"Transplanted" Kiwi stays true to roots

August 19, 2006

The Australians wanted him but ultimately the vastly experienced Howard Harris remained loyal to his roots and will line up in New Zealand colours when the discipline of endurance kicks off the World Equestrian Games in Aachen, Germany on Tuesday (New Zealand time).

Harris abandoned his first love of offshore yacht racing soon after he was introduced to endurance riding in 1978. From then he went on to forge an impressive international career which has included multiple appearances at World Games, world championships and Continental championships.

The enterprising Harris has lived most of his adult life offshore, the successful businessman spending much of his working career in South East Asia, Europe and the US before settling in Australia but is still firmly of the opinion that he's "as Kiwi as they get."

"I've been in Australia so long many of them didn't realise I'm actually a New Zealander," Harris said.

"I did get invited to ride for them but I've ridden for New Zealand for so long in international competition that to change camps is the last thing you would find me capable of doing morally. It's never been part of the equation."

Despite initial apprehension from some New Zealand quarters on the athletic competence of his horse, the 12-year-old home-bred chestnut Arabian gelding Harmere Turfan, the duo has an enviable competition record. Across the Tasman, the horse is considered to be one of, if not the best, endurance horse in Australia and among the top five in the world.

At 61, the charismatic Harris is the senior statesman of the five-strong New Zealand team which has a broad base of experience and is rounded out by the youthful enthusiasm of 20-year-old rookie Kylie Avery.

Coming from a harsh winter at home where Brian Tiffen's horse Sonny had been used to rake sheep out of chest-deep snow, the only form of transport available on Tiffen's high country block in Fairlie, South Canterbury and Shane Dougan's horse, Vigar Riffal, having to compete with the Wairarapa floods, the team have appreciated their four-week preparation time in the countryside around Aachen.

"I'm incredibly impressed with the preparation," Harris said. "I've been very content with the team as a unit, it's extremely harmonious, there's a lot of camaraderie, the horses are exceptionally well prepared and they've recovered without exception from their flight. I'm bloody glad that I'm riding with them and not against them."

Harris believed the post-arrival preparation had been second to none and had given the New Zealanders an edge over many of their rivals.

"I rate the chances of this team very highly," he said. "Drawing from my experience, there's an across-the-board depth of preparation, attention to detail and the horses all look very sound and fit.

"The course is a technical one and the fact that we've had the time to investigate carefully the intricacies of it is in our favour. I know other nations haven't had that good fortune."

The New Zealanders have yet to decide on their team make-up where the format requires one combination to compete as individuals and the remaining four riding as a team.

About 170 competitors from 40 countries will set off at 6am (local time) on the 160km journey which zig-zags across three borders - Germany, Belgium and The Netherlands - intermittently during the race before ending back at the start line some 12 hours later.

"I think the course will particularly suit New Zealand horses who are used to handing less than optimum under-footing and that's what a lot of this (course) is," Harris said.

New Zealand team: