Andrew Alderson

Andrew Alderson is a sport writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Equestrian: Powell - Mum can spur me on

Caroline Powell. Photo / Getty Images
Caroline Powell. Photo / Getty Images

If Olympic medals were awarded for stoicism in the face of adversity, equestrian rider Caroline Powell would be on the podium this year.

Last weekend, she returned to New Zealand to attend the funeral of her mother, Ailsa Turner, who passed away after a battle with cancer. It was the low point in a set of difficult circumstances which started when Powell (39) was omitted from the original 2012 Equestrian Sports NZ high performance squad in January.

The four-man squad included Andrew Nicholson, Mark Todd, Jonathan Paget and Clarke Johnstone. There was one spot left to complete the five-rider Olympic team. As it happened, Johnstone's horse Orient Express was not passed fit in the final vet check, meaning both Powell and Jonelle Richards were selected.

Speaking to the Herald on Sunday in January, Powell refused to get flustered about the situation, despite being New Zealand's best performer in Hong Kong (the Beijing Olympic venue) with 14th place.

"This won't affect how I'm training. It's no time to panic. I'm confident of getting to London.

"You can get bitter and twisted but really it's just a job. The Games are six months away, so everyone's horses have to be healthy in July, not January.

"It's a bit of a wait-and-see project but past experience and knowledge at the Olympics can be invaluable.

"I also went to the test event at Greenwich Park [last July]. You need a nippy, fit horse to manoeuvre [which her 19-year-old mount Lenamore is, at just 15 hands two inches] because those fences were quite hard."

Powell proved prophetic.

Speaking after the official team announcement from her Kelso home in the Scottish Borders, Powell is determined to turn the sadness of her mum's death into a rallying point.

"I'll use it as a focus, that's how I'll deal with it. I don't mean that to sound harsh but Mum was greatly supportive of me going to the Olympics.

"She will be on my shoulder at the Games, helping me along."

Powell has been fortunate her fellow owners of Lenamore - Lexi Jackson and Janie MacKinnon - gave their approval for her to ride the horse at the Games.

Badminton had originally been set down as a test for the grey gelding, known in the stables as "Ed", to prove himself. Poor April weather meant the four-star event was cancelled, leaving a decision to be made on Lenamore's Games prospects.

"It might be a blessing," Powell says.

"He's had limited runs this year and while he is older I know he can dig deep."

Such a display of depth came in September 2010 when Powell and Lenamore won Burghley - a rare four-star event on the calendar. At 17 he was the oldest horse to complete that feat, a reason why his appearance at the Olympics was debated. There were concerns he is vulnerable in dressage, one justification for his retirement from overseas eventing in February 2010. However, with the Olympics in London, there would be no need for any laborious quarantine procedures and he will be given a final hurrah.

Powell rode Mac MacDonald when the New Zealand team earned bronze at the 2010 World Equestrian Games in Kentucky.

Powell has opted out of this weekend's World Equestrian Festival in Aachen, Germany. It is a perfect Games warm-up event with crowds of 40,000 expected. Of the New Zealand Olympic team, Todd, Nicholson and Paget will compete while Richards rests an injured wrist.

Todd will give Richards' bay gelding Flintstar a run so he can get a further taste of big competition.

Powell says she will go showjumping in Edinburgh so she's not "twiddling her thumbs".

The team meets up again at a four-day camp in Surrey on July 16.

- Herald on Sunday

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