New Zealand’s first representatives at the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games will step into the competition zone tomorrow with the 160km endurance ride.

Philip Graham (Canterbury) aboard Rosewood Bashir and Jenny Champion (Masterton) aboard Barack Obama are part of a 139-strong field to tackle the ride which gets underway at 6.30am with a 14-hour cut-off for riders.

Both riders passed the horse inspection today, and their team is relieved to be getting on with business in the morning.

Champion admitted to a few nerves. “But I am really excited too. Barack is feeling great – very forward. I am not at all worried about the weather. It’s going to be good to just get on with it.”
Her partner Shane Dougan and John Stevenson are her grooms for race day, with Barack’s owner Mark Round also in the crew.

Graham said key would be “holding it all together in the carnage that is the start”. “We’ve had a few nervous moments over the last few weeks as the horse got over the travel and acclimatised to the local weather,” he said. “It’s good to get through (the horse inspection) and get started.”
His team includes daughter Helen and former WEG representative Susie Latta.

Dressage also had its first horse inspection today with Julie Brougham (Palmerston North) and Vom Feinsten New Zealand’s sole representative after the late withdrawal of John Thompson (Hamilton) and JHT Antonello.

Brougham is one of 80 riders from 31 nations to compete in the dressage which gets underway on Wednesday morning. Brougham is looking forward to doing her Grand Prix qualifier on Thursday.

“Steiny (Vom Feinsten) was beautifully behaved and moved like a dream (in the horse inspection),” she said. “I am very pleased and Andrea (Raves) did a super job. He is feeling like he looks – a million dollars. It is great to be here.”

The team is hugely disappointed for Thompson. “It is disappointing for everybody in the team,” said Brougham.

The Kiwi eventers start their championships this week with the first horse inspection on Wednesday afternoon (US time) followed by two days of dressage. Two-time CCI4* winner Jonelle Price was New Zealand’s flag bearer at last night’s opening ceremony. She and Classic Moet are joined by her Burghley winning husband Tim aboard Cekatinka, Sir Mark Todd on McClaren, Blyth Tait on Dassett Courage and Dan Jocelyn aboard Grovine de Reve.

The jumping team comprising Samantha McIntosh aboard Check In 2, Bruce Goodin on Backatorps Danny V, Daniel Meech on Fine and Sharn Wordley aboard Casper will compete next week.

New Zealand chef de mission Sarah Dalziell-Clout said it was great to finally be getting underway. “After months of preparation and a rather chaotic final week leading into the WEG, it’s great to finally have Kiwi riders and horses on-site ready to compete,” she said. “It’s a busy week ahead with three of our four discipline teams competing and our jumpers arriving in from America and Europe also.”

The #BackingBlack banner is hanging proudly at the eventing stables for now and there is an increasing number of people dressed in black around the grounds, supporting the New Zealand team.

“In the past few days as the final preparation for competition starts, you really see the strength of the support teams kicking in. They are making sure the horses and riders are fit and prepped – I think everyone is very ready to get this thing started now.”

Organisers on full alert for Hurricane Florence with an onsite weather station at the Tryon International Equestrian Centre, taking regular updates from the National Weather Service. The venue is around 525 kilometres inland from the mandatory evacuation areas on the coast. There is plenty of room for both horses and people, with the barns built to code and able to withstand winds up to 144 kilometres an hour. TIEC was last year used as a safe haven for horses during Hurricane Irma.

Chief operating officer Sharon Decker said while TIEC is a “safe zone” it could still get wind and rain. Plans were in place to postpone or alter events if necessary, with safety of horses and humans paramount.

The 2018 World Equestrian Games are held every four years and are the pinnacle of the sport. This year it will be the largest sporting event in North Carolina’s history with more than $400 US million of projected economic impact and 500,000 spectators over the 13-day event.

The horse details:
Rosewood Bashir – owned by Philip Graham
Barack Obama – owned by Mark Round
Vom Feinsten – owned by Julie and David Brougham
JHT Antonello – owned by John Thompson
McClaren – owned by David and Katherine Thomson
Cekatinka – owned by Joanne Pullan
Classic Moet – owned by Trisha Rickards and Jonelle Price
Grovine de Reve – owned by Therese Miller, Jo Preston-Hunt Philip Hunt and Dan Jocelyn
Dassett Courage – owned by Thomas Barr, Sally Grant and Blyth Tait
Check In 2 – owned by Takapoto Equestrian
Backatorps Danny V – owned by Backatorp Ryder ABs
Casper – owned by Sky Group
Fine – owned by AB Kastanjegarden and Daniel Meech

By Diana Dobson – NZ Team Media Liaison