More than 24 hours after the dust has settled on the Norwood Gold Cup, Annabel Francis still finds it difficult to explain what went wrong in the premier arena in Hastings.
Pools of tears well up and Francis chokes as words fail her during an interview at one of the pokey rooms tucked behind the main grandstand of the Tomoana Showgrounds where the annual Land Rover Horse of the Year Show enters the final two days today.
But the raw emotion isn't the byproduct of resignation — far from it. The gold cup verdict from Wednesday is just tangible evidence of guts and sheer determination giving way to a sobering sense of realisation that the Canterbury rider isn't ready to take her German import mount, La Quinara, to the marquee Olympic Cup from 2pm tomorrow.
It's easy to overlook that Francis is only 15 years old but mum Debbie, as she has unobtrusively done for years, let's her maternal instincts take over to give her child time to regather her composure.
"In that line there was a half stride. I suppose she had already walked it and realised that but when the horse had jumped in quite deep she didn't have enough time to check and then take the jump," explains Debbie, adding had she not taken evasive action in turning away the 10-year-old mare she would have caused a crash to upset the animal's constitution.
"In a split second she thought it was wrong and turned out so she did the right thing."
THAT No 5 fence, never mind other fences of the Werner Deeg-designed course, had caught many savvy showjumpers that day and the teenager had only had four faults up to that stage.
The thought of joining the call up to the premier arena, to the dulcet tones of volunteer Blake Keane, of Gisborne, remains a seductive proposition but Francis reconciles that with a level of maturity far beyond her years that her time may come next year alongside the likes of the queen of Hoy Shows, Katie Laurie (nee McVean), and fellow five-time veteran Olympic Cup champion Maurice Beatson, of Dannevirke.
"I don't often shed tears but I was quite disappointed with myself," says the correspondence pupil who used to find traction from the family property in Darfield but now they have relocated to Taupo to be near her trainers, Helen McNaught and Duncan McFarlane, who also are at the show here.
To comprehend Francis' passion for everything horsey one has to roll back the years to March 5, 2008, when, as a 5-year-old, she featured on the front-page edition of Hawke's Bay Today under the headline of "Tomorrow's champion".
For her, the Hoy Show is the biggest one in the country and like a second home in the equine domain.
Last year she collected eight faults to finish 11th in the FMG Norwood Gold Cup and such similar incremental gains had given her some confidence to try to transcend to the higher echelons.
That included finishing ninth at the Gold Tour Horse 1.40m qualifier at Takapoto Estate Show Jumping show, on March 3, which Norwood Gold Cup champion Tom Tarver-Priebe won in a field of 56 "big guns".
The likes of Laurie, Beatson, CHB husband and wife of Simon and Claire Wilson, as well as Samantha Morrison and 2018 Lady Rider of the Year Lisa Cubitt can be daunting at one arena.
"It's a little scary because they are much better than me and they are experienced."
Nevertheless, she takes as much delight in watching and absorbing as the seasoned campaigners strut their stuff.
Juggling studies with time in the paddock with her four horses can be a challenge for Francis whose sister, Charlotte, 18, reveals she watches elite riders on U-Tube and then tries to emulate their feats.
Says a grinning Debbie as Francis glares at Charlotte: "She's got a meeting with her teachers on Thursday."
Francis, who won a title here in showing in 2013, fits her studies in with her riding, which can start with feeding the animals from 6am and not returning some days until 6pm.
She won the 1.15m jump class in a field of 80 on her 6-year-old horse, Catapult Xtreme, yesterday and she competes in the Premier Stakes on La Quinara from 4pm in the main arena today.
Her ultimate goal is to represent New Zealand at the Summer Olympic Games.
For now she has had a taste of training in Germany for three months last year and she'd like to return there to home her skills.
All that, of course, costs money and she is indebted to her mother for the fiscal and time investments.
"Thanks mum for paying for everything and carting me around everywhere," says the teenager whose father, the late Wayne Francis, was a horse breeder at Nevele R Stud in Canterbury.
Her mother placed her in the saddle of a black-and-white pony, Gidgit, when she was just 1-year-old.
The rider also is thankful to sponsors Cavelleria Toscana, Equine Matrix and CWD (French saddlers).
So who would Francis like to see tomorrow lift the silverware Mrs RS Fiullerton donated?
"Helen," she replies instantly of McNaught who is riding Ngahiwi Ned Kelly.
McNaught rode Carnutelabryere to Olympic Cup glory in 2016.
Francis' second choice is 16-year-old Briar Burnett-Grant (Fiber Fresh Verona), of Taupo, who also is her mate.
Interestingly enough Laurie, whose former Australia Olympian father and ex-New Zealand high performance coach Jeff dutifully mentors her up to the horse-shoe entrance and back to the stables, has yet to clinch the bragging rights since dropping her maiden surname.
The 31-year-old mother of two, who has settled in New South Wales with husband Jackson to breed horses, still has the impact of creating a hush in the crowd and tomorrow will be no exception when defending champion Lily Tootill and Ulysses NZPH go for the double.
Laurie is riding Casebrooke Lomond after an elimination on Esteban MVNZ in the Ultramox Lady Rider of the Year jump-off round on Thursday, which left her in 11th place, and a fifth placing on Cera Caruso in the Norwood Gold Cup.
However, the word is her affinity with the mounts is in the infancy stage and the bigger picture is across the ditch next month, including the Elysian Fields in Canungra, Queensland, from April 27-29.