NZ eventing’s proving ground sets Kiwi stars on the path to glory

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

The outstanding performance of the New Zealanders at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials in England last weekend has reinforced their reputation as the world’s best cross-country riders, with all seven Kiwis in the top 13 of the 70 international starters at the prestigious English event.

Andrew Nicholson, making his return to elite 4* level following the career-threatening neck injury he had last year, was second on Nereo, his bronze medal ride at the London Olympics, behind young Australian star Chris Burton on Nobilis 18. This was Nereo’s third time as runner-up, Nicholson having previously won three times on Avebury.

International eventing’s husband and wife duo, Jonelle and Tim Price were third and fourth on Classic Moet and Ringwood Sky Boy respectively. Jonelle further enhanced her tag as “fastest woman in the world” by having the fastest round of the competition in a repeat of their World Games performance in France two years ago.

Former Burghley winner Caroline Powell, returning after a broken leg, was eighth on the promising Onwards and Upwards, ahead of Sir Mark Todd, who has won Burghley five times on five different horses, on his London bronze medal horse, NZB Campino, in ninth place.

Blyth Tait (NZL) and Bear Necessity. Burghley Horse Trials 2016 - © Mike Bain
Blyth Tait and Bear Necessity at this year’s Burghley Horse Trials. © Mike Bain

Former World and Olympic champion Blyth Tait, on the comeback trail, was 11th on Bear Necessity V, and Dan Jocelyn, also a former NZ team member, was 13th on Dassett Cool Touch. All completed clear cross-country rounds over a tough course on which no-one finished inside the time. Only 40 horses completed the cross-country, twenty-four24 of these with clear rounds.

Central & Southern Hawkes Bay Eventing’s venue Arran Station, the Silver Fern Farms property at Takapau, has hosted five of these seven Kiwis during their early days, before they moved to the mecca of eventing in the UK. Andrew Nicholson went aged 18 (he is now 55) before the course was established, and South Islander Caroline Powell also left in her teens having not competed outside the “mainland.”

Tim and Jonelle Price made the long trip from the South Island to compete at Arran Station regularly, while Sir Mark gained qualifications there when he made his return to the sport before the Beijing Olympics. Dan Jocelyn competed there as a youngster, while Blyth Tait attended events there in his capacity as team manager during his retirement.

The latest FEI World Rider Rankings, based on international events during the previous 12 months, so including the Olympic Games, confirms Kiwi riders place on the world stage. Michael Jung (GER) has an unattainable lead of 711 points, ahead of Chris Burton (AUS) on 549, and Phillip Dutton (USA) on 536.

Mark Todd (AUS) and NZB Campino - Burghley Horse Trials 2016 - © Mike Bain
Mark Todd and NZB Campino at this year’s Burghley Horse Trials. © Mike Bain

Sir Mark Todd is fourth on 499, Tim Price seventh on 445, and Clarke Johnstone has rocketed up to ninth, after placing sixth at the Olympic Games, on 427. Andrew is 12th on 382, Jonelle 13th on 375, and Katharine Van Tuyl is hanging in at 29th place with 292 even after the off season here.

Clarke Johnstone is back in New Zealand, although Balmoral Sensation is still in England, having to do two months quarantine there and a month in Australia before returning home. So they will not be defending the top title at the National Eventing Championships at Arran Station next month, but Johnstone will be competing at other levels.

One thought on “NZ eventing’s proving ground sets Kiwi stars on the path to glory

  • September 9, 2016 at 9:16 pm
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    You do have great cross-country riders, and right now Jonelle is the very best. Now we need to have the cross-country carry more weight in this sport. We need to induce the FEI to reduce the distribution of dressage scores (their standard deviation) by about one third. Also in cross-country we can increase the significance of speed by upgrading the value to 1 fault per second over time AND minus 1 fault per second for riding under time. (So the time set has no significance since it is your time relative to your competitors that counts.) The length of the cross-country course also gives it more weight in the scoring: putting it back to about 8 km for four star courses will do the job (which is about what it used to be). These two changes, speed and distance, will enlarge the distribution between scores in cross-country and correct the current oppressive focus on dressage and show jumping in this sport. We have a huge fight ahead of us to achieve it.

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