Team New Zealand are setting themselves up to be strong contenders for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games next year, and results at Millstreet further reinforced that. An experienced quartet led from start to finish at the Irish event, to leave them on an impressive final score of 114.6. This is one of the best team finishing scores seen in this popular eight-leg series in recent years, perhaps unsurprising given World number one and two riders Tim and Jonelle Price made up half of the team. They were joined by the experienced Clarke Johnstone and rising star, Samantha Lissington. Team Belgium were runners-up on 131.9, whilst Ireland delighted their home crowd by finishing third in what was a fierce competition.
The cross-country course proved the make or break of many combinations and teams and making the time was suitably challenging, with no riders finishing inside. Tim Price won the class overall on Falco, the horse that also gave him an individual and team bronze in Pratoni. His wife Jonelle also played her part on the ‘pocket rocket’ McClaren. The Prices, joined by Clarke Johnstone, were all members of the bronze-medal winning team at last year’s FEI Eventing World Championship in Pratoni del Vivaro (ITA). All three riders were mounted on experienced horses who continued their reliable form by jumping double clears in the Jumping and cross-country phases. They were joined by Samantha Lissington, who was the drop score after picking up 20 penalties for a refusal on the cross-country phase.
Chef d’Equipe of the New Zealand Team is former Olympic Eventing rider Sam Griffiths, who summed up the result. “We are really proud of their performance. Because New Zealand doesn’t have the equivalent of a European Championship, we decided that we wanted to target a couple of Nations Cups, of which Millstreet is one, so we sent a strong contingent. It’s really good to bring the group together and practice what we need to do. We will also be hoping to do well at Aachen. It’s always really good to target an event and then deliver a really good result at that event, so we are really pleased.”
Riders were full of praise for the event and cross-country phase which was designed by Mike Etherington-Smith. “One of the reasons why we targeted Millstreet is that we know how beautiful the venue is. The Duggan family takes amazing care of it. We love Mike Etherington-Smith’s courses. They are always beautifully presented and even with the going being fast, time was incredibly difficult even with experienced combinations going pretty much as fast as they could,” said Griffiths.
Tim Price was delighted with his horse Falco, a 14-year-old Hanoverian gelding.
“Falco is a cracking horse; he’s established now and his intelligence is being used for the good of everyone. I was really proud of him, he’s such a cool wee horse,” said Price.
“We took this seriously because the New Zealand team were using Millstreet as a marker point for the powers that be back at home. It was important that we delivered a decent result and showed that we were on track this year and through to Paris, so we treated it as such and all brought good horses onto the team. The time was very tight (on the cross-country) so it felt like a proper test.”
The Kiwis have had mixed success at major team championships in recent years, but Griffiths believes they have a great and long-lasting future ahead, with Millstreet highlighting that. “We had incredibly strong performances from Clarke Johstone and Jonelle, so we were really solid. We are really starting to grow some strength and depth. At Millstreet we had 19 combinations competing and, for a country that is on the other side of the world, that shows it is really developing.”
The Belgian team, who finished in second place, also delivered some solid jumping performances. Tine Magnus, Belgian team member spoke for the team: “We’re going for the Olympic qualification, so we’ll be off to Strzegom next – and we’re going to win! Millstreet is a wonderful place. The cross-country was great to ride; we’re not used to such lovely big galloping tracks.”
FEI Eventing Director Catrin Norinder was also present at the event, and said: “We’d like to thank Millstreet and the Duggan family for putting on such a great FEI Eventing Nations Cup™. The surroundings and cross-country course are amazing. It was truly competitive and a unique opportunity to get so many nations together.”
This FEI Eventing Nations Cup™ series is of particular significance to some nations this year, as the highest-placed team according to the final team classification of the 2023 Series, excluding teams/NOCs already qualified, will be allocated a place for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.
This was the third leg of the Series which will now move to Strzegom (POL) which runs from 21-25 June. The Belgians lead the Nations Cup Series at this early stage, with 270 points scored, after winning the opening event in Montelibretti last month to add to their second place.
by Eleanore Kelly