Above: Team USA rider Boyd Martin talks about the trot-up and how he and the team are feeling on the eve of the eventing competition.
New Zealand’s eventing team has its eye on precious metal after the first trot-up at the Haras du Pin venue for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in France.
A record 91 horses representing 27 nations will start the competition, but one sad omission will be Sweden’s Ludwig Svennerstal, a member of the silver medal team at the FEI European Eventing Championships last year and an individual medal prospect in Normandy. His horse, Alexander, was withdrawn from the holding box, which means Sweden is down to a team of three riders.
The sole Hungarian horse, My Win, ridden by Làszlò Egyed, and Russia’s Pinokolada (Yuri Shumskiy) were also sent to the holding box but were accepted.
The first rider to go before the Ground Jury – President Gillian Rolton (AUS), Alain James (FRA), and Ernst Topp (GER) – will be the USA’s Buck Davidson on Ballynoe Castle RM.
The Germans have been drawn last of the teams and, for the first time, their defending champion Michael Jung (GER) will act as pathfinder.
Jung has not been able to bring his Olympic, world and European champion La Biosthetique Sam due to a last-minute minor injury, but he will present just as much of a threat to other nations on his second-choice horse, the nine-year-old mare FisherRocana FST, on whom he finished second at the FEI Classics leg at CCI4* Luhmühlen (GER) in June.
Badminton winners Sam Griffiths (AUS) and Paulank Brockagh will go first for Australia. Zara Phillips (GBR), the 2006 world champion, is first for Great Britain on High Kingdom and the New Zealand maestro Mark Todd is trailblazer for New Zealand on Leonidas ll (owned by Peter Cattrell and Di Brunsden).
Joining Todd on the Kiwi team is Andrew Nicholson, Jock Paget and Tim Price, with Jonelle Price and Lucy Jackson riding as individuals.
On paper, the New Zealanders appear to be one of just a handful of teams to beat, with each of its team riders having won at four-star level.
Nicholson has been named on Nereo (owned by Libby Sellar), Price on Wesko (owned by Christina Knudsen, Peter Vela, Lucy Sangster and Kate Watchman), and Paget on Clifton Promise (owned by Frances Stead and Russell Hall).
Nicholson has ridden in all six World Equestrian Games, with his best individual result a bronze in Kentucky in 2010, when New Zealand also won a team bronze. He and Todd, who has ridden at four WEGs, were in the gold medal-winning team in 1990 in Stockholm. Todd was also in the team to take gold in 1998 in Rome.
It will be the second time Paget has ridden at WEG but his first in the team and he is hungry for success.
Price is on début at WEG, following his recent four star win at the Luhmuhlen International Horse Trials.
All are expecting a challenging cross country track from Pierre Michelet, which runs on an undulating track underneath the chateau and should provide a great spectacle. It will comprise 44 jumping efforts in 11 minutes 30 seconds. The Ground Jury has removed one sheep shelter obstacle from the penultimate fence.
New Zealand eventing chef d’equipe Erik Duvander says the heavy rain in recent days will add to the difficulty.
“We are here with the best possible preparation,” he says. “The horses have travelled well and the riders are all ready to go out and do their very best.”
The competition starts with two days of dressage on Thursday and Friday, the cross country on Saturday and showjumping on Sunday. Dressage and cross country is held at Le Pin National Stud, with the final discipline at the stade d’Ornano in Caen.
Reporting: Kate Green, Diana Dobson