NZL-Phillip Steiner rides Cassina Dior during the second round of the FEI Paris 2024 Olympic Qualifier for Team Jumping – Group G. Topps International Arena. Valkenswaard. Netherlands. Tuesday 18 July 2023. Copyright Photo: Libby Law Photography

New Zealand World Cup finalist Phillip Steiner has a lot on his mind. He and the lovely New Zealand bred Cassina Dior were the best of the Kiwis at the FEI Group G Olympic Games Qualifier in Valkenswaard, jumping clear in the opener but with four time, and then a rail and a single time in the second for a two-round total of nine.

While New Zealand missed out on a team spot for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games, there is still the possibility of an individual heading to France. Phillip is eyeing that spot, but he knows it’s not going to be easy.

The dad, trucker and farmer from Tauranga packed up his life to take his horse of a lifetime to the World Cup Final in Omaha, with Paris the ultimate end goal. His wife Sally and children James, Oliver and Francie have been to visit a few times, and recently left after a six week stay. And as lovely as it is having them all around, it makes the goodbyes tougher.

Phillip is based with Australian Hillary Scott at Vaslkenswaard in The Netherlands. He loves the base and it works well for his talented and scopey mare. He was rapt with her at the Olympic qualifier and enjoyed riding at the high level shows he has been able to get into.  But with the highs have come the challenges. “For me it all dawned on that one day because if we didn’t qualify then what? It meant everything to me that we get that team spot. I was so focused on the whole day and doing my best. When it was all over everyone else just packed up and went back to their homes and their day jobs.”

It now all hinges on NZL nabbing the Group G individual spot, by having one of the two top combinations on the FEI Olympic Rankings for Group G as at 31st December this year. Currently Thai rider Janakabhom Karunayadha and Maxwin Kinmar Agalux leads the rankings on 107 points, with Uma O’Neill and Clockwise of Greenhill Z in second on 56 and Sharn Wordley in third on 41. Chinese Taipei rider Ping-Yang Hsieh has the next two spots with her horses Anaiamix II Hero Z and Nacco Blue DNL.

“The biggest problem is getting invites to those shows,” said Phillip. “So things are a little up in the air at the moment. I guess there are one or two shows a month I can get to, which isn’t ideal to be getting those ranking points.”

NZL-Phillip Steiner presents Cassina Dior and Richard Garner presents Calisto during the Horse Inspection for the FEI Paris 2024 Olympic Qualifier for Team Jumping – Group G. Topps International Arena. Valkenswaard. Netherlands. Monday 17 July 2023. Copyright Photo: Libby Law Photography

By January that individual spot will be decided. “It would be great to be able to take the horse home and then come back!”

Phillip’s achievements in doing so well with a horse bred and produced in New Zealand who had done just a single trip to Australia before heading to the big time at the World Cup final have sent a clear message to those onshore with international aspirations. It can be done and more so now thanks to the Plaw family who have bolstered the ESNZ high performance jumping programme, enabling further athlete development and the ability for offshore campaigns.

“The training I have received in the 12 months before I left New Zealand really helped me,” said Phillip, as did the push to send me to Australia. I probably wouldn’t have done that otherwise.”

He says giving riders the right tools to move forward is key, but that comes with a caution – Philip says they must be able to support themselves. “Those who can support themselves at home are better placed for basing offshore. One of the best things high performance has done is provide a trainer at shows or a mentor to work with riders.”

Course walking, warm-ups, advice and assisting with show plans all go a long way in helping riders of all levels he felt. “Some riders just go and go and don’t think about the coming weeks. Look at HOY or the New Zealand World Cup Final and work backwards.”

Phillip has ticked all the boxes in his Individual Performance Plan which he did 18 months ago. The focus was always the Olympic qualifier via Australia and the World Cup final. “I was 100% on the mark with what I said I would do and then did, but I do have the horse who was able to achieve all that. I was fortunate everything went my way,” he says.

The ESNZ backing to get into the Munich and Valkenswaard shows was also a huge help. Paris is most definitely still on his radar but much is up in the air until that individual spot is secured and then he says he will need to get to enough shows to show the selectors he is the one on form and who should be wearing the silver fern.

Finance continues to be challenging, with everything so much more expensive. Phillip is looking at options to enable him to stay in Europe including selling a percentage of Cassina Dior. “She is worth more this side of December because people are looking for Olympic horses but if I could find an investor that would take some of that risk away.” Phillip is grateful in the absence of family that he is surrounded by plenty of good mates, most of whom are Aussies.

NZL-Phillip Steiner rides Cassina Dior during the Training Round. The FEI Paris 2024 Olympic Qualifier for Team Jumping – Group G. Topps International Arena. Valkenswaard. Netherlands. Monday 17 July 2023. Copyright Photo: Libby Law Photography

While the family were visiting, James got a job down the road working for Oliver Lazarus (SA) and Georgina Harvey (AUS). Phillip thought it would be a few casual hours a day but it turned into a very busy wee number for the nearly 16-year-old who would ride a few horses a day once he finished mucking out, sweeping, cleaning and water blasting. He even got to meet world no.1 Henrik von Eckermann (SWE) who was visiting to look at a horse.

“He should do well on his up-coming trip to New Caledonia with Penny (Stevenson) after riding so many different horses,” says Phillip. “He had a great time and I am very proud of him.”

Francie headed to Edwina Tops-Alexander to hang with her daughter Chloe which included some rather encouraging riding lessons from one of Aussie’s top riders. Oliver was kept busy at Phillip’s base driving loaders and tractors.

There’s a good bunch of people near him and they often get together for BBQs and catch-ups. But at the top of his gratitude list is Cassina Dior – or Dolly as he calls her. “She is the best horse I have ever had and is simply amazing but I have a mortgage and kids at home, so there is a lot to work through.”

By Diana Dobson – HP Media Liaison
Photos By Libby Law/ESNZ