Jared Savage is a senior reporter at the New Zealand Herald

Equestrian: Brickie laid foundations for equestrian success

Andrew Nicholson riding Nereo in the cross-country event finished third behind Jonathan Paget at Badminton yesterday. Photo / AP
Andrew Nicholson riding Nereo in the cross-country event finished third behind Jonathan Paget at Badminton yesterday. Photo / AP

Not so long ago, Jonathan Paget was laying bricks on Sydney building sites and trying to learn how to stay on bucking broncos for eight seconds at rodeo school.

Yesterday, the 29-year-old became just the second Kiwi behind Sir Mark Todd to win the Badminton Horse Trials, the Wimbledon of eventing, after a thrilling finish.

To cap it off, it was the first time he had competed at the famous course.

Paget was second going into the showjumping phase and went clear in his round. World, Olympic and European champion Michael Jung of Germany, also competing at Badminton for the first time, seemed destined to go clear to win only to drop the last rail to hand victory to Paget.

World No1 Andrew Nicholson, chasing an elusive first Badminton title at his 33rd attempt as well as the grand slam (and the US$350,000 prize that went with it), finished third.

Paget looks comfortable in the eventing world now and, even though he is already world No4, is considered a rising star of the sport. It's not something that seemed remotely possible even 10 years ago.

Born in Wellsford, he moved to Australia when he was 3 and after leaving school started an apprenticeship as a bricklayer.

He might still be doing that had his father not bought a lifestyle block on the outskirts of Sydney and furnished it with a horse.

"I just started bush riding with my dad," Paget said last year. "It was a great way to spend a weekend - go for a ride and have a few beers and hang out. There were a whole bunch of people who did it with us and it just went from there."

Where it took him was to rodeo school. He wanted to learn how to improve his riding and thought trying to hang onto a bucking bronco for eight seconds would help.

However, Paget wanted more and decided to take a year off bricklaying and work at an event yard.

"I love working with the horses and rodeo wasn't a good way to work with the horses at all," he said. "There's not much of a relationship with a horse when you were bucking them out of a chute for eight seconds ... I just like the lifestyle of being with horses all day. It was hard work but it didn't feel like work at the time."

He was spotted by former Olympian Helen Tompkins and recommended to Frances Stead, who owned Clifton Eventers. He still rides her horses and won Badminton on Clifton Promise and was also 14th on Clifton Lush.

In less than two years, he went from never having jumped a fence to competing at three-star eventing level (the second-highest level). In 2008/09 he was the nation's leading event rider, in 2010 he was seventh at the world equestrian championships in Kentucky and last year helped the New Zealand team to second at the world equestrian festival in Germany and bronze at the Olympic Games. He also finished 10th in the individual event in London.

Paget is well ensconced in the eventing circuit but accepts he's different. "I'm a bricklayer who rides a horse," he said.

"Most of these guys have been brought up differently. I try to fit in but I grew up in Sydney in the suburbs and laid bricks. I didn't grow up in a dressage saddle."


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