New Zealand’s showjumpers have bowed out of the teams’ competition at the Tokyo Olympic Games, finishing in 14th place.
While it wasn’t quite the result they had hoped for, team leader Jock Paget says he is excited for the future. “It was great to have a team at the Olympic Games,” he said. “That’s not something we have had since Beijing in 2008. As in all disciplines, we need our riders on quality horses to compete with the best. The riders are up for it and I am excited where things could go with more support.”
Bruce Goodin and Danny V were first out, picking up 16 jump and one time for a total of 17, followed by Tom Tarver and Popeye who had 12 jump and one time for 13 faults, with Daniel Meech and Cinca 3 crossing the flags with eight jump and a single time for a total of nine. The team finished on 39 faults.
Sweden were the only team of the 19 to finish with a clean slate, with Belgium and Germany tied on four time faults apiece and Switzerland on 10. The top 10 teams will progress to the team final tomorrow evening.
As expected, the Santiago Varela (ESP) designed course challenged everyone – it was technical with everything related and coming up fast. There were two particular related lines that called for plenty of decision making, with a small mistake quickly snowballing into bigger problems. Many struggled with the course, with the time particularly hard to make. Even the individual champ Ben Maher (GBR) and Explosion W had a rail.
Team trail blazer Bruce Goodin said Santiago’s distances were very subtle. “It’s not that they are big whopping killers – instead he asks subtle questions that catch horses and riders out all over the place, and that is what you are seeing again tonight. It is not just the lines, it is the construction of the fences, the colours, materials it is made of, he understands this as well as I have ever seen anybody understand all these dynamics of course building,” he said.
“Colours going into corners of the arenas, different things on the side of the jumps that distract horses, colours behind the jumps, different coloured poles – all that sort of thing, it is all these dynamics. For sure the lines and distances are a bit part of it but it is just one piece of the puzzle.”
Bruce felt Danny had jumped the first two fences well but had three down. “It really surprised me that he jumped that jump so badly.” He rued a late change of plan going into the next two jumps. “I am absolutely disappointed with that score. We definitely wanted a much better score than that.”
Tom was rapt with his New Zealand-bred grey Popeye. “The first half he was incredible. He was jumping the stands – I felt he wasn’t going to touch a fence but then I just got a little bit busy in the middle there with my hands getting a bit long and I was probably trying to help him a little bit too much. The horse would have jumped a clear round – those were rider faults. Then I got myself together coming home and he just jumped insane.”
It was certainly the toughest course Tom had faced. “It is also the pressure of it all – you have to go out and get a result and you have to finish. That is a big thing for the team. We have to get through the finish flags. It has been a long week waiting and prepping. I am just super proud of my horse – it has been a real joint effort.”
Initially Tom and Popeye were named as non-travelling alternate, then moved to alternate when Sharn Wordley was forced out with a horse injury, and finally made the starting trio for the team event. “It has been a roller coaster really. Before my horse got injured in March I was probably looking really strong but that small injury to his back hock and selection came upon us a bit too quick. We had to find some form and we weren’t quite there.”
Their efforts were most definitely for all those who had supported Tom throughout his career. “I did this for everyone at home. We don’t come from a wealthy family so a lot of people have helped in the journey, right from when I was riding ponies when people would shoe my horses for free.” Others had given him a saddle for half price while others had sent him money to help him stay in the sport. “So to be here today is for everybody.”
Popeye, who was bred by Kim and Greg Best, had come from New Zealand to jump at the top of the sport at the Olympic Games within two years of leaving to base in Europe was “an incredible feat for a horse”. “It is not just me – it is everybody. My biggest rock is Lucia and her parents – they have been super and we couldn’t have done it without them.”
Daniel and Cinca looked well on track to bag New Zealand’s first clear of the round – until the last line. “She felt fantastic. Other than the two rails, she jumped easier than she had all week. I felt really confident out there and I was rapt with her – just really unlucky. I heard the first touch but the second one I didn’t even hear it – that is how light she must have touched it. The rest she jumped easy and it felt amazing to be out there. It is unfortunate for the team. I was really hoping to get a clear and we were so close in the end. I can’t complain – she has jumped great all week.”
Cinca was a bit of a princess at home and certainly the number one in the stable at home, but Daniel said she was as brave as a lion. “We have a good partnership. I encourage her and she says, ‘well, if you say it is ok, then it is ok’.”
Today had been all about the team. “It was another chance for me to get in the ring and show the qualities of Cinca after the disappoint of the other day and finish on a nice note. We were so close to home to get clear and she was jumping amazing. She jumped her heart out and it is a horse sport. We love our horses and I think she is fantastic. It is a brutal sport. You really had to man up this week. I think today we showed we have the goods – just lack a little bit of experience at this level.”
All three riders extended a huge thank you to those who supported them from home. “It has been amazing,” said Bruce. “We all really appreciate that – everyone supports us through the highs and lows of it all and that is brilliant.”
By Diana Dobson – HP Media Liaison
Photos by Libby Law/ESNZ