World Equestrian Games: New Zealand eventers hit hard by injury to a winning team's horse
Earlier this month the New Zealand eventing team put in a stellar performance at Aachen to win the international competition - beating France (second) and Sweden (third) - as well as teams from the USA, Germany, Great Britain and Australia.
The New Zealand team included two local riders - Marlborough's Tim Price (he came third overall) and Badgerstown's Sir Mark Todd (thirteenth) - with veteran team member Blyth Tait (25th) and New Zealand-based Clarke Johnstone on Balmoral Sensation (in fifth place).
Just a few days later, after the team returned to Britain, Clarke Johnstone's Balmoral Sensation - known as 'Ritchie' - showed up with a leg injury that will put him out of contention for New Zealand's team at the International Equestrian Federation's World Equestrian Games (WEG) at Tryon, North Carolina in September.
“I felt he had pulled up really well (at Aachen), and he trotted up sound when we got back to England,” says Clarke. “It wasn’t until Tuesday that it became apparent there might be an issue.”
It is a leg injury that isn’t 'catastrophic' nor career-ending, but will likely see the lovely grey sidelined for a year.
“I am just hugely disappointed. WEG has been our single focus for a very long time and to get so close only to have it taken away is pretty gut-wrenching. At the end of the day, things can be worse and you just have to keep looking forward.”
Johnstone and Ritchie were the best of the Kiwis at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games with their sixth-place finish. That came on the back of a fifth place on his début at Badminton. Last year they won the CCI4* at Adelaide and everything looked on track for a place in the team for WEG and hopefully a good showing at the prestigious event.
“I am just feeling very sad about it all. He had gone so well at Aachen – it is always tough because the time is very difficult there and everyone is trying their hardest to go really fast. He was just super.”
Ritchie will spend about a month in the UK at Jesse Campbell’s yard near Ramsbury where he is under ESNZ high performance eventing vet Christiana Ober. Clarke plans to stay for a few weeks before heading home.
He has been heartened by the many messages he has received about his shock exit: “The outpouring of support from New Zealand and around the world has been quite humbling. It is unbelievable the number of messages I have received. It’s really nice to know how special he is to a lot of others...He is a horse who just captures people’s hearts.”
It is expected that the New Zealand team for WEG 2018 will be announced very soon. Equestrian Sport New Zealand's high performance director, Sarah Dalziell-Clout, has been on six months maternity leave: “The biggest challenge is operating a high performance programme that is so global in its reach. New Zealand is literally as far away from the United Kingdom as you could possibly be – and that is where the majority of our eventing high performance riders and staff are based.”
Sarah is now knee-deep in organising and planning New Zealand’s 2018 WEG - she is chef de mission for the team. With four sports represented at Tryon – eventing, jumping, dressage and endurance – it isn’t quite the size of team she thought she would be heading, but it is still a big undertaking.
Earlier there had been hopes for more riders and other disciplines to be included. Potentially there will be 14 horses and riders coming from Europe, the United Kingdom, North America and New Zealand, along with their grooms, and up to 25 support staff.
While New Zealand's high performance eventers have funding, jumping, dressage and endurance competitors face a significant cost: “It is an immense financial undertaking on top of what they have already done to get themselves selected at this top level. I really encourage everyone who looks up to these riders to contribute to the various fundraising campaigns underway.”
[Photo of Clarke Johnstone & Balmoral Sensation is the copyright of Libby Law Photography.]