Canterbury teenager Steffi Whittaker is heading off on a huge adventure in April. She is travelling to Morocco to compete in the final of the FEI World Jumping Challenge against 19 other riders from all over the world.

To qualify for this prestigious event, Steffi had competed in the spring at three different South Island venues against other young hopefuls. The final round of the qualifying competition was at the South Canterbury North Otago Area’s show at Waimate and it was the just turned 16-year-old rider’s consistency over the three legs and six rounds of the competition that saw her come out on top. She was clear in every round, except for one time fault!

The FEI World Jumping Challenge sees competitors up against the rest of the world with the competition divided into 10 geographical zones and three categories. Steffi won the Category A, which is open to riders 15 years and older, jumping to heights of 1.20m-1.30m. Throughout the world, riders compete over the same courses using the same arena size and build by a course designer appointed by the FEI.

Steffi and Moonlight Glow
Steffi and Moonlight Glow

As the winner of the New Zealand section of the challenge, Steffi had a nervous wait while the other countries in our geographical zone held their competitions, but the invitation came through when her results saw her finish at the top of the pool.

The purpose of the FEI World Jumping Challenge is to introduce less experienced riders in comparatively remote countries to international-level competition. The first test they face at the Final is to build a relationship with a borrowed horse, which is no mean feat at any time, even for the most professional of riders.

Steffi will have some advantage as she currently rides both ponies and horses. She is particularly excited about this trip, but first has to concentrate on HOY.

“We leave in April. Mum, Dad, my twin and my godparent are going. We will be away for about three and a half weeks. We are going to travel around a bit after the competition including a trip to Paris.”

Steffi doesn’t know much yet about the standard of horses she will be required to ride, or where they will stay. She’s seen a few photos of Morocco but doesn’t know a lot about what to expect, which makes it even more exciting for her. It will be a unique experience, as she hasn’t done a lot of travel before, with the exception of a trip to Australia.

The Final will be held in Morocco’s capital, Rabat, on April 22-24. The photos available on the FEI website of the equestrian centre venue look very impressive with big arenas and lovely facilities.  It will be an outdoor competition, starting with a warm-up competition before the two qualifying competitions.  The top 50% go through to the final which is a Table A over two rounds. There is also a farewell competition for those who do not qualify for the final.

Last year Iranian rider Davood Pourrezai won the competition which was held in Bulgaria. Laura Inkster was the New Zealand representative but had no luck with her first horse being vetted out after the first competition. Due to swapping horses, Laura was ineligible to qualify for the A Final but finished a creditable fifth in the Farewell Final on the final day. 

Morocco will certainly be a big contrast to Springston, Canterbury where Steffi lives. With a population of 33.8 million people, Morocco’s culture is a blend of Arab, indigenous Berb, African and European influences. While the official languages are Berber and Arabic, French is also extensively spoken. Rabat is on the Atlantic coast, and while temperatures can soar in their summer, April should be a great time for show jumping.

Steffi with her mum Trace, and very proud grandparents
Steffi with her mum Trace, and very proud grandparents

Before Steffi goes off on the adventure of her life so far, she will be busy competing on her team of six. The ponies she is currently campaigning include Moonlight Glow and Burma Chilli and horses are Ngahiwi Cruise and Oh Dash It.  It was Ngahiwi Cruise who she rode to qualify for the FEI World Jumping Challenge. 

Steffi’s other successes so far include winning the National Pony Grand Prix in 2013 on Moonlight Glow, and she was fifth in the class at this year’s Nationals. At this year’s Horse of the Year Show, Steffi won the Junior Rider of the Year on Ngahiwi Cruise. 

Steffi attends Lincoln High School, where she is in Year 12.