New Zealand eventing selectors know the team they name on Thursday will need to be at its very best to beat a strong Australian side in the Senior Trans Tasman Teams Competition at the 2012 Kihikihi International Horse Trial this weekend.
Head of selectors Andrew Scott plans to name that team after the trot-up on Thursday afternoon.
“We’re definitely in the rebuilding phase with some of our top rising stars of recent years now based in the UK,” says Scott. “I tend to not worry about the opposition though, preferring to focus on getting our best team out there, which is going to be challenging given a few injuries and absences.”
Clarke Johnstone and Jonathan Paget are both tilting towards the London Olympics, while Lizzie Brown is also in the UK and competing strongly. Johnstone, who won Kihikihi last year, will be making a fleeting trip home for the event but is expected to compete in the pre-novice section rather than the three-star.
The weather may play into the hands of the Kiwi team though, who have won 10 of the last 13 clashes.
“This is a great opportunity for some of our young riders to put their hands up and a chance for us to see how they operate in a team situation, so it is exciting times,” Scott said.
The Trans Tasman Competition will run as part of the Waipa Home of Champions CIC three star class, which has attracted a good field, including Annabel Wigley (Amberley), fresh from victory in the eventer of the year class at the New Zealand Horse of the Year Show. She has two horses entered – NRM Frog Rock and NRM Enzo, who were first and sixth respectively at HOY.
There are a raft of others though who could lay claim to the Kihikihi crown, including Bell Tea Super League Series leader Christen Hayde (Pukekohe), Donna Smith (Te Kauwhata), Simon Gordon (Papakura), Brent Jury (Rangiora), and the Australian based Kiwi Joseph Waldron.
And let’s not forget that strong Aussie line-up of Shane Rose, Natalie Blundell, Christine Bates and Katja Weimann, who are bringing some serious horse power with established form at this level.
The Bayleys CIC two star field is more than double the size, with 30-plus entries, many with two rides, making picking favourites a challenge.
Entries are just short of the 300-plus record.
Course designer extraordinaire John Nicholson has again created 36 jumps that will keep horse and rider on their toes from go to whoa.
“Every single fence out there needs respect,” says Nicholson. “I tried a few things at the Horse of the Year Show and was pleased with the way they worked so we’re upping the ante here.”
But caution is the key also.
“There are a lot of young horses and it’s important to push them but to be fair,” he says, “and I have changed most of the combinations to be fair to both the Kiwis and the Aussies in the trans Tasman.”
There’s a strong retro feel to the course. Nicholson is re-introducing a style of fences that has been by-passed by many in recent years. And he’s also called on a master Maori carver to inject a real Kiwi feel to a few fences.
Kihikihi has long been considered a rider’s favourite, despite the huge challenge it often presents, and they make no secret of their love of the event.
Te Kauwhata’s Donna Smith, who has ridden for New Zealand at World Championship level, says Nicholson’s courses are “bold and challenging, but very rewarding”.
That’s reiterated by Aussie Shane Rose, who has twice ridden at Kihikihi and is using this year as part of his build-up to the London Olympics.
Entry to the Kihikihi Domain is free, although there will be a gold coin collection at the gate.
Saturday’s cross country will be “the” day for those keen to catch the excitement of the event. Although the three star class will run through the middle of the day, with six different classes, there will be competitions on the course from 8.30am through to late afternoon. Spectator Hill offers the best vantage point of the water jumps.
Those keen to be a little more involved can take part in Sunday’s (April 8th) 4km Newstalk ZB Fools and Horses Fun Run which rolls over the actual cross country course.