Clarke Johnstone was back at the Rakaia Pony Club’s cross-country course just over a year after competing so well at the Rio Olympics, where he finished sixth: the highest placed New Zealand rider.
Clarke competed on these grounds in 2004 when the Springston Trophy was last held here. He was part of the wooden-spoon-winning Taieri team. The wooden spoon is awarded for the team which finishes last!
Taeiri has two teams – Maroon and White – in the competition this year and one of their goals is to finish with a live score. Charlotte Young, their head coach, said that their main goal is to have lots of fun with lots of positivity. They made a good start, travelling up yesterday and heading off to an exclusive course walk this afternoon with their hero, Clarke.
They have photos of Clarke in their new clubrooms, taken in the days when he competed at pony club teams events, and were delighted when he came down to do the official opening of their new club rooms just over a year ago.
Quinn Coutts is in the West Taieri White team, on his chestnut Goosebumps. He was full of confidence about the cross-country, especially after getting tips from Clarke. “Jumping is my strongest phase,” he assured us, and he thinks he will go “all right” in the dressage.
Another young man keen to talk to Clarke was Robbie Cochrane of the View Hill. “I’ve got a grey horse just like yours,” he said as Clarke signed his hat for him. “Do you have as much trouble as I do keeping him clean?” replied Clarke.
Clarke competed twice in the Springston Trophy, travelling up to Hurunui as well as competing at Rakaia / Ashburton. He loved the team aspect back then. “It was such fun going away with the team and the horses. It was the first feeling I had of riding on a team. It is more than just your own success that counts.”
Clarke said that it was “kinda the same” as being on the Olympic team. “It was certainly one of the stepping stones! Being on a pony club team is a learning experience. You learn to cope with pressure, to work with others, and it is a different type of pressure from when you are riding for just yourself.”
While Clarke’s experiences at the Springston Trophy may not be covered in glory, they were an invaluable part of his development into such a successful rider on the world stage.
We’ll be keeping an eye on some of the competitors this weekend – who knows who will be the next Olympian emerging from this event!