Top Kiwi showjumpers are counting down until they can finally get back into the competitive arena . . . but it’s still very much a stop-start affair.
US-based Sharn Wordley was quick to be back in the winner’s circle at his first post-COVID outing with victory, taking out the $25,000 Grand Prix at HITS Chicago aboard Casper. “It felt good to be back competing,” said the Beijing Olympian. Lockdown for Sharn and his crew was – in his words – “actually quite relaxing”. “Unlike New Zealand and other parts of the world, America didn’t really take lockdown very seriously, so apart form not horse showing and no seating at restaurants, it was life as normal for us,” he says.
And the postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games could actually work in his favour. “I have a super nine-year-old who was too young to go this year but may have a chance next year as a 10-year-old. There are lots of shows going on around us now and they are all completely full. We are planning on showing in Chicago for the next couple of weeks and then we have a few different options so we will see how the horses feel, who is where and what money is being offered at the different venues before making a plan.”
Sweden-based Olympian Bruce Goodin says it is still rather unclear as to what is going to be running. One day there’s a show on the calendar and the next, it has gone. “It is still unclear how it will work and what shows are actually on, but I am certainly looking forward to getting back to competing,” said Bruce. “I am just waiting to see what is going to happen really.”
He has already done one small training show, with another coming up shortly. National shows in Sweden are allowed for professionals after June 16 but Bruce figures it will likely take a couple more weeks for most to get up and running. He’s picking it will early July.
He has certainly found a silver lining in the COVID-19 pandemic. “Sure the Olympic Games being postponed were a big disappointment but it just mean I had to refocus – concentrate on other areas where I wanted to do better and, more importantly, spend time with my family. It has been so nice. This is the most nights I have ever spent at home as I am usually away four nights a week.”
The benefits have flowed through the family too, with Elizabeth’s English hugely improving. “I have also been able to put in a lot more homework with the horses – instead of focusing on getting ready for a show, so while it has been a disaster for the world in many ways, it has brought with it a lot of positives for me.”
Once the Olympic Games had been officially postponed, Bruce had been quick to refocus. “To an elite athlete it is a disaster but I guess I am lucky because as a rider I will have the chance to go to another Olympic Games. It would be different if I was a sprinter and had a short elite athlete life. I was disappointed because we had some pretty good form before everything started to go haywire but there are some decisions to be made. My horse isn’t getting any younger but do we keep him? Sell him? It is just too early to make those calls.”
He is confident the organising committee will be doing their absolute best to make sure the Games happen in 2021. “There is a lot (for them) to lose if it doesn’t. For sure Tokyo would be a great Olympic Games.”
It is back to the planning board for Bruce. “There are so many unknowns with shows being cancelled all the time. I doubt there will be many 4* or 5* shows this year – it will all depend on the paying audience which they rely on. The 2* and 3* shows are more for competitors. I look at the calendar often, underline shows I think would be appropriate and try to formulate patterns that would work, but with shows getting struck off every week it is hard to plan anything.”
California-based Uma O’Neill is also playing the waiting game. “At the moment we are still looking at another month before we start competing in mid-July,” she says. “California has been slower than some states with the re-openings. I have been very fortunate to live on the same property as the horses so have been spending every day training with them.”
She’s been getting plenty of projects done around the barn – many that she would usually not have time to fit in because of being on the road. “I have only been leaving the farm for essentials. For me staying motivated has not been hard.” Her trainer Mariano Maggi stayed in California for the quarantine and the two have been training hard. She has spending time with her two young stallions and made some great progress. “They have learned a lot during this time and are ready to start showing when everything starts back up. My international horses have been keeping fit and we have been working on a lot of flat work and gymnastic exercises. They are ready to go when we can get back on the road.”
Lily Tootill is eyeing her return to the international arena mid-July in Belgium. “We are still tossing up if it is worth is or not due to being able to get back into the UK afterwards,” she says. “Aside from not going to shows, lockdown didn’t change life much for me as there are so many young people all living and working on the yard where I am. The only difference was that we had a BBQ in the back yard instead of going to the pub! It is all starting to get a bit boring, but fingers crossed we can get back to shows and some fresh faces soon.”
Daniel Meech freely admits it has been a challenge. “The break has been quite long and hard, and especially to keep motivated,” he says. “We were on such a high after trying to get ready for the Olympic Games. You are full on with that and your head space is all about getting ready for that. We went really well in Abu Dhabi and then to have the Games taken away from in front of you was hard . . . it really did effect my motivation.”
Daniel has recently been competing at some unofficial shows in Holland. “We are crossing the border to do the unofficial shows and just getting them up to speed again,” he says. “There still looks like there will be a Nations Cup in Norway at the end of August and the Barcelona Nations Cup final is still on the calendar.”
Daniel feels lucky that his job is riding horses. “I know some countries they weren’t even allowed to keep riding but in Germany it was allowed. There were just no restaurants or going out, so you got used to that. It is quite nice to be home for a period.”
He is looking forward to competing aboard Cinca, including – hopefully – at the Nations Cup final. “Then the build-up will restart again to try to be in the team for the Olympic Games next year. The biggest hurdle I probably have with Cinca is if I still have her this time next year. She could be sold which would be a bummer. She is such a lovely horse so I am just happy I can still rider her. Hopefully the shows will start up and we can go again.”
By Diana Dobson – HP Media Liaison