Equestrian: Kiwi champs back in the saddle to defend title

By David Leggat

Amie Bentall of Hastings shows her form in Mounted Games training drills ahead of the Horse of the Year Show. Photo / APN
Amie Bentall of Hastings shows her form in Mounted Games training drills ahead of the Horse of the Year Show. Photo / APN

Mixed among the traditional equine disciplines such as showjumping and dressage, the Horse of the Year Show offers a wide range of activities to suit all palates.

The show starts in Hastings on Tuesday and runs all week. Among the activities are the Mounted Games, where New Zealand, world champions five years ago, are striving to regain that title.

Think of a mix of riding skills, add a touch of rodeo and you are close to understanding the discipline which began in Britain in 1984.

Ten countries are competing - defending champions France, Wales, England, Norway, Denmark, Switzerland, Germany, the United States and Australia.

Julie Borland's passion for the sport goes back to when she took it up from pony club competitions at about seven back in her native Scotland.

She's heading back there shortly after 12 years in New Zealand for family reasons but is determined to depart with a world title to her name.

Borland has another personal incentive. Her brother Scott, now coaching the New Zealand team, is the oldest world champion, at 36 five years ago; Julie would eclipse him, at 37 next week.

So what's the appeal of this event in which riders will contest 21 different competitions, involving regular mounting and dismounting on the run, picking up and re-placing objects, riding in pairs?

Some call for a flat-out gallop, others a firm control on the horse, and an ability to turn on a sixpence.

The names of the disciplines include the sword race, sock and bucket, rope race, bottle race and litter lifters.

The essence is to test rider and horse in a variety of skills. It appeals as fun, as well as highly disciplined and skilful.

"There is an incredible amount of fitness needed from the rider," Julie Borland said.

"That's not to say those in other disciplines are not fit, but when you're jumping on and off a horse at a gallop you've got to be pretty fit. This is a real adrenalin sport," she said.

The other New Zealand team members are Hawkes Bay's Amie Bentall, Nancy Te Whata of Northland, Waikato's Steven Hooker, and Dee Cherrington, who hails from Northland but is now British-based. Te Whata, Cherrington and Scott Borland were in that 2008 title-winning team.

Hosting the worlds gives New Zealand a big advantage in one respect; they get to ride their own ponies. Other countries will be on borrowed horses.

Europe is the stronghold of the discipline. Rare indeed is the chance to have the best teams coming Downunder. Usually it is the New Zealanders who are doing the travelling, and the borrowing.

"By no means do you take anything for granted but this is a really good opportunity for us to show the world we are as good as them," Borland said.

"It's tough not riding your own but New Zealand riders are really talented at riding others' ponies.

"You can gel with a pony quite quickly. But this is the first time we've ever not," Borland said.

Qualifying events take place on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, with the top seven countries in the A final on Saturday. The other three contest the B final.

"That's a pretty intense day," she said of finals day.

Victory would cap it off nicely for Borland, a primary school teacher who has worked on the North Shore.

"I'm so psyched up for this. I do class myself as being a Kiwi," she said in a broad Ayrshire accent.

"I do bring the average age of the team up quite significantly but I have experience in the head," she quipped.

- NZ Herald

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