The dream of show director Kevin Hansen to run the cross-country phase of the eventing at the NRM Horse of the Year Show on the showgrounds was rewarded by a successful afternoon of exciting action.
Designer John Nicholson made the most of the restrictions imposed by the infrastructure of the biggest equestrian show in the southern hemisphere.
Matthew Grayling had the worst of the weather for his cross-country round in the CIC3* class, but he still managed a classy clear to retain the lead on NRM Lowenberg.
The 50-year-old former Olympian was only slightly over the time allowed, which added six penalty points to his dressage score, to finish on 52.8.
Close behind him is Clarke Johnstone aboard Balmoral Sensation with 53.5. The 2010 World Championship team bronze medalist was also clear, and added just 2.8 penalty points to his dressage score.
Samantha Felton flew up the leaderboard on Ricker Ridge Pico Boo after adding nothing to her tally, with Joe Waldron and Springvale All Black also remaining on their dressage score of 54.9.
Defending title holders Simon Gordon and Fletch.com had 0.4 of a time penalty to pull up to fifth from eighth after the dressage.
He came from behind last year, and with less than 4 points (the price of a single rail down) between the top five, Sunday’s showjumping is sure to be influential again this year. The horses also have to pass a veterinary inspection to ensure they are fit after the exertions of Saturday’s cross-country.
Felton, a member of the Talent Development Squad, holds first and second place in the CIC2* class, having gone inside the time on both Henton After Dark (42.8), who led after the dressage, and Ricker Ridge Escada (48.3), who was fourth. Mark Todd has pulled up from sixth after the dressage on Kate Wood’s Drakkar to lie third on 48.6, having produced a masterly round inside the time despite sitting on the horse for the first time on Wednesday.
NZ Young Rider One-day Event champion Madison Crowe, from Rangiora, is close behind on Brogan. They were second after the dressage and incurred 3.2 cross-country time penalties, showing the benefit of being a working pupil with Clarke Johnstone this autumn.
Todd likened the buzz of having 19,000-plus spectators to riding at the London Olympic Games.
“The crowd are just amazing,” he said.
The John Nicholson-designed course took the record field right around the showgrounds, through the Land-Rover marquee and into the premier arena, and the picturesque Waikoko Lake.
A triple combination that started with a jump on top of a small hill, with a tight turn onto a big corner jump, caused plenty of problems but otherwise the course the appeared to ride well.
Nicholson – brother of world number one eventer Andrew – said it he had built to entertain the masses, while ensuring the safety of horses and riders.
His team – Mark McCauley, Chris Leaver and Donna Harley – had worked hard to create a stunning course, and the riders had done him proud.
“They looked after me,” he said. “It was a different competition to what they would usually do, and built for entertainment to promote the sport of eventing.”
HOY show director Kevin Hansen was happy with the outcome, too.
“I am absolutely thrilled! The cross-country is here (at the showgrounds) to stay,” said Hansen. “And we plan to improve it.”
He was buoyed by the support he had received from his course designer and board, who had believed having the cross-country at the showgrounds would prove a success.
And he also praised the efforts of the 185 volunteers who had ensured the safety of all around the grounds.
The final phase – the showjumping – is run tomorrow morning.
What the riders said:
Comments from the riders after completing their cross-country phase:
Joe Waldron (2*, Ristretto, Benrose Rockstar): Both horses really good. Couple of time faults, but jumped well. First bit was untidy, second super.
Danielle Wheeler (2*, Simply Mitch and One Cool Dude). “Really super. Simply Mitch was a bit hairy, but he looked after me. I’m the luckiest person to have two such super horses.”
Campbell Draper: (3*, Kahurangi Manu) Very good round, very pleased, smooth. I didn’t rush it, I will be over time. He got a bit distracted by the crowds at the tent and at the second water especially. Footing was OK.
Simon Gordon: (3*, Fletch.com) It was awesome. I had a life at the second water, he coped with the crowds, it didn’t faze him. The tent, I forgot how close the jump was after the tent!
Shelley Ross: (3*, Coleraine Coaltown) We had a bit of a misunderstanding on the corner, the biggest 3* question on the course. I asked him to come back and he did, but too much. Got 5 and there was no room for five strides. He was great otherwise.
Fraser King: (3*, Nadal KSNZ) I loved it! He was a bit spooky, but so honest. He saved me on one or two occasions. The first water he got a bit deep and was a bit messy coming out. He saved me at 6B, I cut the corner and he chipped in to get out over it.
Angela Lloyd: (3*, Song) It was fantastic. I didn’t take my watch, I didn’t want to worry about the time. She didn’t take any notice of the crowds. It got very slippery with this rain. She’s such a great horse.
Abby Lawrence: (3*, Pseudonym) He was so awesome. Silly rider error that cost us big time. He bounded down the hill and we couldn’t get strides. Otherwise he was absolutely amazing. Couldn’t have asked for a better ride, he had his mind on the job and was just awesome. Thank you to my groom.
Donna Smith: (3* Balmoral Tangolooma) “It was really good, super! He was a superstar in the crowds. It was slipping quite a bit with this rain so I gave him a bit more time.”
After Donna finished her course, she rode over to Matthew Grayling who was about to start. When asked what they were talking about, Donna responded “I had some corner tips for Matthew.”
Sam Felton: (3*, Ricker Ridge Pico Boo) So good, couldn’t be happier. He was a bit spooky at random times with the crowds. He was OK at the water and then at the oxer out the back, he spooked at them. The corner he did really well, even though I jumped a little off where I had planned. He felt like he was ready for 3*, it’s so good to step up and know that you have done your homework and it all comes together.
Joe Waldron: (3*, Springvale All Black) Good round, it was clear and fast. No hiccups. It’s his first cross country since August so he was a bit fresh, but very good. He’s been around Adelaide twice so is used to crowds but as he was fresh, he still had a look at them.
Victoria Grayling (groom for Matthew): Good riding Dad!
Matthew Grayling: (3*, NRM Lowenberg) He was good, had a life at the corner. I was undecided on the strides. Donna said 5, I think I did 4. He was honest, he went and knew his job. The crowds didn’t faze him, he had his mind on the job, he listened to me, the lanes were great as I had a clear vision of my lines. I’m very happy with him.
CIC3* – images courtesy Jane Thompson
CIC2* – images courtesy Jane Thompson
NZ Horse and Pony Magazine CIC2* (after dressage and cross country phases): Samantha Felton (Waikato) Henton After Dark 42.8 penalty points 1, Samantha Felton (Waikato) Ricker Ridge Escada 48.3 2, Sir Mark Todd (UK) Drakkar (owned by Kate Woods) 48..6 3, Madison Crowe (Rangiora) Brogan 48.8 4, Kylie Snow (Auckland) Folk Law 52.8 5.
CIC3*: Mathew Grayling (Taranaki) NRM Lowenberg 52.8 penalty points 1, Clarke Johnstone (Cambridge) Balmoral Sensation 53.5 2, Samantha Felton (Waikato) Ricker Ridge Pico Boo 54.3 3, Joe Waldron (Te Awamutu) Springvale All Black 54.9 4, Simon Gordon (Auckland) Fletch.com 55.6 5.