HE APPROACHED the makeshift wine-barrel fence in a way only Maurice Beatson could - brimming with confidence and a healthy dose of aggression - at the Church Road Winery grounds in Hawke's Bay.
It was no cigar as borrowed mount Raphael NZPH, who Beatson had only met two minutes after the gelding arrived on a horse truck from Ocean Beach, reared on the first attempt.
It shied away from the fence and, in the second uprising, dislodged the 59-year-old Dannevirke rider from his perch.
The smattering of people there for the launching of the Australia v New Zealand test match to be staged in March held its breath as Beatson tried to get up.
Gravity won - not once but twice - but anyone who knows Beatson will tell you quitting isn't part of Morrie's forte.
Like a boxer trying to beat the count, Beatson staggered to his feet to follow Raphael NZPH about 100m away where he saddled him with the help of a strapper before obliging with a few jumps to whet the photographers' appetite.
"No, it's not the first time [I've fallen off a horse]," the farmer said with a laugh.
"We're all getting old now and the ground's getting harder so it's easy for the younger people," he said with a grin as Luke Dee, 19, perched on Pathfinder 2, didn't flinch all that time, let alone show any emotion, as he waited patiently for Beatson to regather himself.
"That's what happens in the game and he's [Raphael NZPH] unpredictable so you just take it and get on with it."
That epitomises the spirit spectators will be treated to when the inaugural event, billed as "Showjumping's Holy Grail", will form the preamble on March 10, the Sunday before week-long annual Horse of the Year Show gathers momentum at the Hawke's Bay Showgrounds in Hastings.
Beatson thought the horse yesterday failed to strike a chord with the strange environment and the barrels arrangement for jumping at the ground on the outskirts of Taradale, Napier.
Come the hour, needless to say the Olympian won't be on Raphael NZPH but his trusty My Gollywog at a picturesque winery that was founded in 1897 and steeped in heritage.
"It'll be serious stuff at the beginning and then at the Horse of the Year Show and it's a test against Australia so we'll want to beat them."
Leading the Bayer World Cup New Zealand League showjumping series in the first three rounds, Beatson rested My Gollywog, his first-choice 18-year-old gelding, to use younger horses to concede victory in the Taupo stage.
"It's one of those years where things can go right in the classes. You know, you have your good days and bad days so the horse is jumping well so far," he said but emphasised it was a long way to go to the HOY Show in March.
"Eighteen is not that old if you look after them and he's going very well so we're looking forward to the Horse of the Year week."
He felt the home-soil advantage would benefit the Kiwi team in the test against the Aussies.
"We don't know too much about the Aussies at this stage but when the time comes the New Zealanders will have a good team and give it a good shot."
Before the HOY Show, Beatson and his horses will head off to Dunedin to compete at the covered Forsyth Barr Stadium in the Ride the Rhythm Show that Hoy Show director Kevin Hansen is organising under the banner of his company, Events Pro.
"It's a perfect build-up to the Horse of the Year because we'll be doing two shows from the second week of February before we come up here."
Dee has been based at Ocean Beach, riding fulltime for NZPH owner Warwick Hansen since moving here from Gisborne in August.
"I'm really enjoying it out there," said Dee whose own favourite mount, Ombudsman, a 12-year-old gelding, was out with an injury most of last season but is back in the equation now.
Dee will be riding Ombudsman at the test and the young rider series at the HOY Show.
"A top-three placing [in the young rider series] would be nice but that's not my main priority," he said, adding his focus was the World Cup Series and other senior levels of competition.
The Bay's central location made it easy for the rider, who also has his sights on the Olympic Cup this year, to gravitate to Ocean Beach.
"I hope to make the Olympics some day but, as Morrie [Beatson] said, you have to have the right horse and everything in place."
He relishes riding scores of pedigree 5-year-olds at Ocean Beach, sometimes 11 of them at a show in any given weekend.
"It's really good for my experience and I've learned a lot."
Wanting a "high-class, boutique" event to run before the HOY Show, Hansen said the Church Road equine feast would fill that niche market appropriately.
"The week of the Horse of the Year Show [the grounds] gets battered and bruised with 2500 horses competing so we wanted somewhere special, especially in the Napier area, to boost the whole equestrian scene, so Church Road is a wonderful venue to do that."
The tight arena will provide excitement amid expectations of community support of 4000 to 6000 finding perches on the adjacent hill, too.
"We're looking at the 4000 mark to make it happen," he said, adding the famous Church Road Wineries brand would be responsible for the catering.
Between 15 to 20 elite Australian horses will thrill the crowd at the "super little arena". It is believed no sporting event has ever been staged there.
"We'll have them coming earlier this year and it'll be the first time we'll have the young rider team, which is a big thing for us. It's a big money thing for us to have a young rider team with the senior team so it's the first time that's happened."
The test is an "add-on" event to the HOY Show, with four-person teams chasing $8000 in prizemoney in a Nation's Cup-type format offering two full rounds of jumping and a jump-off if required.
"It'll bring in some very influential people into Hawke's Bay for 10 days rather than six days of the Horse of the Year Show so it's great because it could have gone to any other town of the country where events are run throughout summer."
"High-wealth-end people" from greater Australia will be among the spectators, including Gerry and Katie Page Harvey, who are the owners of home-furnishing conglomerate Harvey Norman and the Magic Millions races on the Gold Coast across the Tasman.
"We're hoping that Georgie Harvey will be part of the young rider team coming from Australia," Hansen said of the Australian owners' son who is an aspiring rider.