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Rio Olympics 2016: NZ Equestrians place well in dressage discipline

By David Leggat

Mark Todd in action during Day One of the Rio Olympics 2016. Photo / AP
Mark Todd in action during Day One of the Rio Olympics 2016. Photo / AP

Of the three eventing disciplines, dressage is the one which has traditionally proved the hardest for New Zealand riders to master.

Cross country yes. Showjumping fine. But the mysteries of producing a quality set of specific manoeuvres is a distinctly different challenge.

So to have Mark Todd sitting seventh and Tim Price 13th after the first day of dressage in Rio is a decent return and bodes well for the next three days of competition.

Whether New Zealand can remain in the frame for a team medal should become clearer tomorrow.

Two-time individual Olympic champion Todd, riding Leonidas II produced a performance which drew 44 penalty points; Price, the reserve who got a call in when Jock Paget's horse Clifton Lush was cruelly rubbed out of the competition with a cut mouth, picked up 47 points aboard his classy Ringwood Sky Boy.

They are within sight of Britain's outstanding William Fox-Pitt, the leader at the halfway mark in the dressage on Chilli Morning. He incurred 37.0 penalty points to hold a slender advantage over Australia's Chris Burton on Santano II (37.6) with the world's top-ranked rider Michael Jung of Germany third on Sam FBW with 40.9 points.

However, New Zealand, on their combined score of 91.0, are 8.5 points behind leaders Germany, 7.1 behind Australia and 6.8 points off third-placed Britain.

It puts some heat on the second pair of New Zealanders, when they ride on the second day of dressage tomorrow. Clarke Johnstone is making his Olympic debut on Balmoral Sensation, while Jonelle Price - Todd's team mate in the bronze medal-winning team at London four years ago - rides Faerie Dianimo.

Todd said Leonidas had been a bit excited coming into the arena after seeing the tractors grooming the surface beforehand.

"That meant the beginning trot work was a little tense but he gradually relaxed more through the test," he said. "You always want to do better and this is a horse who is capable of doing a 75 per cent test, but under the circumstances it's OK."

Tim Price got a late entry when Jock Paget's horse Clifton Lush was ruled out after cutting his mouth at the stables.

There is sympathy for Paget, a member of the 2012 bronze medal-winning team.

Clifton Lush got his cut off a pipe that became exposed when the tap head came off in the stables. There was a suspicion the horse chewed at the tap head.

"Had the handle stayed on the tap I wouldn't have been in this position," Paget said.

"It just came off. You can look at why it came off as much as you want but it's not going to change the position I'm in so I'm just gonna stop worrying about it."

New Zealand horses tend to be hardy sorts, powerful beasts who handle the toughest of cross country courses with aplomb. But dressage is a demanding test of discipline and control.

The attitude of the New Zealanders has traditionally been one of relief after a good result from the dressage.

But times are changing. The old days of 'getting by' in dressage before making a charge up the leaderboard in the cross country don't work these days. New Zealand riders have recognised this and the standard of dressage riding has improved.

Take the stance of Tim Price after his effort today.

"I'm disappointed," he said.

"I wanted to be in the 30s. That's just the way we're bred but you learn to be philosophical in this game. It's a good score to carry forward for the team and looking at what we've got to do in the cross country, it's going to be a strong test so hopefully that bodes well for us. It won't be a dressage competition, that's for sure."

Equestrian New Zealand high performance director Sarah Dalziell said the dressage environment had been testing.

"When Tim was in there, there were gunshots going off and someone was making some fairly loud noises," she said. "It definitely changes it up, makes it quite electric and we're seeing a few hot horses that are feeling that electricity."

- NZ Herald

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