Olympians Daniel Meech and Sharn Wordley are making the most of the reopening of the borders and a window of opportunity in their rather stacked competition calendars. It’s been a couple of years since the two have made it home and both are ecstatic to be able to reconnect with family and enjoy all that is good about the land Down Under.

Daniel with his sister Vicki and her dogs at Shoal Bay in Hawke’s Bay.

Daniel says it’s easy to take for granted just how special it is to dig your feet into the sand at Shoal Bay, soak in the beautiful scenery and just hang with family. “You need that little injection of New Zealand every six to 12 months,” he says. “It really does keep you going and reinvigorates you to get back over there and crank things up again. It has been tough not to come home.”

He is back in New Zealand for 11 days and spending most of that in Hawke’s Bay where his family are based. “It is nice to do all that good old Kiwi stuff, like have a BBQ. We’ve had a few good steaks on the barby and it is so good to catch up with everyone.”

It is the longest time he has been away from New Zealand. “When you drive in here on those country roads you realised just how beautiful New Zealand is and how lucky we are here. You just take it for granted but it is a magnificent country.” While Daniel has lived in Europe for many years, he says that it just isn’t home. “You need this connection to bring you back up to that good mental state.”

He’s excited for the horses in his stable. Hi-5 – owned by Desiree Johnston who owned his Tokyo Olympic horse Cinca – is one he has bring bringing through.

“I was lucky Desiree hung in there (with Cinca) for the Olympic Games as she received a lot of offers along the way. It was the most sensible time to sell her especially what she did at the Games. She is a great horse. It would have been nice to have a crack at the Worlds with her on the back of going so well but we have the other couple.”

The other horse he is excited for is Donjon D’Asschaut, a nine-year-old Selle Francais gelding. “He has been given to us as a horse to bring on and is for sale, as they all are,” says Daniel. “We had no expectations for him a couple of months ago but he has really stepped up and going well including placing in a 3* Grand Prix recently. He is stepping up more than we thought and hoped for – we will just see how he goes this summer.”

The horse was green but Daniel felt he was doing everything very easily so far. “That means he can step up to the big league sooner than other horses would and he is really nice. It is good to bring these horses through and see how they develop to top level. It is a fun too and you can enjoy getting them up to speed to do some bigger nice shows.”
He has a cautious eye to the fast-approaching World Championships later this year. “It is all step by step. We will see which horse comes through it at the end. It isn’t ever about pushing any horse further than it should be,” says Daniel. “Donjon certainly has the potential but he is young.”

Meanwhile he is making the most of 11 days without a horse in sight. “It’s a bit different but nice to totally let down for a bit. The whole family are pretty happy to see me. It is so nice to be here . . . honestly I was starting to get a bit of anxiety that we would never be allowed to come back.”

Sharn arrives in the country for 10 days from Sunday via Australia where he, fiancé Lauren Balcomb and Poppy stopped to see the other side of the family and celebrate their wee daughter’s first birthday. Their fleeting visit home includes stops in Wellington, Hawke’s Bay and Auckland. ”I am most looking forward to just being with my family,” said Sharn.

Sharn with wife Lauren and daughter Poppy

There’s been a lot happening in their world recently. They sold their farms in Kentucky and Wellington (Florida) and centralised everything in Ocala (Florida) where they now have 400 acres over three different locations.

He’s got very exciting new horses in the barn in 13-year-olds Quincy Too and Valentine Car who he bought from the Cardenas family. He’s still learning about Quincy but says the “interesting” horse could be better than he initially thought.

The World Champs are not on Sharn’s radar this year. “If I go to a championship I want a horse who is experienced at 5* level and doing well. If I have the right horse for Paris (Olympic Games 2024) then I would like to go but the goal is all about having those right horses.”

Partaking in such an expensive hobby, Sharn says he needs horses who can win on a weekly basis. “To have horses who are good enough to jump championship level and still win consistently at 1.50m is what you want but they are hard to come by.”

The two new ones join Casper, Mick Jagger and his old campaigner Gatsby, as well a few other youngsters. “It is a busy barn,” he says. “We’ve had 50-odd horses at the stable over winter.” His focus is on their property development business, competing and the construction company Wordley Martin. “It all keeps me pretty busy.”

Sharn is looking forward to getting to Aotearoa to enjoy good wine with perfect company out on his dad’s boat. “It’s been a very busy winter season so the horses are having a bit of a break while we are away. The stables are getting a good spring clean and everything will be ready when we get back. Our first FEI show is in Kentucky in May and then we have 14 weeks of showing in a row. We really do have a fantastic crew of people working for us.”

By Diana Dobson – HP Media Liaison
Photos Supplied