You couldn't have wiped the ebullient smile off the face of Tom Tarver-Priebe even if anyone had tried at the Horse of the Year Show in Hastings yesterday afternoon.
Not even the commitment and demands of returning to his everyday job were going to rob equestrian Tarver-Priebe of his glory as he exchanged hugs, handshakes and kisses from well wishers at the Hawke's Bay Showgrounds.
"I have to go to work [today] so I have to make a really early start," he declared near the horse-shoe entrance to the premier arena minutes after etching his name on the FMG Norwood Gold Cup for the first time.
The 32-year-old from Kawerau in the Bay of Plenty, who won in a six-combination jump off on his placid mount, Popeye, had revealed the family farming and hay business had to be attended to before he resumed competing at the Land-Rover-sponsored marquee showjumping event here.
Tarver-Priebe and his big grey were one of only two combinations from 35 starters (Maurice Beatson and Argio had to withdraw days before) to go clear twice to tame Werner Deeg's challenging course which had many in a tangle at the No 5 fence.
The triumphant duo, third out in the jump off, had stopped the clock at a scorching 43.83s ahead of five other combos - four who had a clear first round and the daunting Katie Laurie (nee McVean) as the fastest four-fault qualifiers (49.5s). However her new mount, Cera Caruso, faltered at No 5 in the jump off.
Australian Brooke Langbecker, riding Quintago I, emulated Tarver-Priebe but at 52.32s was off the pace that Popeye had set.
Asked if he was feeling any pressure from the other combinations, Tarver-Priebe said the Aussie contenders brought a steely resolve.
"They're definitely here to win and it costs money to come here so they want to win a bit of it back, you know."
But the Aussies will have to bide their time this week because yesterday belonged to Tarver-Priebe and Popeye.
"I think the horse is a very good horse," he said of Popeye, who John Cottle also worked in tandem with him.
"[Cottle's] been riding him quite a lot because I don't have a lot of time because of work so it's a real team effort to get a horse to this level."
Popeye has had interest from buyers in Japan but Tarver-Priebe had resisted the temptation to close any deals on him last year.
"I decided to have a ride and see how we go but there never was any intention to keep the horse. Every horse is for sale and I'll do what is right for the horse," he said, adding that in the long term if Popeye ends up with a different rider then so be it.
Kim and Greg Best, of CHB, have bred the horse who Jesse Linton rode in the early years.
For now the plan is to take the mount to Sydney and ride all the way to the Elysian Fields in Canungra, Queensland, from April 27-29.
The combo had Big Mo on their side after clinching the Gold Tour Horse 1.40m qualifier at Takapoto Estate Show Jumping show on Saturday, March 3, something he described as "quite special".
Tarver-Priebe has been competing in Hoy Shows since 1996 when it was staged at Karaka, with a five-year hiatus "when I went away to make some money".
He ranked his Norwood Gold Cup conquest "right up there".
"It's one of my biggest wins and it's just great for the horse."
Tarver-Priebe has yet to receive the top accolades in the premier event of the Hoy Show, the Olympic Cup, which will be staged at 2pm on Sunday.
That also became difficult because he had a penchant for grooming horses to that level before selling them.
"We weren't planning on jumping in the Olympic Cup ... we just want to take it day by day here and stick to that plan and if we compete well on Friday then we'll see what Sunday brings."
For his part, Tarver-Priebe also had make a commitment to shedding a few kilos with the Aussie trip in mind to ensure no stone is left unturned to get the best out of the horse.
The jovial rider reflected on some earlier banter from Dannevirke veteran Maurice Beatson on his heritage.
"I'm just the only Maori here, basically," he said with a laugh.
Tarver-Priebe revealed he belonged to the Ngapuhi iwi from Northland.
"I'm proud of that heritage so, yeah, we always joke about it but, you know, you ... never forget where you come from."
He said he hadn't come across too many Maori but recalled competing with Ike Unsworth, of Tauranga, who, ironically, won the Norwood Gold Cup here on Senator VDL in 2007.
"We were a couple of local Maori boys and we were just brown boys together," he said, immensely proud to have walked in his footsteps.
Tarver-Priebe said his victory yesterday was a tribute to the collective and not just his alone.
That ranged from the "girls who look after the horses every day" to his partner, Lucia Voss, of Germany, who did " a lot of grunt work at home".
Defending champion William Willis finished third on Dollar Roll MS as the fastest of the two four-faulters in the jump off. Australian Clint Beresford was fourth on Emmaville Jitterbug, and Laurie fifth, with two rails down in the jump off.
Earlier, South Islander Kate Cavanagh. a full-time rider from Geraldine, rode Wallflower to clinch the Wade Equine Amateur Rider of the Year ahead of runner-up Anna Stephen and Lollipop SP.