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New Zealand’s Olympic-bound eventing combinations take on some of the best at the World Equestrian Festival in Aachen, Germany this weekend.
Mark Todd, Andrew Nicholson and Jonathan Paget – all of whom were yesterday named in the team for London – are joined by Olympic reserve Lucy Jackson at the high-ranking three star event that has attracted 43 combinations from 10 nations.
Equestrian Sports New Zealand high performance coach and Aachen chef d’equipe Erik Duvander says the event will be used as a “training ground” to continue to work on the team dynamics.
The team sees Nicholson on his Olympic mount Nereo, with Todd aboard NZB Grass Valley, Paget on Bullet Proof and Jackson on Kilcoltrim Ambassador. Todd will also compete as an individual on Olympic team-mate Jonelle Richards’ horse Flintstar. Richards is sitting out the event after slightly injuring her wrist.
However, Duvander wanted her horse to experience the “big” Aachen atmosphere.
Richards has been training with Todd for the past six months, so he is well familiar with the horse.
“This is good mileage for Flintstar – it’s a big stadium atmosphere and for all of our riders is good preparation for the Olympics,” says Duvander.
Up to 40,000 spectators are expected in the stadium to watch the competitions.
“It’s good to get the horses accustomed to that type of environment.”
Of course, he also worries about keeping each combination in perfect nick for the Olympics.
“I worry about all of the horses in the last weeks as we build to London, but we can’t back down at this stage – we need to keep that competitive edge.”
And while Duvander says winning the gold medal is not what this event is about, he knows he has a supremely competitive team.
“None of them will be holding back,” he says. “Our riders are always very competitive.”
Also going through systems will be the New Zealand eventing support crew who will be with the team at the London Olympics.
“It is about continuously putting all the detail in place to ensure our team will run as smoothly as possible at the Olympics,” says Duvander.
“These are exciting times but we are also super focused. We all need to keep our heads down and continue to work hard.”
New Zealand has an impressive track record at Aachen. Last year the team won silver, and in 2010 Nicholson created history as the first non-German rider to win the event. In 2009 the team won bronze and in 2010 were fourth. Riders have finished in the top seven all three years.
The dressage and showjumping phases will run on Friday (German time), followed by the cross country on Saturday.
To follow the event, head to: http://www.chioaachen.de/en/programm-sport#269 .