Samantha McIntosh is the leading Bulgarian show jumper — but if the name doesn’t sound eastern European, that’s because it isn’t. Sam, 28, is a New Zealander by birth.
Some five years ago, she decided to change nationality to follow her show jumping dreams. It’s not unknown for riders to swap nationality, but usually the change is from one neighbour to another. New Zealand to Bulgaria was a giant leap.
It was a brave decision that has taken Sam to all the major championships, including her second Olympics in Athens next month. She is now based at Aach, southern Germany, where she lives with her partner, German show jumper Fritz Fervers, who rides for the same stable.
Sam’s parents, Penny and Colin, are show jumpers — Colin represented New Zealand at the Seoul Olympics. Although Sam competed at pony level, it wasn’t until her mid teens, when Penny handed on her great campaigner Darlington, that Sam started to show her inherent ability.
Some good placings showed that Sam was going to be a force some day, and she reinforced this on horses such as Blush, Mrs King and Girl Friday, on whom she was unbeatable on her day.
A winter in Switzerland pushing a broom in Thomas Fuchs’s stables was followed by another at Marcus Mandli’s yard — still on the end of the broom, but getting a few rides as well. A contract with Mandli followed, and Sam began competing stable horses as well as her own.
The latter’s keep used up her pay, but she was making her mark. Fellow Kiwi expat Butch Thomas arranged the sale of Blush to America, and Girl Friday was also sold at a price that left Sam with a decent sum in the bank.
Then, six years ago, she went to ride for Gunter Orschel’s stable in Aach, as he put together Bulgaria’s first international show jumping team — aiming for the Sydney Olympics. But first he had to persuade Sam to take Bulgarian nationality.
The contract guaranteed her horses and opportunities to compete with the best in the world. After much soul-searching, she accepted the deal and rode at Sydney on Royal Discovery — on whom she was 13th in the Las Vegas World Cup final. He was sold soon after to American Alison Firestone.
Sam soon established a partnership with Hildon Fleche Rouge, including finishing 11th at the WEG in Jerez, the second top performance by a woman. But then she too was sold, reputedly for a record price, to Holland.
As a result Sam’s world ranking has slipped from a top-20 place to 32nd at the end of May. However, she is showing form on her new grand prix mount, VDL Group Allure. The nine-year-old Hanoverian by Accord II, bought from Jan Tops has, according to Sam, a lot of scope and jump but is a far from easy ride.
Look out for the only equestrian flying the Bulgarian flag at Athens.