New Zealand’s eventing team is in second place going into what is expected to be an extremely influential cross-country phase at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games on Saturday.
The Kiwi riders talk to Jane Thompson following their dressage tests, on the eve of the cross-country phase.
In 29th place on Leonidas II (team)
He was OK. When I went in there and there was all this clapping and everything, he got a bit distracted and I lost him a couple of times. Probably made just too many mistakes to get a really good mark.
Some bits we did really really well. I am not disappointed, it’s just one of those things, he is not used to this atmosphere. When you first go in it is quite noisy, there is a lot going on, and then under the chateau there are people moving around so for a horse that does get distracted there is quite a lot going on. It’s not electric but there is a lot going on around them to get distracted.
It’s sloppy out there, he was splashing around out there. When it is like that he gets in this big lopey galloping stride and it makes it hard to get him to do some of the work.
It might be a lucky draw going early with these sorts of conditions. It’s a big track, it’s long, it’s hilly, and it is wet so I don’t think it is going to be a dressage competition.
The course is already wet, by the end of 80 odd horses, it is going to be pretty cut up and not very nice I think. It may end up being a lucky thing to be early.
It’s a fabulous venue but unfortunately I think the French didn’t really think through what would happen if it rained. It is a shame for everyone that it has turned out so wet but it is part of our sport and it is all about how you cope with it. I think for the spectators and everyone else it is not so pleasant sloshing through the mud and the cars are having to get towed in and out of carparks but for us it is fine.”
Predications for a medal: As a team we have a very strong team, on paper us and the Germans would have to be one of the favourite but with these weather and ground conditions you can pretty much throw the form book out the window. As Badminton showed us this spring, anything is possible and I think everyone is in with a chance. It’s not going to be a dressage competition, it levels out the playing field.
In sixth place on Wesko (team)
I was really pleased with him. You always hope for the best and I want perfection which we all know is hard to master. I’m rapt with him. The atmosphere was surprisingly all encompassing, and he went in and did change quite a bit. He is a young horse at this level and that showed a little in his halts and a couple of other areas in the test but he just put his best foot forward and his general way of going was amazing. I’m really excited about what he is going to be able to produce in the future.”
What do you think of the cross country? “Its a beast of a thing. I’m looking forward to tackling it but it’s a pretty strong test out there and the conditions will play their part. He has used the terrain incredibly well and it will be a real test.
It’s in your face from the start. Those corners are going to be your first wake-up call. Then I think really the next water as that is a combination of that big drop where you will have a lot of speed on, but in all reality, you are going to just go down there and make a decision as to what you will do in the water and then decide what you are doing in there to the next skinny. I think that is the big one for me, anyway. But then you keep going round and it will be more of an influence about the tiredness or the health of the horse and how he is travelling – that will come into play.
I have not had a Dutch horse or a warmblood like him. He just loves to gallop, he loves cross country in every way. I hadn’t had a competition yet when he hasn’t come through the finish flags strongly. He’s just so willing and loves his job.
At his three days it has mainly been firm, but at Blair Castle this time last year it was a little soft. But knowing the horse, he will give his best. He is a very compact horse and he is very tidy in the way he tackles it so he will be economical in that sense and I would like to think it might suit him.”
Role tomorrow when Jonelle is on? Oooh, I don’t know. I will trying being around and I will try being away. No I will just be there, holding a bottle of water and just helping her with a few details in her final preparation.”
Are you going to beat Jonelle? Ummm, we are all winners in this. She is a late call up, she is on a green horse. She is a supreme tactician and the way she goes about things her horses perform very consistently for her so she will get the best possible out of her horse, guaranteed, in all three phases so she will be good.
It’s been great fun so far. We have got a great team. The fun is piloted by Toddy. We have had a lot of fun in the chateau we are in playing ping pong and life sized jenga. It has been a fun time for all.
The pressure felt like it had been taken off the dressage today because of the influence we think the cross country will play. It has been a good start point, though, and if Wesko continues in the way he has gone, he has answered every question in the last 12-18 months for me. He is such a great third-day jumper – that is a real strength to have, so I am looking forward to the rest of it.”
Jonathan “Jock” Paget
In third on Clifton Promise (team)
It’s good to be back. I was really proud of him to just go in and do the same thing he did last time he did a four-star. He was very straight, he was very accurate, and he was listening to me the whole way through. There was nothing I was disappointed with. He is such a great horse, he is such a professional, he just loves his job. It’s nice to let him go in there and have some fun.
