New Zealand is going all out for a top eventing finish at the Aachen World Equestrian Festival in Germany this week, at the most important eventing team event in a non-championship year.
World number one Andrew Nicholson spearheads a strong team to take on nine other nations. The invitation-only event encompasses dressage, showjumping, driving and vaulting as well as eventing, which is the only discipline New Zealand will compete in.
Joining Nicholson is Badminton winner Jonathan Paget, his London Olympic team-mate Jonelle Richards and 2010 world championship team bronze medal winner Clarke Johnstone. Megan Heath will ride as an individual.
Equestrian Sports New Zealand high performance director Sarah Harris says the event is used as a test run for World Championships and Olympic Games campaigns.
“This is the major annual team competition we target, and one where we use the same structure, routines and team culture we would practice at those pinnacle events,” Harris said. “While these riders may not necessarily be the ones who make the 2014 World Equestrian Championships in France, they are all members of our high performance squad.”
And while Heath, a newcomer to the high performance squad, is not riding as a team-member, Harris says it is a great opportunity for her to experience the team environment.
The best three scores from the four team riders will count.
“While Aachen is a three-star event, it is always challenging and is a major part of our drive to keep Team New Zealand on the podium.”
Missing from the line-up are Olympic riders Caroline Powell and Sir Mark Todd whose horses were unavailable for selection, having competed at other events.
The Kiwis will compete against riders from Australia, Belgium, France, Great Britain, Ireland, Italy, the United States and Sweden in the event which has attracted 42 combinations and also forms part of the annual eventing Nations Cup series.
The first horse inspection was on Thursday afternoon, followed by the dressage and showjumping on Friday and cross country on Saturday. The cross-country comprises up to 35 obstacles and runs just under 4km long.
Nicholson will ride his recent Kentucky winner Quimbo (owned by Deborah Sellar), Paget is on Clifton Lush (owned by Frances Stead and Lucy Allison), Richards on The Deputy (owned by Lucy Sangster and Mr and Mrs T Morice), Johnstone on Incognito (owned by Jean, Rob and Clarke Johnstone) and Heath on her own St Daniel.
“We are riding a high at the moment,” says Harris. “Aachen is a key part of our bigger picture to dominate as a team at the 2014World Championships in Normandy.”
The winning eventing team at Aachen will pocket €16,000, with the top individual heading home with €31,000.