Matthew Grayling & NRM Trudeau. CCI4*-S Taupo, November 2019. Photo Credit: Spot On Photo

The heat wave which dominated the weather over the North Island all week broke overnight on Saturday in Taupo, turning hot dry conditions into blustery driving rain, and making the ground slippery for Sunday’s cross-country at the Oro Equestrian Spring Horse Trials.


The top class, the CCI4*-S, did their dressage on Friday evening, with former Olympian Matthew Grayling (New Plymouth) taking a narrow lead on Winky Foley’s NRM Trudeau with a score of 29.6 penalties, heading off Clarke Johnstone (Matangi) and Balmoral Sensation by 0.2 penalties.


Monica Oakley (Karaka) held third spot on Acrobat with 30.2 penalties, so there was no room for error at the top, but these three were more than 6 points clear of the remainder of the seventeen strong field.


Saturday’s showjumping saw Trudeau drop to third place after taking a rail, while Balmoral Sensation and Acrobat jumped clear but with 1.6 and 2 time penalties respectively. So time was going to be crucial on Chris Ross’s cross-country course on Sunday.


First to go in the worst of the weather, Balmoral Sensation lost a shoe at fence 8, and would have been pulled up by Clarke had they not needed a qualifying score to be eligible for next year’s Tokyo Olympics, having not competed since suffering an injury at Aachen last year.


So he nursed his precious horse home with a fistful of time penalties, and said afterwards, “It felt dangerous, but I had to keep going. He was very brave as he was slipping on take-off, but we made it.” They now go to Wallaby Hill Horse Trials in NSW for another qualifying score in a fortnight’s time, and to the UK next year.


Monica rode a sensible round on the relatively inexperienced Acrobat, incurring 16.4 time penalties for a final score of 48.6 penalties, holding second place, while Matthew pulled out all the stops with Trudeau to finish with 6.8 time penalties and re-take the lead on 40.4 penalties.


This was Trudeau’s biggest win to date, the 12 year old grey gelding having been a “wild child” as a youngster, but Matthew has had him for four years now and said, “I’ve kept him at the lower levels to keep his confidence up, but now we need to put more pressure on him and consistently step up if we are going to be competitive.”


Bred by Winky Foley, he is by Magistraad, and boasts Arab as well as Thoroughbred and Warmblood genes. Matthew added, “It is nice to have a good result for her.”


Donna Edwards-Smith (Te Kauwhata) rode two of her three mounts into third and fourth place. She finished third on Gay McClunie’s DSE Cluny, and fourth on DSE Mendoza, having showjumped clear with both, improving from seventh and fourteenth after the dressage with 10.8 and 8 time penalties respectively.


Virginia Caro

Photo: Spot On Photo