All the NZ horses looked brilliant in the early morning sunshine in Pratoni at the jog, as did most of the horses from the other nations. Some 27 nations and 88 competitors had come forward on Wednesday and there were still 68 combinations left to showjump on Sunday.
The showjumping is held on springy volcanic turf in a natural amphitheatre with a steep bank as the backdrop on one side, stands on the other and located just behind the dressage arenas. It was a short hike down from the stables and horses waited in the shade for their turn as the morning session got underway. Jonelle is no stranger to championship tracks but she declared it the biggest she had ever seen and that quickly became apparent when there was a dearth of clear rounds in the morning session.
Clarke Johnstone jumped for us in the morning with Menlo Park (Jacko) and jumped a great round for just 4 faults. There were some cricket scores and some good rounds but still the poles kept falling.
Individual Amanda ‘Muzzy’ Pottinger and her game little NZ TB horse Just Kidding (Ferg) were early in the afternoon session and it really was a huge track for the diminutive little Ferg. Muzzy gave him a great forward ride and he started off well but tipped 4 rails by the end as he just doesn’t have the scope for a track like that. He certainly wasn’t alone on 16 faults and the tension began to grow.
Jonelle and MaClaren (Mac) cantered boldly into the arena and seemed simply dwarfed by the fences. Not for nothing has Jonelle honed her skills on the Sunshine Tour in Vejer de la Frontera every spring and she and Mac are some partnership now but it did seem a big ask of the little fella.
Jonelle picked up the pace, Mac picked up his feet and together they jumped one of the rounds of the day. Mac defied his small stature, showed all of his scope and experience but most of all, his trust in Jonelle that she would give him the pace and the spot and he just had to jump the fence. It was quite something to witness and the crowds on the bank and in the stands were generous in their appreciation of the pair. They rose three places to finish 10th individually in world class company.
Monica Spencer and her NZ TB, Artist (Max) had picked up 12 faults and whilst devastated, it was not an entire surprise given Max has travelled half way round the world in the last few weeks, shone in the dressage, galloped his socks off cross country and was then faced with the biggest track and crowd of his life. He doesn’t have a natural bascule and Monica did a great job but we resigned ourselves to 4th team spot yet again and another ‘oh so close’ championships.
Tim jumped in 6th spot with the uniquely scopey Falco and the crowd gasped as he left a foot between his body and the first fence. Falco is never anything less than special over a showjump but he rose to his first championship occasion with even more pizazz than normal. Most riders worry about having a pole…Tim has to worry about staying in the tack! It was absolutely stunning, not a rattle, not a rub and not a chance of anything but a solid clear and the round of his career in terms of crowd pleasure.
Still we sat in 4th behind GB, Germany and the USA. Just 6 riders to go, the best in the world at this competition and it seemed to be just a formality.
Then the drama started. Boyd Martin and the gutsy black Tsetserleg hit 4 rails and plummeted from 6th to 21st. Tim started to climb. 5th placed Julia Krajewski jumped a clear and then in went Oliver Townend and Ballaghmor Class who we knew was capable of a rail but not likely much more.
It just wasn’t Ollie’s event as Ballaghmor Class tipped 4 rails, dropped him down to 16th spot and as the commentator confirmed NZ was now in Bronze we rather unsportingly went mad in the shute! All’s fair on the field of play and we have been on the receiving end of that sort of luck many times since the bronze in 2012. It felt good, real good!
And still the drama continued. Tamie Smith and the beautiful Mai Baum plunged from individual bronze to 9th with 8 faults, Yasmin Ingham and her stunning Banzai du Loir jumped an immaculate clear to secure Individual silver but that left Michi Jung and Chipmunk with a rail in hand for Gold.
And right at the end of the track 11a and the last fell and the unthinkable had happened….Michi was not World Champion, the British individual rider in her 20’s was. Germany still won Team Gold, the USA were besides themselves for Silver and we picked up team Bronze. Second, third and fourth teams all finished on 100 with just 0.2 and 0.4 between them. Such minuscule tenths are what medals are made of.
And one delighted Tim Price picked up his first Championship medal, his first podium with his wife, and his first team medal. It was a massive team effort but it was team Price that led it and no-one deserved this more than them. For the first time since London 2012 we didn’t hit the bar within earshot of the prize giving, we were a part of it and it was just as sweet as we knew it would be.
No chance to party though as the grooms were packing up and the riders were stuck in the Press Conference. Some day we will get to stay but it was the usual headlong rush to Rome airport and as a huge crew of Kiwi supporters descended on the stables to help take the gear up to the top of the hill to the horsebox it really felt like such a special team for the hundredth time this week. From Chef d’Equippe Jock Paget, coach Sam Griffiths, Horse Health Team Christiana Ober, Alice Dorman and farrier Jack Young to all the grooms and riders it has been one communal effort and one clear aim.
The girls, Marcus and the horses will truck back through Milan and Chantilly and the horses will be home on Wednesday. As we shower off the last of the black Pratoni dust and shake it out of our clothes ( and declog the filters in our washing machines no doubt) we will remember a World Championships defined by sunshine, fun, drama and the odd feeling of being offered cake for breakfast.
Pratoni del Vivaro….you were a blast!