair have been competing together since 2004. Their most notable recent results include finishing 2nd in the Eventing National Championships in May this year and then winning the Advanced class in Hawkes Bay, the result that sealed her selection into the trans-Tasman team.

Blair Richardson - Spend Up

Blair Richardson is a New Zealand rider who moved to Australia after meeting and marrying Australian rider Nikki Bishop. Their Vantage Hill farm in Scone, New South Wales, is a long way from Taranaki, where Blair grew up. "My sister went to Pony Club and I tagged along. It was a very competitive area: I was in Pony Club with Heelan Tompkins, and I was lucky enough to stay with it and have been riding ever since."

Blair and his wife break in and pre-train racehorses and sport horses, as well as coaching and teaching in Victoria, Queensland and New South Wales. "It's a big operation," Blair said. "It keeps us busy."

Despite his overseas experience (Blair has competed in Thailand and the UK, and has been considered for the World Equestrian Games and the Olympics), he doesn't see a need to leave the South Pacific to compete. "The competition in Australia is very good," he said.

"Some top international riders are here, and they're still here competing, so I don't see the need to base myself in England, for example - especially since it's 36 degrees and sunny here."

Blair is a Trans-Tasman veteran, being part of the 2007 winning team. This year, he's taking 12-year-old Spend Up, who recently placed 17th at the Goulburn Australia CIC***.

"He'll be inexperienced, and I'll be throwing him in the deep end, but he puts 200% into his work," Blair said. "I feel rather confident going to Adelaide on a horse like this."

Heelan Tompkins - Sugoi

Heelan Tompkins has competed in two Olympic Games (2004 and 2008), as well as being named the reserve for the 2000 Games. Heelan placed seventh at the 2004 Olympics and the 2006 World Equestrian Games.

The New Plymouth-based rider grew up around horses. "Mum had a riding school and I was brought up with them," Heelan said.

She broke into the international scene at the inaugural Rolex Kentucky 4**** in 1998 as an 18-year-old riding a 19-year-old horse.

"It was my first 4**** competition and there was the added pressure of having to sell my horse [Masterpeace] if I didn't win. I was told not to go, and when we arrived we weren't looked at by anyone. But Nick [Larkin] won it and went on to the World Championships, and I finished eighth and had to come back without my horse. It was a real roller-coaster: it was a huge sacrifice and it was heartbreaking to sell my horse, but I loved the competition and I learned a lot."

Heelan said the experience taught her to appreciate her horses. "All my advanced horses are treated like gods," she said. "With Masterpeace, I learned that the horse makes you, not the other way around and I appreciate them so much more now. I love working with horses that I love."

One of those horses is 12-year-old Sugoi. "He was already a very good horse when I bought him and I knew I had something special, even though I couldn't ride one side of him when I tried him out. He's amazing cross-country, but I had to learn to ride him, which has been fun, like having a new toy.

Heelan is looking forward to returning to Adelaide. "I love the event and the atmosphere. Adelaide is my kind of town - it's small and fun. The team is pretty young and fresh, which is quite nice. It should be a fun trip and hopefully we'll get the results."