Equestrian: Stead focusing on matching good horses with Kiwi riders

By David Leggat

Frances Stead shows off the bronze sculpture of Jock Paget's Badminton winning horse, Clifton Promise. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Frances Stead shows off the bronze sculpture of Jock Paget's Badminton winning horse, Clifton Promise. Photo / Mark Mitchell

There will have been one spectator taking a keener, more personal interest than most as Jock Paget positioned himself second after the first day of dressage at the Burghley horse trial.

The Badminton winner and New Zealand team Olympic bronze medallist was aboard Clifton Lush, one of the two horses he rides for prominent owner Frances Stead.

Stead, owner of Clifton Eventers, was back in New Zealand a few days ago to present a bronze of her top horse Clifton Promise to Equestrian Sport New Zealand.

She's hoping one of her three entries at Burghley - Cliftons Promise, Lush and Pinot - will do the honours for her at the last of the FEI Classics for the season.

Her profile within the eventing world is high, and yet by her own admission she was not a top flight competitor. Rather her business in the equine world is the buying, selling and support of horses and riders.

"I believe I set myself high standards but I also expect my horses and riders to push boundaries," Stead said. "I'm probably seen as a demanding owner in terms of saying 'keep raising the bar'."

When Stead came to live in Auckland in 1993 she decided it was time to put something back into the sport she loves and from which she had derived enormous fun. "It wasn't the same without having some personal involvement," she said.

She saw plenty of talented riders in New Zealand "generally sitting on rubbish horses, or if by fluke sitting on a decent horse an overseas buyer would come along, offer them decent money and they'd end up selling it because that was the only way of funding their sport for the next season. I felt that was sad."

So Clifton Eventers, set on 20 hectares at Muriwai, was set up in 2007, developed into a top class training facility, and Paget was hired soon after as the lead rider. The partnership has been fruitful for both, and in Promise, especially, Paget has formed an outstanding combination, starting with a seventh placing at the world games in 2010.

"It's certainly been an absolute win-win," Stead said. "If a rider is not prepared to put in that enormous amount of work and push themselves to constantly raise the bar they're not going to be successful.

"Clifton Promise was lucky to have found Jock and both have brought the absolute best out of each other and show that talent on the world stage."

If you fancy getting into the horse ownership business, what are you likely to be up for?

Stead admits she went into it determined to do it full on, to the tune of around $250,000 a year.

"We were running it as a business. We sold over 100 Clifton eventers worldwide to help funds the ones we'd tapped to go on to the top level. But you don't need to do it on that scale by any means."

Stead estimates New Zealand to be one of the cheaper countries to be in the sport. "You can be in with a couple of horses competing domestically for $20,000 a horse per year - "and that would be very high in New Zealand".

From having a stable of around 20 horses, Clifton has six at present, all based in Britain. Three are four star eventers, including Promise and Lush, and Pinot, with Australian Kevin McNab, Paget's early mentor.

Stead discovered that rather than riding, her gift lay in spotting talent. She estimated she's bought about 50 per cent of her horses off video. She's big on gut feeling, unlike riders who like to "feel" the horse out.

"Most riders wouldn't dream of buying anything they hadn't sat on. Their skill is riding, not necessarily choosing.

"They can get too tied up in today whereas I ignore what it is today and I'm only focusing on what it can be."

Muriwai is leased at present, but "we'd be crazy to sell it if there was any chance we want something like that again", Stead, now living in France, said.

As for the future, she happily admits she's never entirely satisfied, always wants that bar to be pushed higher.

"This year the results have been phenomenal. Jock and Kevin have exceeded all expectations. I'm very lucky to have two very talented riders with phenomenal work ethics.

"I would like more horses coming through. I'm always on the lookout, as long as it has what I believe is world class potential."

• German Ingrid Klimke led the Burghley dressage at the halfway point, with 39.0 points, on FRH Butts Abraxxas, from Paget and Lush on 42.0, equal second with German Andreas Dibowski and FRH Butts Leon. The defending champion combination of New Zealand's Andrew Nicholson and Avebury were fourth on 42.3.

- NZ Herald

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