Briar Burnett-Grant is having sleepless nights but it’s about excitement rather than nerves.
The Taupo 18-year-old leaves tomorrow (Wednesday) for the Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires. It’s been a goal for years and with the final count-down finally on, she is beside herself.
“This is such a big high point for me,” said Briar. “I have been looking forward to it for so long. This past week has gone so slowly. It will be great just to get on the plane.”
She’s following in some big footsteps but Briar is quite the history-maker herself, as the youngest-ever to hoist the Olympic Cup at the Horse of the Year Show earlier this year.
Emily Fraser won the individual gold at the 2014 Games in Nanjing, China, and Jake Lambert took home a team silver from Singapore in 2010.
Briar will compete against 29 other riders from across the globe – all aboard borrowed horses, and that doesn’t bother her a bit. “I am lucky I have had lots of experience competing in borrowed horse competitions and all my own horses are quite different.”
Briar was aboard borrowed mounts when she won an individual gold at the Future Star Youth Competition in China in 2015 and an individual bronze in Korea. As the youngest at the FEI Children’s competition in Mexico she placed fifth out of 36, and has also been on trans Tasman young rider teams.
“I have been having lessons every second week with (Olympic eventer) Jock Paget for flat work and I have found that very helpful. I have learnt lots of new techniques for riding different horses too.”
She’s also been running and heading to the gym as well as the physio to ensure her body is in tip-top shape for the competition, although Fiber Fresh Veroana had other ideas just over a week ago. Hannah slipped on the truck ramp where Briar had spilled her saddle oil, which gave Veroana a fright and he “kind of” kicked her ankle. “It’s bruised and swollen but is well on the mend – I have been resting it all week.”
Hannah will accompany Briar as her trainer which is another great development for the younger sister. “It means I can boss her around in the warm up!” Mum Karen will also be there to watch along with a few aunties and uncles.
But it is going to be a tough trip in other ways. Her late father Dave, who died in early August, was meant to be there too. He was a huge supporter of all his daughters did and immensely proud of their achievements. “It was his goal to come with me,” said Briar. “It has been a bit tough to refocus but we have lots of support, and that makes it easier.”
Boardsailing legend Barbara Kendall, one of New Zealand’s best-performed female Olympians, is chef de mission for the team. “We are lucky to have her because she is great to be around.”
Briar is in her final year of school and external exams means there is no time to go tiki touring after the competition, so it will be straight home and into studies.
The individual competition comprises two rounds, run under table A – not against the clock in the first but against the clock in the second with a timed jump-off in the case of an equality of penalties for the podium placings.
All competitors who complete the first round will go forward to the second with penalties carrying through. The course will be built to 1.3m maximum in height and 1.4m in spread.
As well as competing as an individual, Briar will team up with others from New Zealand’s zone – likely to be Australia and Asian competitors – for the teams’ event. Each team has a maximum of five riders with the best three scores to count in each of the two rounds. There are six teams in all with the course no higher than 1.2m with a maximum spread of 1.3m.
The Youth Olympic Games is held every four years and in 2018 will attract 4012 athletes, aged between 15 and 18, from 206 countries. This is the third Youth Olympic Games (summer edition) to be held.
The fact file –
WHAT: Youth Olympic Games
WHERE: Buenos Aires, Argentina
WHEN: October 6-18, 2018