Long road to Rio: Kiwi eventer Clarke Johnstone prepares for Olympic debut

Clarke Johnstone and Balmoral Sensation on the cross-country at New Zealand's National Eventing Championships at Arran Station, Takapau, last year. 
Clarke Johnstone and Balmoral Sensation on the cross-country at New Zealand’s National Eventing Championships at Arran Station, Takapau, last year. © Barbara Thomson Photography

It has been a long haul for Kiwi eventer Clarke Johnstone, but the sole home-based rider to be selected for New Zealand’s Rio 2016 team is thrilled to be a step closer to the Olympic Games.

Johnstone said he was “so excited” after missing selection for London following injury to his horse, Orient Express, on whom he was a member of the bronze medal winning team at the 2010 World Equestrian Games in Kentucky. It has been a four-year dream to produce another world-class horse worthy of selection.

New Zealand's Clarke Johnstone and Orient Express.
Clarke Johnstone, winners of the FEI World Cup Eventing 2011 title, and Orient Express. © PSV J. Morel

That horse is the stunning grey Balmoral Sensation, who went from Arran Station to his first 4* event, the Australian International CCI4* Three-day Event at Adelaide, where they were third behind Australian Olympian Shane Rose, who quinellaed the event. This qualified Johnstone and “Richie” for selection to the NZ team for Rio.

“To go to Rio and try to win a medal for New Zealand has been my number one focus for the last four years, so to be one step closer again is really, really exciting. I can’t wait,” Johnstone said.

Johnstone’s selection is a real boost to the sport in New Zealand, largely ignored by the mainstream media as nearly all of the country’s High Performance squad is British based. Johnstone will return home after the Games, and can be expected to compete at the National Eventing Championships at Arran Station again, although Richie will be resting.

The combination also won last year’s National Eventing Championships at Arran Station, Takapau.

After a brief break back in the Waikato, where the Outram boy has been based since graduating from Otago University with a finance degree, they won the Eventer of the Year title at the Farmlands Horse of the Year Show, then flew to England to join the British based NZ High Performance squad.

The Badminton Horse Trials was their first major challenge, and fifth place there, sandwiched between Mark Todd and Jock Paget, gave his fans high hopes that he would in fact be selected.

Johnstone joins London team mates Todd, with either Leonidas II or NZB Campino, Jonelle Price with either Faerie Dianamo or Classic Moet, and Jock Paget with Clifton Lush. Price’s husband Tim, a member of the NZ team at the 2014 World Equestrian Games in France on Wesko, currently out due to injury, has been named as travelling reserve with Ringwood Sky Boy.

So it is a team of experienced performers, who all gel well togther, and have a great support team behind them. They will meet top competition from Germany, as well as other strong European eventing nations, including Britain and France, not to mention the old foe across the ditch, who will also have a very strong team.

It just remains for the selected horses and riders to maintain fitness, travel well, cope with the climate in Brazil, and have a little bit of luck on the big day. They could not be better prepared than they are to face the challenges of the world stage – bring it on!

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