The pressure is on John Thompson

The pressure is on John Thompson as he needs just one more qualifying score of over 70.01% in order to be considered for selection for the 2016 Olympics

John Thompson on JHT Antonello (Image: Libby Law)

Dressage Horse of the Year title holder John Thompson is about to board a plane to head to Australia where he plans on spending about a week teaching, before he is joined by his partner Holly and his horse JHT Antonello. They will be campaigning in Australia to attempt to get the final qualifying score in order to be considered for selection for the Rio Olympics.

John will be competing at Dressage With The Stars in Melbourne first, then it will be on to the Sydney CDI where he has two chances to get that qualifying score.

When asked whether he had considered going to Europe, John thought that the campaign in Australia would be a better step for them, especially as they have yet to gain the qualifying scores necessary. “I think it is hard on the horse to take him all the way over there. His health is absolutely number one to us. It is good to get a little Australian trip in and see how he travels and how he eats. We have got some great sponsors on board with our vets and our feed company Prydes; they are right behind us. They will manage how he goes with the trip over. If he gets the score and pulls up okay, hopefully we will then have Rio in our sights.”

John and AJ at home (image: REBEKAH PARSONS-KING/Fairfax NZ)
John and AJ at home (image: Rebekah Parsons-King/Fairfax NZ)

John (26) has lived in Australia for a large part of his life, moving there with his family when he was 12. After making many visits back here teaching, he recently returned permanently and loves being back. “This is home, absolutely home. It’s great to have the silver fern on my shoulder and the crowd behind me. It’s an amazing feeling.”

After the Australian campaign, the plan is to come back to New Zealand, with or without the qualifying scores. “If we go to Rio, we will fly via Australia and then to Europe. Europe is the transport hub for the horses to get to Rio.”

There is only one slot for a New Zealander in the dressage competition at the Olympics. This has been achieved through the individual rider ranking. There is a remote chance that if both John’s and Julie Brougham’s individual rankings rise enough, there could be two slots, but it seems unlikely at this point. If there is only one place available, the selectors (Judy Alderdice, Robin Haberfield and Helen Hughes-Keen) will have their work cut out choosing between the two.

John certainly agrees. “So far we have gone against each other 11 times; Julie has won five and I have won six. Good luck guys, I wouldn’t want to be a selector. It is going to be tricky, as how do you compare apples with apples? If Julie gets a score in Europe, how do you compare that with my score in Australia? It will probably have more weighting than my score in Australia, but then if I am in a competition where the whole competition ranked higher, it is not so easy. Then there are a lot of different things the selectors have to take into account, like how the horse travels.”

Gotthilf Riexinger was one of the dressage judges at the Horse of the Year Show. He is an FEI5* judge from Germany, and has judged at the Olympics. He was quoted as saying that the top three New Zealand horses at HOY (Antonello, Vom Feinsten and Dejavu MH) would be competitive in Germany.

John takes a lot of confidence out of this. “Not getting it [a qualifying score] at this show, and being that much under it, you do start to think, oh maybe I am not up to the level… but when you find out that maybe it was the Australasian judges who pulled you down and not the European one who judges every day of the week, and they have 30 or 40 in a class to measure you against… it really gives me the belief that hopefully I can get out there and get that last score.”

John is in no way being critical of the local judges, and in fact defends them. “The more you watch, the better your eye gets. When you only have, say, three at the same type of level, it is hard to get the scoring as much as if you are watching 30.”

We are sure you will join us in wishing John all the best with his Australian campaign, and we will keep you up to date with how things are progressing as best we can.