The New Zealand team exuded quiet confidence at a press conference this morning ahead of their participation in the Mars-sponsored eventing at the World Equestrian Games (WEG) in Tryon.
The squad combines the vast experience of Mark Todd — making his eighth WEG appearance — with support from comeback kings Blyth Tait and Dan Jocelyn (who both last rode at a championship at the 2004 Olympics) and the on-form eventing power couple Tim and Jonelle Price.
Jonelle said: “We’ve banked on Todd and [Andrew] Nicholson for the last 20 years and Blyth for the last 40, but over the past 15 years Mark and Andrew perhaps haven’t had the support from the team — they were leading the way, but they lacked support from the new generation. Certainly it’s taken Tim and myself a bit longer than some to get to the top end of things, but we’ve done that in the past couple of years. On paper it looks like we can be in with a fighting chance.”
Jonelle was upfront about the fact that her finishing position with the Badminton winner Classic Moet depends very much on how influential the cross-country proves as that is the mare’s strongest phase.
“We brought her here hoping the hill and speed is influential — if not, I’m in trouble. I hope we get 10 inches of rain, it’s hot as hell and the hill’s a minute longer than anyone realised!” she said.
Speaking about his return to the squad, Dan said: “It’s a bit of a thrill and I’m glad to be back here, it’s been a long time in between. I’ve loved all the training and build-up, it’s exciting to be riding with these guys and am looking forward to getting started.”
Blyth echoed his thoughts, adding: “I’m treating it like it’s my first championship as it’s so long since the last one!”
Asked whether his recent Burghley win means he comes into this with confidence, Tim said: “It’s a completely different situation, but I’m definitely trying to wear it as a bit of confidence. It’s only 10 days ago that I was under pressure and put in a good performance, so I keep reminding myself of that. It’s very much a team effort here, it’s not about one performance but about riding with each other in mind and creating a consistent result.”
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Chef d’equipe Graeme Thom said the team’s “intense ability to flip from individual component of sport to team component” makes this group of athletes particularly special.
He added: “I think it’s probably the best group of people I’ve ever met in my whole life. I just sent them a video of cowboys running across the plains herding cats to remind them to be here on time!”
Horse & Hound has two journalists and a photographer in Tryon for WEG. Keep up to date with all the news onand in the magazine issues dated 20 and 27 September.