She has scaled the giddy heights of eventing, all the way to the Olympics, but Sally Clark has found no joy with showjumping ... until Tuesday.
Initially the runner-up on Victoria's Secret last Thursday, Clark tasted glory five days after the dust had settled in the GJ Gardner Pro-Am class of the Land Rover Horse of the Year Show when protests were upheld against winner James Cottle, of Karaka, on Oracle WT, and third-placed Anna Trent, of Te Horo, riding Corodette Xtreme.
"It's great to win a title but it's slightly difficult because of the circumstances," said Clark.
It did take the gloss off a little because "it didn't happen on the day" at the Tomoana Showgrounds.
In fact, it's Clark's first HOY Show crown in any class since she started competing in Hastings with partner Maurice Beatson 15 years ago.
"When I was actively competing in eventing there were no titles or anything," said the Dannevirke rider, who turns 60 on April 11.
However, the 1996 Atlanta Olympics eventing individual silver medallist said things like that happened every so often and her heart went out to the 39-year-old son of six-time Olympic Cup champion John Cottle and 2006 Norwood Gold Cup winner Trent.
"I know they didn't do it intentionally. They were just not aware of the rules."
The rules were pertaining to eligibility in the pro-am class. Article 143 of the ESNZ [Equestrian Sports New Zealand] general regulations relates to protests tabled at an event. The upshot of that is riders in a pro-am class must engage horses that are registered with ESNZ in their own name as owner, part owner or registered lessee.
"You can lease a horse or be part owner in those classes so long as it's registered before [the competition]."
Clark also was mindful the onus was on riders to be up to date with the rules.
"That's one of the sad things. It just wasn't picked up so it was one of those things."
James Cottle and Trent could not be reached for comments last night but Clark said she suspected the pair had been out of the showjumping circles for a while because her path hadn't crossed with theirs much.
"Anna's been in Australia so she's been out of it a little bit.
"You know, it wouldn't be unlikely that it would happen but it's just really, really unfortunate."
Clark said it was unlikely other cases would have slipped through the system previously because when officials posted points for the series they check the ownership although, again, that did not absolve the riders from not familiarising themselves with the rules.
"It's not the responsibility of ESNZ or showjumping to go running around telling everybody that they are not qualified for the class because it's not their job - it's our job to know the rules."
Tamara Silcock (Nelson), on Steel Magnolia, and Lucia Voss (Kawerau), on Grand Coeur, were rubber stamped as second and third, respectively, in the pro-am class after the appeal period for Cottle and Trent had expired.
Reflecting on her own transition, Clark said showjumping and eventing were different ball games even though eventing entails the three disciplines of dressage, showjumping and crosscountry.
"When you're training for eventing you're spreading your skills through three phases but in showjumping you're in complete focus on that ... which also makes it more challenging for the horse."
However, she did not lose sleep over not winning in showjumping because she and five-time Olympic Cup champion Beatson were relishing embracing the challenge of preparing young horses for myriad classes.
"Of course, we always love to win a title. This Victoria's Secret is a fabulous little horse but it just never happened on the day," she said of the 11-year-old black mare that Beatson bred.
Clark's highest level at HOY was on gelding Zibbibo, finishing fifth in the 2008 Lady Rider of the Year.
In the Wade Equestrian Amateur Rider of the Year class, Olivia Crozier (Canterbury), on La Fonteyn, also lost her winning perch to a protest.