Rio aside, Marlborough's Kiwi eventers have had a good season but "Next year can't come soon enough"
With the end of the 2016 eventing season in the northern hemisphere, the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) rankings put six New Zealand riders in the top ten of the FEI's 3,652 listed riders. Five of those six are based in the Marlborough area.
The nation coming closest to New Zealand in the top ten is Great Britain with four riders - the other ten in the top twenty come from Australia and the USA (three each) and France and Germany (two each.)
At the end of October veteran Andrew Nicholson (Lockeridge) was ranked fourth in the world, Sir Mark Todd (Badgerstown) was at sixth. One of the major movers was Jonelle Price (Minal) gaining eighth place.
Clarke Johnstone (based in New Zealand) was at eleventh place. Jock Paget (based near Marlborough) was at sixteen and Jonelle's husband, Tim Price, was a place below him.
However in team terms, 2016 was for New Zealand very much a case of lost dreams. Jock Paget was forced out of the team due to an injured horse, an elimination in the cross country, trouble in the dressage for Jonelle Price and eight faults in the show-jumping did not bode well. But going into the last stage of the competition New Zealand still had a first ever gold medal within their grasp.
It was the drastic 16 faults from Sir Mark Todd in the final show-jumping round that dumped the team down to fourth place. Jonelle Price is philosophical about the season and the Rio result: "A bit of a downer really - it could have been a real fairy-tale ending."
Tim and Jonelle Price are definitely staying in the Marlborough area. They have moved into a house in the town - not a long commute to Minal: "We're staying here - we're pretty permanent now I guess."
Overall it has been a good year for Jonelle. After ten years 'knocking at the door', she won her first CCI event - riding Obos Impressive at Blair Castle. And she came second in the first ever Event Rider Masters series - which proved her consistency over the season.
Next year the plan is for the Event Rider Masters to expand into Europe with two new legs of the series - one in Germany and one in France.
And in France Jonelle had a good final competition the season taking seven year-old Cooley Showtime to third place in Le Lion d'Angers World Young Horse class: "A very nice end to the year."
2017 sees the European championships - which means the New Zealand riders can concentrate on the year's main competitions. "It's great", says Jonelle, "having a year off between championships. The next big thing is the World Equestrian Games (WEG) in September 2018 in North Carolina."
While much of the year has been about bringing on younger horses - like Obos Impressive, Kindred Spirit, Ascona and Cooley Showtime - Classic Moet (known as Molly) has had a good year. She took Jonelle to third place in this year's Burghley Four Star-CCI and will only be 15 when the next WEG come round: "She hasn't done a million miles. Provided she doesn't have any injuries, there's no reason she'll not be around after next year."
Looking further ahead, Jonelle is worried about changes likely to be made to the Olympic eventing competition in Tokyo in 2020. The aim of the Olympic authorities is to get as many nations competing in each event and there is talk of limiting each team to three riders: "That would be a bit sad really."
Tim's year got off to a very tricky start when his star horse Wesko succumbed to a 'significant' soft tissue injury: "He's healing really well - the nature of his injury needed twelve months rest - but he'll be good for next March."
Quite apart from Wesko's absence from competitions, Tim has had some bad luck this season. Tim and Ringwood Sky Boy, who travelled to Rio as reserves, were eliminated in the cross-country phase. The 12-year-old slipped and fell on a tight corner, unseating Tim. And, late in the season, he took another tumble at the Pau meeting.
Tim is full of optimism about next season - which will not only see the return of Wesko, but also establish some of his up-and-coming horses like the ten year-old Xavier Faer: "He's exciting for next year."
Originally ridden first by Elizabeth Power and then by the Canadian eventer Rebecca Howard, Tim has been partnering Xavier Faer since September 2014. They were together for three legs of this year's first Event Rider masters series.
Tim Price is keen to get the new 2017 season underway: "Next year can't come soon enough."
Changes at the top for the New Zealand team
The turn of the eventing year is bringing changes for the top New Zealand riders. Those five Marlborough-based Kiwis in the top ten of the end of October rankings are about to be cut to four: Jock Paget is moving home to further his coaching career as part of the Equestrian Sports New Zealand's (ESNZ) performance coaching programme. He will continue competing at the highest levels.
His place as Joe Giannamore's stable rider in the UK is going to up-and-coming New Zealand eventer James Avery.
ESNZ high performance director Sarah Dalziell-Clout is very excited by Jock's move: “This is a great development for our eventing programme and an invaluable opportunity for our riders in New Zealand. Jock’s experience as a member of our high performance eventing team is an exciting addition to the performance coaching team.”
Then came news of another change. After ten years in the job, Erik Duvander has left as high performance coach to the New Zealand eventing team. He took the team to bronze medals at the 2010 Lexington World Equestrian games and at the 2012 London Olympics.