Canadian Alex Loiselle reckons he has the "dream job" riding, training and selling horses for New Zealand Performance Horses at Ocean Beach in Hawke's Bay.
Today he made the dream start to the Land Rover Horse of the Year Show at the Hawke's Bay Showgrounds in Hastings when he won the IRT Horse 1.40m showjumping event in the premier arena on the eight-year-old Bandito NZPH he purchased less than 12 months ago.
One of six clear-round riders who opted to return for the jump-off after the first round, Loiselle was one of two to go clear in the jump-off. Hastings former World Cup rider Julie Davey, on Joligne De Carmel, was the other. Loiselle had the fastest time of 57.29s and Davey stopped the clock at 63.32s.
"I wasn't going to ride tomorrow because there is a $700 entry fee for the event but I might have to after that effort," Loiselle said.
"I've got some five-year-olds and one six-year-old for the rest of the week. I will definitely do the 1.45m event on Saturday."
Raised in Ontario Canada, Loiselle represented Ontario in the North America Young Riders Championships in 2009. He has worked with iconic Canadian riders Paul Halpern and Olympic medallist Ian Millar.
Loiselle moved to New Zealand in 2016 and, after a year working with Dannevirke-based Olympian Maurice Beatson, joined NZPH in 2017. This is his third HOY and he is working towards gaining his New Zealand residency.
"There is nothing like this back in Canada. It's the largest event in New Zealand and the one you have to peak for," Loiselle said.
In his two previous attempts at the 1.40m event Loiselle, the partner of fellow showjumper Kathryn Alabaster, was unplaced.
"Bandito is a very fast horse ... a special type of horse. I was impressed with the grounds today too," he added.
Aucklander Laura Inkster was third on Oporaes Jackamoe. She stopped the clock at 58.9s but had four jump penalties at the business end of the event which included the Lady Rider qualifier.
West Melton's Tegan Fitzsimon on Double J Monarch was fourth with a time of 59.51s and four jump penalties. Emily Hayward, of Cambridge, on Belischi HM was fifth with a time of 61.54s and four jump penalties.
Meanwhile 200 riders from throughout the country will compete in dressage arenas at HOY. The 2019 Grand Prix title will not be contested by last year's winners, Waikato's John Thompson and JHT Antonello. Antonello remained in the US after the 2018 World Games, and Thompson is now focusing on a young team.
Eyes will be firmly watching two women, who have been dominating the Grand Prix classes this season, Taranaki's Vanessa Way and Waitemata's Wendi Williamson. Less than a month ago, the duo battled it out at the Bates New Zealand Dressage Championships, with the pair receiving scores just 0.1 per cent apart. It was Way and NRM Andreas who reigned supreme, but this week it could be anyone's title to take home.
Way has won the Dressage Horse of the Year title twice before, in 2011 and 2013 on the NZ bred hanoverian, KH Arvan. Leading up to shows of this size, Way has been focusing on keeping her 2019 champion, NRM Andreas, fresh and feeling good in his body.
"The Horse of the Year main oval is an exciting arena to compete in. The atmosphere is like nothing else, and as a rider it makes you feel like you are up there, like on an international stage," Way said, "It is such a fun show, and I always enjoy catching up with friends and pupils throughout the different disciplines."
While Williamson has not previously taken home the prestigious Dressage Horse of the Year title, she is no stranger to the winner's circle. Williamson has previously won the New Zealand Grand Prix title on Deja Vu MH and represented New Zealand at the World Cup Final in Las Vegas.
"With so little time between Nationals and Horse of the Year, Don Amour MH has been doing a lot of hacking and stretching. My main focus is to keep him fresh and interested for the next show," Williamson explained. " Don Amour MH is feeling good, and it is all about confidence with him. Getting in to a big atmosphere like HOY is a great test of training, and I am always hoping that he stays more focused on me rather than the crowd, or the showjumping ring next door."
The remaining riders in the nine-strong class are not to be discounted. All have been posting great scores throughout the season. In particular, Raglan's Jody Hartstone and Ali Baba, who placed third overall at the New Zealand Dressage Champs, have been chasing hard with ever-improving scores. Hartstone has also taken home the Dressage Horse of the Year title, in 2009 and 2010. The CDI classes at Horse of the Year are particularly exciting this year, as they will give the riders the opportunity to post minimum eligibility scores for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.