NZ endurance team best prepared yet

August 21, 2006

A ride into unknown territory has the endurance team well primed to be in the medal hunt when they kick-start New Zealand's campaign at the World Equestrian Games in Aachen, Germany on Tuesday (New Zealand time).

The meticulous planning and preparation of the 2006 endurance team is a far cry from the gold medal winning team of 1998, of which current team coach John Stevenson was a member. But Stevenson has no doubts this is the best prepared of any previous New Zealand team.

US changes endurance lineup

The United States Equestrian Federation has announced a change to its endurance team on the eve of the start of competition. The team is as follows:

• Kathryn Downs of Somerville, ME, riding Pygmalion, a 10-year-old Arabian gelding

• Joseph Mattingley of Scales Mound, IL, riding SA Laribou, an 11-year-old Arabian gelding

• Jennifer Niehaus of Cloverdale, CA, riding Cheyenne XII, a 14-year-old Arabian gelding

• Christoph Schork of Moab, UT, riding Taj Rai Hasan, a seven-year-old Arabian gelding

• Margaret Sleeper, DVM, of Frenchtown, NJ, riding Shyrocco Troilus, a 14-year-old half-Arabian gelding

The depth of talent in the team and the adoption of a high performance programme has meant a more professional and calculated approach in the quest to emulate the success of eight years ago.

"We've never had access to such professional people before, it's just been unbelievable," Stevenson said. "I rate this team's chances as good if not better of any country to have a crack at team gold."

The New Zealanders have yet to decide on their team make-up where the format requires one combination to compete as individuals with 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.

Endurance, as its name suggests, is a test of the fitness and stamina of both horse and rider, where the combination must cover up to 160km in 16 hours. Horse welfare is paramount and horses must pass through six vet checks throughout the course of the event to ensure they are fit to continue.

The New Zealand team has been in rigorous training since April, the benefits clear to see after horses and riders arrived at their base in the Aachen countryside four weeks ago.

"The injury levels are nil and they have good heart rates which two days out from the competition is exactly where you want them," Stevenson said of the horses. "We did the initial hard yards at home to build up their legs so we've had no problems here. Since we've been here it's all been about fine-tuning."

The most challenging phase of the build-up for Stevenson was getting the horses across a stormy Cook Strait in July. With five days to get over that trip the horses then endured a 24-hour flight to Amsterdam before being trucked to Germany.

Based near part of the competition course has given the Kiwis plenty of time to familiarise themselves and prepare for Tuesday's long day in the saddle.

"We knew a long way beforehand the type of tracks we would be riding on so much of the training work in New Zealand was staged around building up the horses legs on hard surfaces and being able to turn and slow down quickly because this is a tight turning course," Stevenson said.

"We've done our homework and we've left no stone unturned. There's quite a lot of depth in this team and with a bit of luck on the day, things could go our way."

Endurance team member Brian Tiffen, from Fairlie, in South Canterbury will carry the New Zealand flag at Sunday's opening ceremony.

New Zealand team: