Dressage rider Julie Broughman unsuspectingly headed to the Cape Kidnappers Hall of Fame Cocktail Party with husband David but little did she know she was going to be part of the collective toast in Hastings on Thursday night.
Brougham, of Palmerston North, was inducted into the honour's board of the annual Land-Rover Horse of the Year Show with horseman Ross Coles, 69, of South Auckland.
"It's awesome. It's a huge honour to be included with people already in the hall of fame. It is just phenomenal, really, because it's the best equestrians Equestrian New Zealand has ever had," said the 63-year-old from her horse truck parked at the Tomoana Showgrounds.
The 2016 Rio Olympian felt privileged to have dressage New Zealand nominate her.
Brougham follows in the footsteps of Bill Noble, a Waikato dressage rider and mentor, who received his induction in 2016 from 2015 inductee Katie Laurie (nee McVean).
Noble, who was instrumental in helping the New Zealand team clinch gold at the Seoul Olympics, has won five Hoy Show titles on three different horses and is the only rider to have won three consecutive Dressage Horse of the Year crowns.
Brougham counted her blessings that someone had whispered the secret in her ear momentarily before the announcement to enable her to muster a few heartfelt words in her head for her acceptance speech.
"It's extraordinary. I almost feel like it's happened too soon because I'm not finished just yet," said the rider who competed at the Olympics on Vom Feinsten (which stands for The Finest in German) and in the CDI FEI Grand Prix at the premier oval.
"I shouldn't say that because Maurice Beatson's in the hall of fame and he's still going so it's a recognition for what you've done," she says before competing in the IRT CDI FEI Grand Prix Special (title) from 5pm today and the GJ Gardner Homes CDI*** FEI Grand Prix Freestyle (title) in the final event of dressage from midday tomorrow.
Brougham liked to think it wasn't only because she had represented the country in Rio as only the third dressage rider from New Zealand but also the several months she had campaigned in Europe, mainly in Germany, in the build-up to the Games with Vom Feinsten.
"We did very well. We beat some of the best riders in the world so no one else [from New Zealand] has done that in dressage," she said, suspecting her campaign had given this country a pleasant surprise as she ticked off one show after another on foreign soil.
With Noble retired, Brougham is comfortable flying the dressage flag but she warns an elite crop of riders is coming through in the next few years.
The Horse of the Year show will remain one of the two most significant events on the code's calendar in tandem with the NZ Dressage Nationals.
"The more significant thing about Horse of the Year is that not only do all the other disciplines compete alongside each other but it's the atmosphere here.
"It is the biggest show in the Southern Hemisphere with over 2000 horses," she said, adding it was a great stepping stone to bigger arenas of Australia and Europe.
She has reportedly acknowledged how Vom Feinsten has often come away with flying colours in the grand prix and grand prix special events but he hasn't always warmed up to the electric atmosphere of the grand prix freestyle's bustling stadium that well.
Last month Brougham laid to rest the spectre of the National Dressage Championship in Manfeild when she clinched marquee events — the grand prix freestyle, the discipline's equivalent to a dance off or figure skating. The freestyle event mixes showmanship and artistic creativity, complimenting moves to music.
For someone who has conquered many arenas, HOY hasn't been too kind to her — she has won only two crowns in more than a decade of competing.
"I have countless times ended being the bridesmaid but that's okay. It's always a fantastic feat, regardless of whether it's dressage or showjumping, being on the podium."
Brougham is excited about competing here this week.
"I feel that Vom Feinsten is really on form. In the past he's let me down because he's a hot and energetic horse and sometimes he's gets me into trouble by doing too much.
"But since he's been around the world and competed extensively in Europe and [the] Rio Olympics he's really grown up and settled down to cope much better with the huge atmosphere and he's less overwhelmed by it and much more focused."
She, husband David and coach Andrea Raves, of Wellington, suspect the gelding has yet to yield his best.
Going by the nickname of "Steiny", the horse turns 15 on May 31 but Brougham said, while many would think that was old, the mount was entering his prime as a grand prix dressage specialist.
"He's got a particularly beautiful canter. All the canter work he finds effortless whether the pirouettes are singles or doubles as well as the flying changes.
"He's got a beautiful shot and an extended shot which the audience loves. He also has a good piaffe [highly collected trot, cadenced, elevated and giving the impression of being in place] so he doesn't really have a weak link," she said, labelling the mount a toiler.
She has had good horses — JK Super Sonic, Gymstar One, Kinnordy Gallium and Kinnordy Glogau, to name a few — but that cutting edge is imperative to transcend to that higher echelon.
"It's an exceptional horse that can take you from little old New Zealand, next to the South Pole, to Europe to not just compete but compete successfully and then, of course, to the Olympics," said Brougham who was the oldest Olympian at Rio and also recorded the highest score from a Kiwi rider at the games.
"Vom Feinsten is a horse of a lifetime so I doubt there'll be another like him. We keep pinching ourselves all the time in that we managed to find him in Germany as a 5-year-old and bought him before he turned into this wonderful success story for me."
In equestrian, akin to golf, combinations are forever competing against themselves so no one knows who the winners are until the dust settles in the arena.
"Things can go wrong so all of us can say we've never done the perfect showjumping round or the perfect dressage test although I was very proud of him [horse] in Rio for doing a clear round.
"I know he can do better now but you always kind of judge it to where the horse is up to," she said, expecting Steiny to do better here than he did in Rio.
"Next year I'll expect him to do more so you just keep lifting the bar."
The combination have chalked in the World Equestrian Games at Tryon in North Carolina in the United States in September as part of the New Zealand team — something the national team hasn't done in more than two decades.
When the Tokyo Olympics comes calling in 2020 Steiny will be 17 years old so he'll have to undergo a fitness check to see if he is still the best dressage mount in New Zealand.
"I'm really hopeful that other younger riders will come through with great horses so that we won't be needed at that point.
"I'm not just about me but the sport in New Zealand progressing and growing so that it becomes normal here to be out there as a team to the Olympics and the World Equestrian Games."
The cost of just $100,000 a horse for airfares alone puts the off-arena challenges in perspective. In Europe and America riders don't have that burden because of sponsorship.
"It's all done for them so we're just really on the wrong side of the world for equestrian sport so we'll just have to overcome that."
Even finding three elite combinations in New Zealand isn't easy because riders are caught up in the vicious cycle of selling pedigree horses to buy foals for the future to maintain a succession plan of sorts. Raising funds is an option and Dressage NZ is doing its best but if that doesn't measure up then it can curtail careers.
"Hopefully come the day we'll have the horses on the plane and have the money."
She yearns for the day when the media, especially TV, will popularise dressage the way Europe does.
"You come back to New Zealand and all they talk about here is ball sports, particularly one, so the more people know about it the more they become interested in it and follow it."
She urged show-goers to attend the freestyle musical grand prix here tomorrow.
"The horses just dance to the music and it's just gorgeous, and it's just emotional, you know."
Brougham only took up dressage in 1992 after riding ponies from the time she was attending primary school in Manawatu before graduating to eventing and showjumping.
The demands of motherhood steered her in the direction of dressage.
"It was so difficult with children, you know, so it was much easier to go do dressage. I don't regret the change, either," she said with a laugh. "But I can still kick a horse over a jump if I have to."
No one did the discipline in isolation, she stressed. It was because of the support, especially families, with perhaps a groom or coach tagged on.