Horse of the year: World heavyweights roll into town

By Harrison Christian

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Kiwi rider Katie McVean is providing world champion showjumper Philippe Le Jeune with four horses to ride in three events over the course of the event. Photo/Glenn Taylor
Kiwi rider Katie McVean is providing world champion showjumper Philippe Le Jeune with four horses to ride in three events over the course of the event. Photo/Glenn Taylor

Horse of the Year 2014 is underway and promises to be the biggest and best yet, with world heavyweights in town.

Champion Belgian Showjumper Philippe Le Jeune arrived on Saturday, and is already enjoying Kiwi hospitality. It is his first visit to New Zealand. "I'm very pleased to be here. I've been treated like a king," he said.

The 54-year-old top-ranked rider is staying near Ocean Beach. "The scenery is just unbelievable - like a movie."

Prodigal Kiwi rider Katie McVean is providing Le Jeune with four horses to ride in three events over the course of the event.

Ms McVean, who is excited to see the world champion ride her horses, is a champion in her own right. Considered by many the golden girl of New Zealand showjumping, the 27-year-old, who hails from Mystery Creek, has won the prestigious JB Olympic Cup four times. Ms McVean and her fiance, Australian rodeo rider Jackson Laurie, are expecting their first child. Although 23 weeks pregnant, Ms McVean plans to compete in the JB Olympic Cup - against Mr Le Jeune - on Sunday.

The JB Olympic Cup has a prize purse of $200,000.

Ms McVean's Belgian competitor will also ride in the Norwood Gold Cup tomorrow and the Silver Fern Stakes on Friday.

This year's JB Olympic Cup won't be the first time the two have competed against one another - they faced off in Kentucky in 2010, when the Belgian won the coveted gold medal.

Mr Le Jeune also fondly recalls competing against Ms McVean's father, Jeff McVean, in the 1988 World Cup in Antwerp, Belgium. "Her father was in the lead. I was the last to go in the jump off and I only just beat him."

Mr Le Jeune was getting a feel for one of Ms McVean's horses, Dunstan Breeze, yesterday. "I've been jumping with him and tried him on the flat. Katie has told me how he behaves and I'll make the most of it.

"I'm a different rider so he'll need to adjust to me."

Another of Ms McVean's horses, Dunstan Daffodil, on whom she won the Olympic Cup in 2012, is also pregnant.

Despite the cancellation of Showjumping's holy grail at the weekend because of bad weather, the stage was set for a world-class event.

The show is the largest equestrian event in the Southern Hemisphere. An estimated 74,000 people will pour through the gates of the Hawke's Bay show grounds over the next six days, and the event is predicted to inject $12.5 million into the Hawke's Bay economy.

About 1800 riders have descended on Hastings.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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