Having done all the hard work, professional dressage rider John Thompson tried to keep his magnificent mount, JHT Antonello, in check in Hastings today.
"Sorry, my parking isn't very good. It's more like trying to park a truck," said Thompson apologetically, not long after winning the Dressage Horse of the Year crown at the Tomoana Showgrounds.
But the 28-year-old Hamiltonian need not have apologised because he had just adroitly engineered his 16-year-old Hanoverian Kiwi-bred dark brown gelding to top honours in the GJ Gardner Homes CDI***FEI Grand Prix Freestyle (title), the final leg of competition to decide who will reign.
Having secured the IRT CDI FEI Grand Prix Special (title) in the premium arena on Saturday, Thompson was level pegging with fellow World Equestrian Games-bound national teammate Julie Brougham, of Manawatu, who entered today as the favourite in the musical routine of the discipline.
Later, he broke down in tears as he made his victory speech, before the victory laps, in front of a near-capacity main grandstand of the premier showjumping arena while commending his mount on a day when the province had also won the fight against intermittent rain on the final day of the Land Rover-sponsored marquee equestrian event in the Southern Hemisphere.
"To be honest, when you wear tight pants and leather boots for a living you don't have enough man points to let the tears come out too often but today was a good day for it," said the ebullient bloke with a wicked sense of humour. He easily would have walked of with the Hoy Show Personality Award, if there was one.
Asked how it felt juxtaposing today's victory with his maiden one in 2016, Thompson said it was better this time as it had a better lacquer finish to it and timely as he, Brougham and Wendi Williamson prepare to jet off to Tryon, North Carolina, in September as part of the first Dressage New Zealand to compete overseas in more than two decades, albeit at a hefty cost.
"I feel like I've got my foot in the door with my preparation and how I want to go at the world games and be part of a team where we're so close together and support each other really well."
He lauded JHT Antonello, impressing their partnership was more of a 50-50 one because the AJ Simson-bred mount, by Anamour & Flair, tended to have his way most times.
"It's usually 60-40 his way but when it's 50-50, boy, you do a good test in there."
Thompson carded 70.52 points in the final fling today with Brougham (Vom Feinsten) falling shy at 73.70. Williamson was next at 69.85 and Jodi Hartstone (Ali Baba) was fourth with 68.925.
He reiterated the tit-for-tat existence he and Brougham thrived in without any clear indication who would prevail on any given day.
"Between us, there's some great camaraderie but today was my fair win and the next competition we'll be right there with the two."
However, a grinning Thompson was partial to assuming the mantle of hunter.
"If you win on the first day you feel like you can never maintain it so sometimes you can play it really safe," he said after her 63-year-old rival and Rio Olympian claimed the first of three grand prix rounds.
"For me, I was really hungry for it even though I won yesterday. I knew Julie can always [come back] because she has the highest record in New Zealand for the freestyle [musicals] so I had to put my foot down on the floor boards and, tell you what, the floor boards were really shaking today.
"I was in that next body state and he [JHT Antonello] just rocked it so it's great to go out and leave it all out there, you know."
No doubt, today's effort had boosted his confidence in freestyle musicals as he incrementally makes his way to change batons with Brougham who is the matriarch of dressage.
Composure, he emphasised, was imperative in trying to blend music with harmony and artistic impression but, more importantly, how to pin his core component into it for a sense of distinctiveness.
"It's about changing hats between the technical aspects of what we do and that artistic flair with music so I feel I've got that very, very good."
A cheese connoisseur, Thompson was heading off to his truck to whip out "one big nasty bottle of champagne" to toast with his fiancee/co-horse owner, Holly Leach, and Brougham before "taking a good sleep".
A beaming Brougham repaid the compliments and sentiments Thompson had expressed.
"He obviously had a great go to follow directly behind me," she said.
She said the victorious pair had shown their class with a resounding test and they were both proud of their mounts.
"I kind of had a feeling it was going to be their show. I have taken a few off them lately and it was time he got one back off me."
While she hadn't seen the official results, Brougham saluted Australian five-star judge Mary Seefried for having her first around the 75 per cent mark out of the five officials.
"That thrills me enormously. She is one important lady to impress and I've never managed to do that before so there you go, there's a new thing every time," she said with a laugh.
However, Brougham revealed she had encountered some gear-check problems with Vom Feinsten before her routine today.
"Because he wears 'ears' but they [judges] wanted them off to make sure I didn't have anything inside the ears but the person who took the ears off also took the bridle off so we were in a very unsafe area and, of course, my horse thought he could run off back to his stable."
Brougham's support crew had managed to contain the handsome 14-year-old German import mount.
"It was not good at all so we need to talk to the show committee about a safer environment to do these gear checks."
She said it was a great show with top weather but perhaps the organisers could look into improving the warm-up arena of dressage.
"It was like concrete, really, which jars the horses. Of course, the judges want us to move amazingly but ... it has to be done better and the committee is always interested in [suggestions]," she said.