Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Equestrian: Paget hoofing it into the history books

Jock Paget says equestrian is a fantastic spectator sport but the riders generally struggle to make a decent living out of it.
Jock Paget says equestrian is a fantastic spectator sport but the riders generally struggle to make a decent living out of it.

Jock Paget's equestrian star continues to rise. The Olympic teams bronze medallist, who won the elite Badminton title this year, claimed the British open aboard Clifton Lush this week, which further established the rider in New Zealand's proud eventing history.

And the best may be yet to come from the 29-year-old who is ranked third in the world.

The Warkworth-born Paget, who runs stables in Surrey near London, has turned his sights on winning the prestigious Burghley title next month. He takes a few questions from the Weekend Herald.

Stables in Surrey ... that sounds glamorous, and expensive. How do you juggle competitive and business life? Does the money situation keep you awake at night?

All the time. I've got used to living in the red. I'm not in a position to buy the stables - I rent everything unless it is provided by sponsors.

I don't think I own anything. I own my toothbrush.

How does that affect your sporting life?

That is the hard part, trying to get the balance. The competition has to take priority but you need to find ways to bring in enough money. I don't think any rider actually makes money. We just use it a lot. New Zealand does an amazing job considering the resources we have. I couldn't do this without support from High Performance Sport New Zealand. But whereas England gives 16 million ($31 million) for support, we are down to around $3 million.

Your family moved to Australia when you were 5 ... was there ever a chance you would represent Australia?

No, I don't think so. My dad would have killed me. I moved back to New Zealand (Muriwai) when I was 23.

If you weren't an equestrian star ...

I'm a bricklayer by trade. I would have started my own company and run a team of bricklayers. I'd probably be running around in a local rugby team but I don't have time for that now.

Sports science is everywhere - does it play a big part in equestrian?

We use video and there are other things such as infrared machines to find hot spots on the horses' legs (for injuries). But I don't let it become too dominant. The sport should still be about flair.

Childhood heroes?

I wasn't really into the horses when I was young. My heroes were rugby and league players ... Ryan Girdler, Brad Fittler, and in union I was a big fan of Jonah Lomu.

What are the downsides of living in England?

Being away from family and friends. My partner (Tegan Niven) is with me here but she is Australian so we are both away from family. This is where you have to be to ride eventing at the highest level but once I'm done with that we'll move home.

How did you and Tegan meet?

She rode a bit so we met that way ... she is in project management now.

Equestrian appears a polite sport but are there bitter rivalries behind the scenes?

It is a different sport to most and you will find the riders all get on quite well - we see each other every weekend which is different from sports like soccer. We help each other to a degree even if we are there to beat each other. Riders warn each other if they find there is a problem with any of the cross country jumps. You don't want to see anyone badly injured.

Major rivalries?

There is a really good one between Andrew Nicholson and William Fox-Pitt. They have been at the top for a long time and it is no secret that they don't get on very well. They fight out most of the big events but I think it is also a personality thing. William is an Englishman and Andrew grew up in the Waikato so they come from different environments. Everyone knows there is a real rivalry between those two.

What's the best advice you've received?

When you bite off more than you can chew, chew like #$%^. In other words, don't be afraid to bite off too much.

Where do you keep the Olympic bronze medal, and is it the career highlight so far?

The lounge - I got a little box made up for it. The highlight to date is winning Badminton, which is the biggest four-star event in the world. The Olympics are more important to the public but as an event rider Badminton is the one I want the most.

Career low point?

I had a rough time when I first came here. I struggled adapting to the different scene and competitions and didn't think I would get selected (for the world champs) which would have meant I made the trip for nothing. It has turned out really well but initially I had quite a nasty fall, made a big mistake at another key selection event ... back then, I had no money and was finding it hard to survive. I didn't even have enough money to get back home, let alone get the horse home.

Is there one thing you would like to change in equestrian?

To be a more professional sport, where riders get paid better and can survive easier. It is a fantastic sport and people love watching it but it isn't backed like other sports. And if you are not able to buy good horses, you have to get good results with not so good horses.

- NZ Herald

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