Mounted games true test of skill

By ANENDRA SINGH sports editor

OUTSIDERS can be forgiven for thinking it is child's play.

Planting socks in buckets and placing ice-cream containers on bins, to name two of about 30 activities, can give one that backyard impression.

First impressions, though, are exactly that because closer scrutiny shows it's anything but child's play.

Add to those activities a degree of difficulty - riders on horse back travelling at neck-breaking speed, that is, and you start getting a clearer picture of what mounted games is all about.

"It's fast and furious and you get to travel," says Joshua Dewar before jetting off to Chepstow, Wales, for the Mounted Games World Championship from July 21-25, which will culminate with the finals at the annual Royal Welsh Show.

"It is hard work and hard on the body," says the 16-year-old Napier Boys' High School pupil.

It's the maiden world champs for him and fellow Bay riders Emma and Amy Wiltshire.

The Wiltshires, pupils of Woodford House, are two of triplets but sister Claudia, who is also a mounted games enthusiast, hasn't made the cut in the three-boy, three-girl New Zealand team.

The most senior member, Amie Bentall, of Hastings, broke her wrist a few weeks ago during a vaulting drill in tandem with Amy Wiltshire.

Consequently that paved the way for reserve Kevin Egging, of Waikato, to join the team.

The other male member is Morgan Larsen-Church, 20, a farrier from Turangi.

"It's a lot harder than it looks," explains Emma Wiltshire, who is 15 minutes older than Amy with Claudia five minutes younger than Emma.

"It's all about your mind and how you approach things under pressure," says the youngster who gave up a promising future in soccer to focus on riding.

"We want to stick with mounted games and take it up to an Olympic sport," Amy says.

The Wiltshires, with mother Kate, and Egging left this Wednesday for a forest area of New Milton in England, two hours' drive from the Welsh border, to acclimatise.

What complicates their campaign is the need to use borrowed horses because of the cost of carting their own mounts from here.

The Australians, Canadians and South Africans, says Bentall, will weather similar disadvantages although the wealthy Americans have no qualms about taking their horses.

The only time the Kiwis have won the world champs was in Australia in 2008 when Bentall was a reserve.

"We only just beat them," she says, adding the Aussies slipped despite having their home advantage.

The 21-year-old Auckland University French, European studies and drama student, will travel to the Welsh champs, her fourth, as part of the "publicity officer".

Her mother, Denise Bentall, is the secretary of the next World Championship which the Bay will host next year.

Former Havelock North High School pupil Amie Bentall started riding when she was 7 years old, sharing ponies along the way with twin sister Rachel, an accomplished rider in her own right and who is seven minutes younger.

"It's quite good having a twin sister because you're always trying to beat each other."

Dewar, who only took up mounted games three years ago, wishes he had started earlier.

"Yes, I would have been better but I don't mind," says the teenager who also plays soccer.

The sixth-former's sister, Danielle Dewar, of Napier Intermediate, is the best under-12 rider in the country.

Parents Adrienne and Jason Dewar are horsey types but when Danielle started visiting cousin Jessica Nelson, in Wellington, to watch and learn from her to ride he found himself to be an accidental spectator.

"My sister started when she was 4 so I thought I might just join in."

It doesn't bother Josh Dewar that he is a lad among a predominantly female domain averaging 16 years old with riders staying in the games into their early 20s.

Only four or five boys compete in mounted games in New Zealand.

"The boys dominate because we have a stronger upper body," says Dewar whose favourite discipline is planting a sock into a bucket at top speed.

Vaulting requires riders to run alongside a mobile horse before saddling it with precision timing.

Jousting, to give another example, involves the medieval discipline of knocking off cones in the middle of the area at top speed with the help of a pipe staff with teammates taking turns in relay fashion from each end over time.

"It's so much more fun than showjumping and showing. It's also more demanding and more exciting," says Emma.

Amy, who started riding at pony clubs at the age of 9, says the girls frequent gyms to strengthen their upper bodies to ensure they bridge the gulf with boys.

"Emma and I go to the Woodford House gym all the time."

At the David Broomes Events centre, in Chepstow, the sandy surface will pose another challenge.

"It's hard work for the ponies, too," Amy says although they have been riding a short strip of sand in Waikato lately.

While some riders had gone to Europe to live and gain experience with some success, she intends to focus on her school for now.

Besides, her coach, Scotsman Scott Borland, now living and training horses in Waikato, says some Kiwi riders have gone to the Northern Hemisphere but not found much traction.

Having third triplet sister Claudia would be fun but they are pleased she's working hard on her skills.

They never take their selections for granted. Amy is hopeful she'll make next year's world champs here from the New Zealand Development squad of 14 but if she misses out she'll target the 2014 champs in France.

Like other equine sports, mounted games keep parents Kate and Jono Wiltshire, who lease their orchard, in the high roller stakes.

Making the trip to Waikato on their horse truck costs them $500 in fuel alone.

"Sometimes we travel up to three times in a month in summer," Emma says.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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