How did you find the atmosphere? He wasn’t fazed. He’s getting like that every year now. He is getting better and better, he is maturing. I think the time at home while I haven’t been able to compete this year has worked for him. We have worked on some little differences, he has thrived on it.
The dressage mark? I thought that some of the stuff he should have got better marks for. I will have to have a look at the test and go through it properly. Maybe the look wasn’t as good as it felt. Once I watch it I will be able to answer that question better.
Thoughts on the cross-country? I haven’t put a whole lot of thought into the cross country yet as I have been focusing on the dressage. Now is my time to do that. My first impression is that it is a big track, I think it is going to take a very definite ride all the way around. I think that if you ride the course the way Pierre is asking you to ride it, then it is going to help you make the time. It’s quite a forward-attacking course. There are some hills there that will tire the horses out, I think the ground is not going to be good because of all the rain. I think we are going to see some tired horses. You might see some better tactics coming out with the teams. Some riders might come out and get a few time penalties to get home, some people will stick to their guns and try to make the time. I think regardless it is going to be an exciting day tomorrow.
Promise is very fit. He had three weeks off after Burghley and then he has been back in work since. I normally put him in the paddock and he tells me when it is time to come back into work, he comes running to the gate every morning and that is when it is time to bring him back.
How have you kept your own focus? It’s the world championships.There’s a lot to focus on with that! I have a very good horse and am part of a very good team. I have had great support, I have dealt with the case when I have had to deal with it and then used my free time to sharpen up.
Have you run him in ground conditions like this before? No, that’s the only thing that does maybe make me think a little bit. I have taken him in deeper going before but it has been more like one-days rather than the big tracks. He is a very powerful horse, he is a very fast horse, he is very very good at it. If I had to pick any horse in the world to do it on, I would be picking him.
In 15th on Nereo (team)
It’s quite warm out there now! It was good, it’s just that I made two big mistakes and at this level you can’t afford to make mistakes. I think his trot work was probably the best he has done and to be up with the leaders in that bit of it, he had to work very, very hard. It just started to show in the canter work but at least he got over his mistakes each time and did things properly. He is a big horse to try to make look elegant and light. I think he was doing a very good job of it but it just went wrong in a few places.
On the cross-country: It’s a very fair course, it’s very big but it’s very fair. It was a little unfortunate for us all and the organisers that the rain came along. It makes it quite demanding on the stamina side of things but it is the same for us all and we just want to get out there and do it.
Being at the end of the field: That’s the draw, you take it and you do what you can. Hopefully it won’t make any difference.
On the changes made in the course: They have taken one hill out which is a big help. The hill had quite a few soft patches in it which between that and being a hill … Plus it has quite a sizey jump at the top with the owl hole and for a lot of nations, if the horses were tired, it could have been a difficult one to jump at the top of a hill in soft ground. One of the fences they have taken out was in a bit of a bog so I think it is a good thing they have taken it out.
On the first course walk, the cows were out on course and in the second course walk the cows were gone so I had presumed they had taken them in to milk. They have obviously milked them and put them back. (Reporter explained the TV cameras wanted them for background. We asked if he could still milk a cow). “No, I have given up miking cows, not even one like those out there.”
On the going: Nereo has probably been in every going there is. He will know what he is here for.
On the dressage judging: The bits I have watched I thought they judged very, very well. I watched yesterday and I thought they were marking very fairly and today the ones I watched, I think they have been fair. When there has been a mistake they have marked you down, where you have done well, they have marked you up. They seem to have been consistent.
On the team environment: They are a very good bunch of riders. They are very motivated, competitive and a good bunch.
On the team placing: I shouldn’t worry to much about the dressage scores.
In ninth on Willy Do (individual)
Delighted! He put his best foot forward and I’m pretty pleased with the result. Some horses seem to freeze a little bit, my horse didn’t.
We are so spoiled with our NZ Equestrian Federation support. I trained with Jill Watson for 20 years which is embarrassing to admit for both of us. Then in addition to her coaching and mentoring, with the Federation’s funding, Erik Duvander has helped me get some coaching with Andrew Fletcher. He is a pure dressage rider and certainly now in this sport you are not in gold medal position on 70%. We were both a tiny little bit frustrated by the tiny mistakes but this is my best four-star score by a long shot and so now, look out as hopefully there is more to come.
Thoughts on the atmosphere in the dressage arena? Weirdly it appears to be when they face the chateau side they get distracted by something high up on the hill. I don’t know why because I would personally prefer to face the chateau than the crowd. It does appear to be creating a bit tension, not making them blow up, just hold themselves a bit and then they become hard to ride.
