They came, they saw, they celebrated, laughed, felt the heartbreak and felt the pride of those so proudly wearing the silver fern at the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Championships.
The Kiwi supporters at WEG certainly made themselves known, proudly loud with flags flying in the stands and on the course . . . rightly so.
They came from all over New Zealand as spectators, officials, observers and supporters. The stories are many – most not for publication. “What happens on tour, stays on tour,” said one.
But the joy of renewing friendships from earlier championships was a common thread. “It was a chance to meet up with friends from years gone by,” said Betty Brown. “Our house at Lake Lure has 10 Kiwis in it with another full house next door. There has been lots of singing going on. Penny Castle has been the most amazing chef for our group. Ours is a house full of international riders and legends . . . so many great dinners and stories.”
Part of that group was Hawke’s Bay’s John Pearce who was at WEG as part of his 60thbirthday celebrations.
“I thought I needed to do something for myself and hadn’t been at a show in the USA or at an event of this level for about 39 years. With a full New Zealand team in attendance, it was a great chance to see first-hand how we rate against the rest of the world.”
He said the pride felt by all the Kiwi supporters was palpable. “I am so proud of all our riders – especially our showjumpers who were as good as any in the world.”
Being invited to catch up with the team for a drink at the end of the day was a real highlight. “What a great initiative and one that would not have happened with any other team at the show – it was a real credit to the team. It has been a fantastic couple of weeks.”
Olympian Matthew Grayling made the long trek to the US from his dairy farm in Taranaki – the first time he has been off the farm at this time of year since he was a teen.
His highlights are similar to the others. “I have met up with a lot of people I haven’t seen for a while. They still remember us every though I have been out of the loop for a little while,” he said.
He’s here with wife Susan and friends Simon Bennett and Julie Evans. They’ve enjoyed pure dressage, eventing and are now baking in the jumping stands.
“The venue is not quite finished and is lacking those final touches, but from what I can see the facilities for the horses are good. You’d have to be happy with them and the ground conditions.”
The horses should always be the priority, according to the Athens Olympian who has been pleasantly surprised with the people he’s run into and, of course, the southern hospitality.
There have been many highlights for the Taranaki farmer. “Being in there and watching the top dressage horses was one. It is very exciting to watch – the skill levels are just outstanding for the top 10. I am still a bit critical of their canters though – some had a great canter but were not winning while others are winning with not so good canter but they do the movements very well.”
Matthew said Hurricane Florence’s impact at Lake Lure where he is staying was no worse than a wet Taranaki day. “We certainly have wetter and windier at home but you could see the impact nearer the coast was far more serious. The eventers were very lucky (with the weather) on cross country day.”
By Diana Dobson, NZ team media liaison
Photos by Libby Law Photography