Clarke conquers Kihikihi – and sets his sights on Europe

Another consistent performance that should have the selectors nodding with approval; Clarke and Ritchie now set off for Europe with another national title under their belt.

Vaughn Jefferis and Jo Rothery presented the Bounce Trophy to Clarke Johnstone who also holds the Forest Gate Trophy aloft. Donna Edwards-Smith (second) and Nick Brooks (third) share the podium. (Image: Libby Law Photography)

Clarke Johnstone and Balmoral Sensation put their best feet forward at their last competition on New Zealand soil before they head to take on the rest of the world again. The pair triumphed in the Waipa Home of Champions CIC3* class, and took out National ODE title and therefore the Forest Gate Trophy and also collected the Bounce Trophy which is presented to the three-star winner at Kihikihi.

Eleven of the three-star competitors were back to show jump today and did a great job in general. A few took rails (and some of these were very unlucky rails), some jumped clear and added a time fault or two but when it came down to Donna Edwards-Smith, she went in there with a determined look on her face, as she attempted to make good on her threat to “hunt Clarke down.” She and DSE Tangolooma did a great round and jumped the first clear within the time, and Donna was delighted. “I’ve done all I can,” she said.

Donna Edwards-Smith rides DSE Tangolooma during the Waipa Home of Champions CIC3* – Forest Gate Trophy Championship Show Jumping. (Image: Libby Law Photography)

It was therefore up to Clarke and Ritchie to deliver under pressure and they did, not touching a rail and being under the time. Well-deserved winners and an awesome competition.

The standard of the three-star competitors was very high this year, and there were some great displays of jumping in both the cross-country and the show jumping. Pierre Michelet, the acclaimed French course designer, was the two- and three-star technical delegate at the event, and he was very impressed. “The standard across all the competitions was higher than what we have in Europe,” he says. “Most of those riders would do well in Europe.” He was also impressed by the facilities and the course, with the undulating ground and New Zealand landscape finding particular favour with him.

Clarke admits that he did get a bit nervous. “Even the best of horses can have a rail or have something go wrong. The time was tight. In the C of the treble he spooked at the photographers who were on both sides of the jump – he certainly came out fresh today.”

Clarke Johnstone and Balmoral Sensation also looked good when they jumped the podium during their victory lap! (Image: Libby Law Photography)

Clarke originally planned on going to the Sydney Three-day event as part of his build up for selection for the World Equestrian Games in North Carolina, USA in September. These plans have now changed. “I have finally convinced the selectors that Kihikihi is one of the best events in the world, so they have agreed it could be one of the qualifiers for me,” he says.

Their next event will be in Arville in Belgium, one of the Event Rider Masters competitions, four weeks before Aachen, which is also in the plan, as is getting in the team for WEG.

In the meantime, Clarke will take Interpol and Wolf Whistle to compete at Taupo; both are for sale so he is hopeful that they won’t be sitting in the paddock while he is away, but instead be with their new owners.

He didn’t compete either of those two at Kihikihi due to doctor’s orders on his broken finger. “The doctors were not happy for me to ride, and riding three horses against doctors’ orders would be foolish. I managed to convince them that it was okay to compete on one horse, once I explained how important it was.”

Clarke had his broken little finger heavily strapped and bound to another finger and says it didn’t effect him too much. “Perhaps I slowed down a couple of times,” he says.

Clarke Johnstone and Balmoral Sensation looked sharp at this morning’s trot up (Image: Jane Thompson)

Clarke is now going to prepare for the Ritchie’s flight to Europe: “as if he is going to a three-day.” Accompanied by super-groom Lydia Beales, who groomed for Clarke at the Olympics, Ritchie is booked to fly out on June 4. He will have a week off once he gets there then prepare for the event in Belgium. “I think that if they are fully fit, then you can manage it all better rather than chasing the fitness,” Clarke says.

As to whether the first event in Europe will be just a fitness run, Clarke rules that out: “I won’t travel to Belgium just for a run, I will give it a crack!”

And as he “gives it a crack” we will be cheering from back here in New Zealand Clarke! Good luck to you and Ritchie!