On the cross-country: I am hoping that Badminton was the best preparation possible. Badminton was huge and very wet. He wouldn’t be the fastest horse on four legs but at Badminton he set out on a beautiful rhythm and tackled everything really well. That is my intention on Saturday, just go out and repeat that. There were a few times at Badminton, having watched my video, where I could make up time without hurrying him, by moving away quicker from some fences so I intend to catch up a bit of the time. He is a very scopey, luckily, as it’s massive. He’s got a huge stride, luckily as it is a really long way, and he doesn’t mind the deep, luckily, as it is quite deep.
Will the time (11.30) be difficult? Yes! It will be difficult particularly for the guys at the beginning is no-one is really sure how they are going to come home. The guys who set out for the time might not have enough horse. There is plenty of jumping, right through to the last fence which is a big fence. We are not really sure how they are going to feel on this footing. Thank goodness I am 49th to run so I can have a look at how the fences are riding, how the ground is riding and how they are pulling up so I can work out what sort of pace to set out with.
I am absolutely delighted to be part of the Kiwi team. There couldn’t be a better bunch of guys to be with. You grow up with these guys as your heroes, with posters on your wall at school and here you are, running alongside them. They are very supportive, very focused, they are out there to win but they are equally happy to support us in our endeavours to try to beat them.”
In 26th on Classic Moet (individual)
I am pleased. It is not her strong phase. She has come a long way in a very short time. She actually did her first advanced ever here at Haras de Pin this time last year. She has come a long way in a short time. She has had to learn a lot of new work, she has changed shape in her body. That is a personal best at any level for her today so to come and do it here it is great.
She is 11 but she is young on mileage. I did Ballindenisk 3* then on to Luhmuhlen where she did a 54 I think. That was only three months ago. She really is on the improve. You never quite know how much you can produce on the day.
We had two mistakes in the test and those two mistakes are normally her better marks of the whole test so that is a bit frustrating but I think that is the nature of these competitions and it is about producing 100% of the work in the test at the time. It is even more encouraging to think she got that mark with two mistakes. We have managed to convert a lot of the 7s to 8s in the other work and that gives me a lot of hope for the future.”
Views on the cross-country: “Just going for another look now, I’ve already been around twice. I think it has got a little bit smaller again today, our personal stride length gets a bit longer each day and suddenly the distances start to feel a bit more achievable whereas on the first day it felt like everything was very long open distances to big accurate fences. There is plenty to do out there. There have been a couple of changes today so I am not sure how that will weigh into things. With or without the changes, there is still enough out there to sort the field out, particularly given the ground conditions which are a little bit unknown at this point.
Will the course suit your horse? Your guess is as good as mine. She hasn’t done that much. What she lacks in obvious talent, she makes up for in heart. She is a bit unique, she jumps a bit inverted, she is her own brand. She has a huge heart, she is a really gutsy little mare, as feisty as you like. She is a ‘blood’ horse, so you know if anything is going to go out there and give it a go, it will be her.
Will you be going for the options? NO! I didn’t come here to do options. You do that at home. That’s my approach, rather than a team approach.
On having Tim in the team: It is great in that it is easy having two of us here, you don’t have to worry about things like accreditation and whether one person is feeling good, one person feeling bad. It is bad because there is no one at home riding the horses! No, seriously, it is great. He has had a brilliant 12 months and Wesko is a fantastic horse. Wesko could be Tim’s horse of a lifetime. He’s got all to play for tomorrow and it is a big ask for the horse but they have had a great twelve months.
I get more nervous watching Tim ride. I think most riders say the same. We can get on and we know our job and you can focus on that. I’m a terrible watcher. Don’t look for me in the tent, I will be the one with closing my eyes, screaming and turning away. I think when you know so concisely what can go wrong, I can watch it and see something two or three strides out that other people don’t and you know straight away it could be detrimental. I think sometimes it’s better to be like my mother who just sits there and watches, she gets a bit nervous but less knowledge is better when it comes to watching.
Will you be having a quiet night tonight? I’m not sure we know anything like a quiet night. We have had a lot of fun and games and activities thus far. We are so lucky, we have a great time and the spirit back at the house is great. We are all good mates and that just makes it so easy. Obviously we are very lucky to have the management we have at present so we have got absolutely no complaints. Holly does all the cooking. I did skip lunch today though, we have breakfast and dinner there so it’s all great.”