For any elite athlete, preparing for a championship event is as nerve-wracking as it is exciting, but for New Zealand endurance rider Jenny Champion, it comes with some extra challenges.
The 53-year-old Wairarapa farm worker needs to raise around $80,000 if she wants to get to North Carolina to represent New Zealand at the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games aboard Mark Round’s Barack Obama. It is a huge ask, and one made all the more difficult as it all has to be raised by the rider and her support team.
They’ve got auctions underway and Champion says the support has been both humbling and encouraging.
“It is overwhelming sometimes,” she admits. “Just with training my horse and making sure he is going to be in perfect fitness for the event, and in good health. Getting ready for our trip is quite a daunting task, and then there is the fundraising, to get there . . . which is a bit of a worry.”
Champion says her boss on the farm has been great. “They know what sort of training I need to do and allow me to get away early in the afternoon to ride.”
PGG Wrightson in Masterton have also been hugely supportive, helping with the fundraising and driving the givealittle page. Her family have also been “fantastic”, as has partner Shane Dougan, groom John Stevenson, her neighbours, friends and the Tararua riding team.
“I feel having to raise the $80,000 to get the champs and home again with Barack seems impossible for us unless we get a very generous donation,” says Champion.
It’s visibly tough for her to even say the words. Barack, at 20, is likely to be the oldest horse in the field – not that he knows that. “He is well and enjoys his rides. Most days he puts in a buck or two and the magpies always set him off,” she says. “Training on our own does make him a bit despondent until we turn for home. He is a real character and keeps me on my toes.”
Just getting him fit enough for the champs through a very wet winter is challenging, but so far the two are on track.
“Everything is going well with our training. Despite the wet weather, we still have to get out there. That has been hard as the ground is very wet and the conditions are nearly impossible for keeping up a nice pace. We canter where we can.”
The duo are doing mainly hill work, and a lot of trotting, with the odd canter. “I do have road verges where I can get a good canter on, but it doesn’t last for long and road work is very repetitious.”
She rides every second day with 30km-plus sessions at the weekends. “You have to be careful with winter riding, especially making sure he is well dried and groomed after each ride. He doesn’t get washed after riding as it has just been too cold, so he dries off in the shed and is double rugged.”
Her love for the horse is clear. The two have been together since 2014 when she retired her mare Freckles.
“I knew Barack was a great horse who could get to the top.”
Her feeling proved correct, and together they have gone from strength to strength, winning rides and titles along the way. Owner Mark Round will also be travelling to WEG to support his star horse.
“Mark is a great friend to have let me campaign Barack to get to this level and represent New Zealand,” says Champion. “It is very special to be representing your country aboard a fantastic horse who I have really bonded with. It is something I may never get to do again. It’s humbling and I am so proud of what I have achieved riding Barack.
Despite the challenges, Champion says there’s not a day goes by that she doesn’t think about WEG 2018 – when she will get to don the silver fern, and ride for New Zealand.
Follow Champion’s fundraising through her Facebook page – Get Jenny and Barack to WEG 2018 or donate via her givealittle page at https://givealittle.co.nz/cause/getjennyandbaracktoweg2018 .
By Diana Dobson – HP Media Liaison
29th June 2018