“Don’t you forget about me” is event rider Joe Meyer’s message to the NZ High Performance programme, and he has recently made contact with them to say exactly that. Joe, who is based in the US, is currently in New Zealand to have a short break with his family, and when we caught up with him he had a clear message. The 2008 Olympian and 2006 World Equestrian Games team member (on his lovely grey Snip) would dearly love to ride for his country again, and the fact that the 2018 WEG is “just down the road” from his Florida base is most definitely a driving factor.
The change at the top of Eventing NZ’s HP programme, with the resignation of Erik Duvander, has also come at a good time for Joe.
“Now that Erik has gone, I am hoping that things will be a little bit easier [for me]. As far as I am concerned, he just picked his pets. There were people on the High Performance there that you would scratch your head and wonder why.”
Joe is originally from Wairarapa, where his parents have Mamaku Stud, and has been based in Ocala, Florida, with his American wife Ruthie for some years now, having moved there after a long stint in England. It was a challenge to rebuild his profile and horsepower in the US, but says he now has a good team at the higher levels and has some good support.
“I haven’t tried to get included in the High Performance programme so far, as I haven’t felt my horses have been worthy yet. It takes a while to get them there.”
Additionally, Joe has found the ultra-patriotic American public a little hard to adjust to.
“Americans really back other Americans. It’s not like Europe where the shows want lots of different flags to make it truly international. In America, you don’t get any extra special attention just because you are a foreigner competing there. But now I have some tremendously good owners, and with a little bit of encouragement, anything could happen.”
Currently, Joe’s top three horses are Clip Clop, South Paw and the New Zealand thoroughbred Johnny Royale (by His Royal Highness), but he has a huge stable of 30. Most of them are being produced for sale, as that is the main thrust of Joe’s business, but he says some of the most talented may be kept on to syndicate as his own competition mounts.
Clip Clop competed at Kentucky last year, finishing 51st at the horse’s first four-star. Joe plans on taking him to Kentucky again next year, while South Paw and Johnny Royale will be aimed at three-star events in Jersey or Bromont.
Joe says: “Johnny is a really nice horse. I’ve only had him a year and he was a bit weak and has struggled on the flat. He is one of those ones who is going to take a while, but once he finally gets there he will be fantastic. His jumping is a bit the same, super-scopey but he just needs to get stronger.”
As to ‘Clippy’, Joe describes him as a real character. “He came in as a sale horse and proceeded to just dump me at every chance he got. He was so quick. Now when he gets anxious, I can feel it coming and I can just sit there on him. He has gone from strength to strength. He hasn’t been lower than sixth all year in his one-day events.”
Onwards to WEG
Joe is very excited about the 2018 WEG being in held North Carolina. “I can’t wait, it’s just up the road – only eight hours away. Eight hours is nothing!”
He hasn’t yet been to the Tryon International Equestrian Centre, where the Games will be staged, but knows the people behind it. “It will be tremendous as far as the arenas go; the stables and equestrian facilities are purpose-built. It’s got restaurants and bars and all that sort of stuff; you don’t need to go anywhere else but there, so it is going to be incredible.”
Joe thinks that there is still a lot of work to do to get the grounds right, but he is confident they will do whatever is necessary, and he thinks the location will be fine.
“[The city of] Charlotte is very close, and there is a lot of accommodation within an hour’s drive. They are building a hotel, and there are a lot of houses for rent – but people who want to go should get in and book a house now.
“It will be a good time of the year to be there – the weather will be good. We are all very excited! Hopefully, I have the right horses going at the right time.”
Living in Ocala, Florida is certainly different from the UK, mainly due to the big differences in the weather. “It rains every afternoon in the summer, and it doesn’t rain at all in the winter. The winter temperature is not unlike the summer here in New Zealand at the moment.
“But the summer is brutally hot and humid, and you can’t even ride a horse after midday. Traditionally, a lot of people move north at that time of year, but we have chosen not to. Okay, it is hot, but because of the rain we have beautiful footing. You just have to get up early in the morning to work the horses. I try not to have too many in work in summer, perhaps half a dozen and that will be it.”
— Joe Meyer (@JoeMeyerEvntr) May 26, 2014
Joe and Ruthie, who was a former successful rider herself, have built up a busy operation, buying and selling horses, and work this around the seasons.
“We have a very, very busy winter, like crazy busy. Our first event is the second weekend in January and it goes flat out until April until Kentucky, then Jersey and Bromont, and then we have a break.
“When the eventing season starts again, we go to Michigan in August and then a few more events over the autumn while it’s still warm. We don’t have to travel every weekend to the other side of the country – we pick and choose our long trips. People choke when we tell them the distances we drive, but you just have to get on with it. The roads are very large and very straight and you can still go very fast.”
The couple import a lot of horses from the UK and Ireland to produce and sell, and have a number of investors on board, but Joe says it works very differently from the English model of owner involvement.
“This is much more of make your own money, and do your own thing.”
Joe does still miss England at times. “I miss my mates and it was nice to go to events that were really close.” But he doesn’t miss the restrictions and bureaucracy, saying that the US has fewer regulations and expenses, and is much more user-friendly.
— Joe Meyer (@JoeMeyerEvntr) July 11, 2016
So he’s there for the long haul. “I’m pretty at home now in the States; I’ll be there for the long term. I am already in the retirement capital, so I am all right!”