Katie McVean's star mare Delphi has been sold to Saudi Arabia.
The mare hae been bought by the Saudi Arabian Equestrian Federation who will co-own her with a rider who has not been named but is rumoured to be Olympian Kamal Bahamdan. The sale was reportedly brokered by Dutch-based Jan Tops, who started showjumping's Global Champions Tour and is the partner of top Australian rider Edwina Alexander.
Saudi riders have been in the limelight in recent months, with Abdullah Al Sharbatly winning silver at the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky last October, the first WEG medal by a rider from the Middle East. A team from Saudi Arabia also won jumping gold at the Asia Games last November.
McVean and Delphi set records recently with their sixth equal placing at the World Cup final in Germany, and last year as New Zealand's best-ever performed showjumping combination at WEG.
Speaking from The Netherlands this morning, McVean said her horse was never intended for sale, but as soon as they had their first Europe outing in March, agents started asking.
"People were saying she looked to have the most scope of any of the horses jumping at the World Cup final and she was doing it with so little effort."
The successful buyers had watched her at the World Games in Kentucky and followed her progress.
"We came to Europe not wanting to sell her and I truly believe we were a huge chance for a medal at London with a little more experience on the European circuit," she said. "The decision was a very, very hard one to make."
McVean, who is now ranked 101 in the world, says to compete on the likes of the Global Champions Tour is incredibly expensive. "It was going to cost a fortune to do it and anything could happen."
She has no doubt her intuitive and trusting steed knows something is up. "She knows something is going on, and I've taken a ridiculous amount of photos of her over the past few days. But I'm very excited to see her go with her new rider and they've said if I ever want to see her I am most welcome."
She will fly home with her father later this week.
"There is still a small chance, but I think I am going to have to give up on my London (Olympics) dream and start over. It has been my goal for a long time but if I tried to keep her and everything had gone wrong, I would have had nothing - this way I can set up for the future, and maybe next time I won't have to sell."
At home in the Waikato, she has eight 'babies' who are all half siblings to Delphi. "Now I need to get home and get them going, she said."
McVean, 24, says the support from her parents Jeff and Vicki, along with Delphi's co-owners Chris and Sandy Shore, from Ashburton, had been incredible.
It has been an emotional ride for the Shores, too, who were on hand to see Delphi go so well at the World Cup.
"It is definitely a mixture of happiness and sadness for us at the moment," says Sandy Shore. "Our Delphi adventure is coming to an end and that is sad, but we're so happy that it has exceeded all our expectations. It wasn't an easy decision for everyone to make, but it was the right one.
"I feel we are so lucky to have been part of this incredible journey with not only an amazing horse but an equally brilliant rider. To be involved with the McVeans has been a fabulous experience."
Katie McVean's Olympic dream for 2012 is over - for now. © Lulu Kyriacou
"Horses can break," he said. "Katie is young, has a lot of nice horses at home and I think her talent has been a bit under-rated. We just don't have all the money in the world to be able to support her and keep her going over here at this level."
He said the sale was sad for Equestrian Sports New Zealand as the combination were favourites to help the nation qualify for the London Olympics.
"The horse was just such a sensation over here and what's even more special is that Katie started her from scratch. This is huge for New Zealand breeders for the future."
ESNZ chief executive Jim Ellis understands the dilemma the McVeans and Shores have faced.
"Delphi's value has increased with every performance the combination have put in. The sixth place at the World Cup final was probably NZ Showjumping's greatest ever performance so of course it is sad to lose this quality of horse so close to the London Olympics. They've been under huge pressure as a result of the interest shown in Delphi and their decision is completely understandable."
Jeff McVean says he is heart-broken to see his 'Princess' go. McVean bred Delphi out of his own World Cup mare Flower Power, and from a very early age, he knew he had a superstar on his hands ... and he was right.