The running of the Asia Pacific Eventing Championship this autumn — the final chance for nations to qualify a whole team for the 2016 Olympics — is balanced on a knife edge.
The championship at Boekelo, the Netherlands (8-11 October), can only happen if three countries put forward a team.
New Zealand is favourite to take the Rio qualification, while traditionally the other contestants have been Australia and Japan. South Africa might also field a team this time.
Australia — which has already qualified for Rio after a fifth at last year’s World Equestrian Games — plans to enter a team.
Japan hopes to compete, but does not have many suitable riders and horses. It has the required three pairs already qualified — Toshiyuki Tanaka (Ballastar Bay) and Ryuzo Kitajima (Just Chocolate), who are based with Angela Tucker in the UK, and the experienced Yoshiaki Oiwa (on the former Millie Dumas horse The Duke Of Cavan) based with Dirk Schrade in Germany. But there are no reserve horses or riders in case of injury.
“Japan is trying to qualify reserve horses,” said Angela. “They are classy riders — Ryuzo had barely competed above one-star before this year and has made amazing progress — but with young horsepower.”
If the championship does not go ahead, New Zealand and Japan can qualify individual riders through the rankings system. If they secure three or four spots this way, they can still field a team at the Olympics. This would also apply to the team that finishes in second if the championship does take place.
“It’s in everybody’s best interests that Japan has a team at Boekelo,” added Angela.
“Miracles can happen [and the Japanese might qualify there] but at least if the New Zealanders qualify at Boekelo, that frees up individual spots for China’s Alex Hua Tian and the Japanese [as New Zealand would no longer be contesting the individual spots].”
The championship will run alongside the Nations Cup final leg. The same four horses and riders will compete for their country in both the Nations Cup and the qualifier.
New Zealand’s eventing high performance coach Erik Duvander added: “It’s a bit nerve-racking at the moment — once we get there we have to put in a performance, but at this stage it’s in the hands of others. But assuming it runs we’ll be there all guns blazing.”
Don’t miss this week’s issue of H&H for an interview with Alex Hua Tian and what qualifying for Rio means to him