Emily Hayward speaks softly and even cried for the first time after a showjumping competition but don't ever mistake her demeanour for someone who doesn't possess the steely resolve needed in the equestrian arena.
Hayward, who has been riding ponies since she was 2 and reportedly would have loved to have played rugby in high school, etched her name on the Olympic Cup in Hastings today.
The 19-year-old from Te Awamutu prevailed in the saddle of Belischi HM, after a three-way jump off at the Hawke's Bay Showgrounds as the curtain dropped in the premier arena of the week-long Land Rover Horse of the Year Show.
"I don't think I've got emotional before but I was proud of my achievement," said the teenager, who helps milk cows on a dairy farm when the demands of riding aren't too high. "It's definitely the best win I've ever had."
With barely half a civilised flute of champagne still tucked in a bottle under her arm, Hayward said winning the supreme class in itself was a great buzz so she didn't plan to top up her celebrations.
"I think the photographers made the most of the champagne," she said of the ritual of spraying onlookers in front of the pavilion.
Hayward rode her 9-year-old thoroughbred, with a racehorse background from Australia, in a don't-argue time of 41.98 seconds in the jump off to ward off the challenges from second-placed Hastings rider Melody Matheson, on Cortaflex Graffiti MH (42.54s), and Tegan Fitzsimon, of Christchurch, on Windermere Cappuccino (44.22s).
The trio had all registered two clear rounds but it was hard to go past Hayward's crisp times even though the manner in which her mount sometimes approached the fences wasn't always easy on the eye nor healthy for fans accustomed to a regular heart beat.
"I was the fastest in the first two rounds so that just sort of gave me some confidence to jump off, than the first round, where you can take a few more risks so it paid off a little bit."
She felt her mount, who she has been riding for almost three years, was "still so green and such a baby" so she didn't arrive at the show expecting much in the marquee event of the biggest equestrian show in New Zealand.
Not an "amazing racehorse" or a typical thoroughbred, Belischi harboured a penchant to please, often making up for lost time in breaking up his strides when required and was allergic to touching the rails.
"His previous owners, Pete and Michelle McMahon, will be so happy. I didn't think I would be emotional but I am just so proud of him."
In the build up on other minor events last week, Hayward said the combination had their fair share of bad luck in the 1.40m jump and the UltraMox Lady Rider of the Year but received a timely fillip in the 1.25m one yesterday.
"After we cleared a few fences in the first round I knew we were up on time although he stalled over the first one but, like I said, he takes up strides everywhere."
Twenty started the class with the top 10 coming back for the second round.
Sitting on zero faults in the first were Claudia Hay (Tokoroa) aboard her former Olympic Cup winner, Euro Sport Centavos, FEI World Cup (NZ) Series Tegan Fitzsimon (Christchurch) aboard Windermere Cappuccino, Melody Matheson (Hastings) and her well-performed mare, Cortaflex Graffiti MH, 16-year-old Annabel Francis (Taupo) and her gorgeous Aussie import, Carado GHP, Silver Fern Stakes winner Tom Tarver (Kawerau) and Equifibre Popeye as well as Hayward.
Notable omissions from the cup start were Olympian Clarke Johnstone and homeboy Simon Wilson, of Waipukurau, in a field that included four riders who had previously won the cup, as well as three combinations who have clinched it in recent years.
Clears in the second came first from Brooke Edgecombe (Waipukurau) on LT Holst Andrea, who was carrying four faults from her opener, then Fitzsimon, Matheson and Hayward who all remained on zero, forcing a jump-off.
In a brilliant display of horsewomanship, the trio emulated their stunning clears with each going faster than the combination before.
Needless to say, a grinning Hayward said Belischi's prowess hadn't made her think about becoming a jockey in the thoroughbred racing industry any time because showjumping was her speciality.
She intended to take Belischi HM to Queensland, Australia, in winter before bringing him back for the new showjumping season.
Hayward comes from a well-trodden path of pony club riding to hunting, before entering the show hunters' arena. Breaking the trend, she progressed straight on to showjumping hacks without tackling the pony grand prix classes.
In the 2015-16 season, she had won an unprecedented three national series titles; the Equissage Horse Grand Prix Series, the Canterbury Equestrian Young Rider Series and the Telford Junior Rider series.
In the 2016-17 season, she did it again as well as taking out the horse grand prix series (with AP Ninja), the Young Rider series and the East Coast Performance Horses 5YO series (with Delicious HM). She was also second in the Lincoln University Junior Rider series.
The teenager revealed the Olympic Cup would have pride of place, alongside her second consecutive Young Rider of the Year crown last week, when she got home after pocketing $20,000 for the big win today.
Hayward has been competing in the Hoy Show for a decade, since she was 9 and it feels like a second home to her.
"I think it's like any other show [with its] atmosphere, so many people and it's just buzzing the whole time," she said.
■ Jessica Collinson (Clevedon) and Ngahiwi Cruise may have only been together four months but this afternoon they pulled off the stuff that dreams are made of with victory in the Fiber Fresh Feeds Junior Rider of the Year today, equestrian journalist Diana Dobson reported.
The 18-year-old was over the moon with the win and her horse. "He is just amazing," Collinson said. "He tries his little heart out."
Their partnership didn't get off to the best of starts but now they are solid.
"He has always had good riders on him, so has no tolerance for bad riding, which is a good thing but had meant he has lawn data-ed me a few times."
That said, Cruise has taught her so much and her other horse Bunny Hop is also benefiting.
It was rather nerve-wracking for the rider to be competing in the premier arena.
"To actually even have a shot was very scary."
Thirty started the class with eight coming back for the jump-off where Collinson was the only one to finish with a clean slate.
Ally Carson (Putaruru) and Whiorau Ritchie was second and Olivia Dalton (Karaka), who won the equitation component of the class, third aboard Appleton.
"Cruise was so good," said Collinson. "He just jumped out of his skin. My amazing coach Duncan McFarlane just told me to be calm, still and efficient, and to go for the clear."
Cruise has previously won the junior rider crown but with other riders.
Olympic Cup New Zealand Horse of the Year:
Emily Hayward (Cambridge) Belischi HM 1, Melody Matheson (Hastings) Cortaflex Graffiti MH 2, Tegan Fitzsimon (Christchurch) Windermere Cappuccino 3, Brooke Edgecombe (Waipukurau) LT Holst Andrea 4, Tom Tarver (Kawerau) Equifibre Popeye 5, Claudia Hay (Tokoroa) Euro Sport Centavos 6, Annabel Francis (Taupo) Carado GHP 7, Nakeysha Lammers (Taranaki) Resolution 8, Maurice Beatson (Dannevirke) Gold Locks 9, Drew Carson (Putaruru) Winston V Driene 10.
Fiber Fresh Feeds Junior Rider of the Year: Jessica Collinson (Clevedon) Ngahiwi Cruise 1, Ally Carson (Putaruru) Whiorau Ritchie 2, Olivia Dalton (Karaka) Appleton 3, Tyla Hackett (Waiuku) George Jetson 4, Samantha Carrington (Hawke's Bay) Double J Breeze On 5, Colleen Crous (Auckland) Orames Girl VDL 6.