|Not a member? Sign up now!|
Kiwi para-dressage riders face one of their biggest tests yet as this weekend they attempt to qualify a New Zealand team for the 2012 Paralympics.
Four riders will go head to head against a team from Australia at the 2011 3* Para-Dressage Competition, which is being held in conjunction with the Saddleworld Dressage Festival in Werribee, Australia.
If successful, it would be the first time New Zealand has ever had a team at the Paralympic Games, which are being held straight after the Olympics.. Oceania, which includes New Zealand, Australia and many other countries around the Pacific, has just one slot available.
Riding for New Zealand are Ilona Lawrence (Blenheim) on Taihoa Kingsmoor, Frances Dick (Nelson) on Habafield Jett, Rachel Stock (Auckland) on Rimini Park Emmerich and Jenny Affleck (Otago) on Boss II. Competing as individuals at the event will be Jo Jackson (Rotorua) on Nonchalant, Anthea Gunner (Christchurch) on Huntingdale Incognito and Anne Watts (Auckland) on BJK Cashmir.
All riders are chasing their FEI Certificate of Capability, which makes them eligible for selection for the Paralympics. So far Jackson, Stock and Dick have the certificate in hand having successfully met the Equestrian Sports New Zealand and Paralympics New Zealand selection criteria.
But they will be up against some tough competition, with riders expected from Japan and the United States also expected at the top Australian event.
The Kiwis will compete in three classes – the team test on Friday, the individual championship test on Saturday and the musical freestyle on Sunday.
And they won’t be the only ones wearing silver ferns chasing top-flight qualifications.
Athens Olympian Louisa Hill (Auckland) and Bates Antonello will be taking on Australia’s best in the Pacific League World Cup Dressage Final at the festival.
Hill was last month part of the team that made history when they qualified a New Zealand dressage team for the London Olympics, and opted to stay on in her quest to gain more experience.
She already has several qualifying scores to her credit from her Australian campaign, which also included victory at Equitana.
But Hill is very realistic about her appearance in the Pacific League World Cup Dressage Final.
“Antonello is still so green at this top level,” she says of her 10-year-old horse. “The World Cup (Pacific League) final includes some very campaigned horses and my test is simple.
“It’s mileage we are after as we work towards London. The selectors are looking at percentages and that is what we are chasing.”
Combinations need top percentages at chosen high-ranking events, which New Zealand does not have a lot of.
Included in the line-up are nine of Australia’s best grand prix combinations, including national champions Rachel Sanna on Jaybee Alabaster and Heath Ryan aboard Regardez Moi, who Hill edged out for top honours in the grand prix at Equitana.
The winner of the Pacific League final will qualify for the world final in s-Hertogenbosch (Netherlands) in April next year.
Hill says the Australian trip has been a valuable learning curve for her horse, who she turned down a substantial amount of money for after the Australian Championships in November.
“He’s been getting a little more confident in everything. Everything is gradual. The atmosphere at Equitana was almost too much for him but he coped very well. I am delighted with him.”
Hill will also compete in other classes at the event, including the freestyle and grand prix.
“It’s important to remember that horses are not machines – if he has a bad test, it’s not the end of the world... we just need to move on and learn.”
She’s rapt to have her mother in Melbourne helping her prepare.
“She’s trained me forever and I never ride at home without her there, so it’s nice she’s here.”
ESNZ high performance director Sarah Harris says Hill has been key in leading New Zealand into a new era for dressage’s high performance programme.
“Her very successful Australian campaign has shown what a truly international competitor she is,” says Harris. “Her efforts have shown sheer brilliance and skill at levels rarely seen in New Zealand dressage.”