It was a tough day for New Zealand’s eventers at the Rio Olympic Games.
Neither Jonelle Price and Clarke Johnstone produced the marks they wanted, and both say the team will now have to go fast and clear in tomorrow’s challenging cross country phase.
Johnstone and Balmoral Sensation competed in the heat of the day, producing an accurate test to score 46.5 penalty points and sit in 23rd place. Price and Faerie Dianimo produced an uncharacteristic 49.5 to finish in 43rd spot in the 65-strong field. Sir Mark Todd and Leonidas II are in 17th place on 44, with Tim Price and Ringwood Sky Boy =29th on 47. William Fox-Pitt (GBR) still leads the field on 37 penalty points, with Chris Burton (AUS) and Santano II second on 37.6. Just four combinations went under 40.
The team now sits in sixth equal with an extremely tight tussle at the top between Germany on 122 penalty points and France on 122.2. Australia is in third on 126.4, with Great Britain fourth on 127.7 and Ireland fifth on 135.6. New Zealand and the United States are tied on 137.5.
However, tomorrow’s cross country course is being described as the toughest in more than 30 years and is sure to take its toll on the field.
Johnstone was excited for tomorrow’s cross country. “We have a team of experienced horses. Playing it safe is out of the question at this point. We need to go extremely well tomorrow. We were hoping for a tough course – I guess you have to be careful what you wish for,” he said. “The cross country is really good and should hopefully suit our horses quite well. It is very tough and doesn’t let up all the way around.”
He is expecting the time to be tight. “I think our instructions will be to go fast and clear . . . I expect we will have a bit of catching up to do after today.” He was understandably disappointed with his 46.5 penalty point mark for a dressage test that had no mistakes but failed to inspire the judges. “I was hoping for a lot better,” said Johnstone, who is on debut at the Rio Olympic Games. “When I finished I thought I had done well. There were no mistakes . . . but the judges were obviously not thrilled,” he said. “Balmoral Sensation was very good in there . . . he didn’t let me down at all.”
Jonelle Price said her problem areas of today – the medium and extended trot – are typically Faerie Dianimo’s “party pieces”. “We were on the back foot coming in, and hoping for a miracle that didn’t happen,” she said. “She was great in the second-to-last warm-up but when we moved into the last warm-up she just didn’t have it. It just didn’t happen.”
The horse has been working well all week and had a great build-up to the Olympic Games. She wasn’t alone in not producing the marks she wanted today – a number of other top combinations also failed to fire. “I wasn’t at all worried coming in last when New Zealand needed something special. I was quite confident.” But she’s philosophical. “That’s horses. It’s hard being brilliant all the time!”
Price said the team tactics for tomorrow’s cross country would be straight forward. “It is going to be hard and fast and typically that is something Kiwis are good at. Thankfully it is called three day eventing for a reason.”
Cross country designer Pierre Michelet (FRA) says he designs to challenge the riders and asks them to find clever solutions for the many options on offer.
“To get on the podium they need to be brave, accurate and bold.”
The horse details –
Balmoral Sensation (owned by the Johnstone Family) and Faerie Dianimo (owned by Trisha Rickards, Jacky Green and Jonelle Price), Leonidas II (owned by Diane Brunsden, Peter Cattell and Sir Mark Todd) and Ringwood Sky Boy (owned by Robert Taylor, Varenna Allen, Tim Price and Selwood.com).