Young gun jumping stars Annabel Francis and Briar Burnett-Grant have based themselves in Europe as they chase berths for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.

Annabel, who left in late June, has based herself at Karlswood Stables in Ireland with Cian O’Connor who was a member of the gold medal-winning team at the 2017 European Championships, where he also won an individual bronze, and was the winner of a team bronze at the London Olympic Games in 2012.

NZL-Annabel Francis rides Carado GHP. Training Rounds for the ESNZ Olympic Jumping selection performance opportunity at Takapoto Estate. Friday 23 April 2021. Copyright Photo: Libby Law Photography

Nineteen-year-old Annabel was attracted to Karlswood for its professionalism and organisation. “It is a business that is run like clockwork and I know I can always count on them to help me and the horses to the highest standard,” she said.

Accompanying her on the mission are LT Holst Elizabeth and Carado GHP. La Quinara also made the trip but has been struck down with a bad strain of travel sickness and remains in a quarantine facility at Newmarket in the United Kingdom where she is slowly improving. “It will be a long road ahead,” says a disappointed Annabel.

Meanwhile she is out competing the other two. “I plan to compete my horses to the highest level they can and to the best standard . . . and hopefully build my way up to the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.” Making the move in COVID times with a team was challenging, but she says, “if you are hungry enough to do it, you will always find a way”.

As the winner of the FEI World Cup New Zealand League she would have loved to head to the final but when that was cancelled, she came up with plan B. “I think this is a great experience for me. Every show is different and I am out there jumping different courses in new countries, which helps you adapt well. It prepares you to be able to pivot and adjust when needed.”

Annabel says the times are tight in competition and she knows that is something she needs to work on. She and her team will soon head to Spain for three weeks on the Sunshine Tour before coming back to Ireland for a month and then on to Florida for three months.

“I am loving meeting new people along the way and I know there are lots more to meet!” But it is tough for the Taupo teen to be away from her friends and family. “It was difficult coming into an operation that is so huge and well known as Karlswood and knowing no-one but they have really taken me under their wings and brought me into the team. It’s been really comforting.”

NZL-Briar Burnett-Grant rides Fiber Fresh Veroana. 2021 ESNZ Olympic Jumping selection performance opportunity at Takapoto Estate. Friday 23 April 2021. Copyright Photo: Libby Law Photography

Briar headed to Germany last week where she will join Ludger Beerbaum’s stable as a training student under Christian Kukuk. “I wasn’t really planning on going overseas so soon but I was approached with this opportunity and thought it was too good to pass up,” says the 21-year-old. “I feel it is the right choice too given the uncertainty of the season in New Zealand with COVID.”

Putting her team on the market, and particularly her beloved Flash – Fiber Fresh Veroana – was one of the hardest decisions of her life. Together they have won World Cup qualifiers and in 2017 the much coveted Olympic Cup among other fantastic wins at Young Rider, Grand Prix and Premier League levels.

She has gone over without her horses but once she finds her feet will likely be joined by Fiber Fresh Chesall and possibly Kasalla. “Until I have my own horse over there my goal is to learn as much as I can,” says Briar. “I am hoping to do some competing on some of Christian’s young horses but am unsure where.”

By Diana Dobson – HP Media Liaison