WEG 2018 was to have been the one to remember for Clarke Johnstone and Balmoral Sensation . . . instead, Clarke is making plans for he and his horse to head home.

The Matangi combination, who were part of the victorious New Zealand team at the CHIO Aachen, have had to withdraw from contention after Balmoral Sensation injured his leg.

“I felt he had pulled up really well (at Aachen), and he trotted up sound when we got back to England,” says Clarke. “It wasn’t until Tuesday that it became apparent there might be an issue.”

It is a leg injury that isn’t “catastrophic” nor career-ending, but will likely see the lovely grey sidelined for a year.

“I am just hugely disappointed. WEG has been our single focus for a very long time and to get so close only to have it taken away is pretty gut-wrenching. At the end of the day, things can be worse and you just have to keep looking forward.”

Johnstone and Ritchie were the best of the Kiwis at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games with their sixth-place finish, and came into that on the back of a fifth place on début at Badminton. Last year they won the CCI4* at Adelaide and everything looked on track for a place in the team for WEG and hopefully a good showing at the prestigious event.

“I am just feeling very sad about it all. He had gone so well at Aachen – it is always tough because the time is very difficult there and everyone is trying their hardest to go really fast. He was just super.”

Ritchie will spend about a month in the UK at Jesse Campbell’s yard where he is under ESNZ high performance eventing vet Christiana Ober. Clarke plans to stay for a few weeks before heading home. He has no plans to head to WEG as a spectator. Groom Lydia Beales is already back in New Zealand to continue her vet nursing studies but may fly the horse home when he is ready.

“We haven’t worked it all through just yet,” says Clarke. “We are all still a bit shocked.”

He has been heartened by the many messages he has received about his shock exit.

“The outpouring of support from New Zealand and around the world has been quite humbling. It is unbelievable the number of messages I have received. It’s really nice to know how special he is to a lot of others as well as to me, Lydia and my family. He is a horse who just captures people’s hearts.”

Clarke is already refocused on making the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

By Diana Dobson – HP Media Liaison
Photos by Libby Law/ESNZ