Three top Kiwi eventing Olympic hopefuls are set to make their final New Zealand appearance at the Land Rover Horse of the Year Show before heading to the UK to further their bid for Tokyo. Equestrian’s pinnacle event in the Hawke’s Bay is likely to also include a swansong New Zealand performance from top Kiwi based event rider Clarke Johnstone.
Johnstone is set to relocate for an “undetermined” stint to the UK just a week after the Horse of the Year, hoping to establish a presence on the international circuit and cement his place on the team named for Tokyo. Before he leaves he’ll have to battle it out against Havelock North’s Amanda Pottinger, returning to defend and tackle the country’s prestigious 4 Star short eventing competition alongside rising star Maddy Crowe, all vying for Tokyo selection.
The trio will have to prove they’ve got what it takes, to visiting Burghley and Olympic eventing judge Christina Klingspor and Kiwi based Tokyo selector Mitty Forsyth.
Land Rover Horse of the Year General Manager Lauren Watson says the event continues to prove a breeding ground for Olympians. “We’ve had Sir Mark Todd, Blyth Tait, Jock Paget and the Prices all perform here, and we’re so lucky to have had the talent of Clarke, Maddy and Amanda stay in New Zealand for this long. This year’s eventing field is truly world class and perhaps one of the last times we’ll see these three battle it out on home soil. “It’ll be a great contest and a wonderful spectacle to showcase the sport.”
The competition in March is the trio’s last hit-out at home to capture the attention of Olympic selectors before heading to England to compete, followed by the naming of the Kiwi eventing team in June. With competition tightly contested for Tokyo and only three spots and one reserve up for grabs, Equestrian Sport New Zealand High Performance Director Simon Bennett believes it’s going to be an exciting team selection race. “Land Rover Horse of the Year is a fantastic platform for our top riders and this year three of our Olympic hopefuls are preparing to springboard from New Zealand’s premier four-star short event to Europe giving spectators a fabulous opportunity see some our best performers in action.”
Olympic Committee rule changes come August mean all scores in the eventing team must count making team medals harder to come by. However ESNZ’s Simon Bennett isn’t daunted. “We’re in an exciting phase, we’ve got three riders from New Zealand travelling to join up with Tim and Jonelle Price, among other squad riders in the UK. “The cool thing is we’ve got a lot of hungry riders with great current form that are really putting their hand up, but with five and a half months still to go until Tokyo and the nature of horses, anything can happen!”
Given recent form – fresh off a win in December at the Puhinui 4 Star, Clarke Johnstone will be launching a last ditch attempt on home soil to qualify his 10 year old gelding Aces High for Tokyo, at the Horse of the Year. “Balmoral Sensation has already qualified so I might save him the run. Horse of the Year is the best opportunity in New Zealand to get the horses competing in an international style arena, alongside trade stalls and large crowds. “The course was very good last year and asked some curly questions – I’m looking forward to the challenge.“
Johnstone will need to bring his ‘A’ game, with fellow New Zealand High Futures Squad member and riding rival Amanda Pottinger nipping at his heels. 28 year old Amanda is looking to become a third generation competitor to don the Silver Fern, following in the footsteps of her late grandmother Tiny White and Olympic medallist mother Tinks Pottinger. “It’s one thing to get named in the team; its another thing to do well and be competitive. Making the team is a big goal for me, and a step in the right direction. I’m an extremely competitive person so I want to be confident that if I’m named in the team I’m also going in as a competitive rider. “It’s a long way to go between now and Tokyo and chances are slim for me making the top three but in my mind that 4th spot reserve is up for grabs since Toddy has retired…so I’ll be giving it my best shot.”