The Australian show jumpers have started their World Equestrian Games on fire! Maybe it is that they are used to the heat, or maybe it was just their day. Their team lies in fifth place behind Switzerland, Netherlands, Brazil and the USA.
Rowan Willis surprised many by finishing in third place in today’s opening speed event on his Chacco Blue mare, Blue Movie, although his recent form has certainly indicated that he was in with a chance. He has been competing in the USA and Canada, and had good results including at Spruce Meadows.
Of course he was delighted with his horse. “She was fantastic,” he says. “She just tried so hard for me. I am lucky that I don’t have to try to go fast as she is just naturally fast, so I just have to keep my rhythm and make sure I don’t make a mistake. She tries so hard for me every time. It was a nice day.”
Rowan is also very happy with the team result. “All four of us have got off to a brilliant start and that is really encouraging. It obviously is not easy for our team, as two are based in Australia, and it is always a long way to go to any shows. Those boys have had a good summer in Europe however, and Scott [Keach] and I have had a good summer over here.”
This is Rowan’s first time at a championship and first time with his horse in an Australian team. “It is fantastic to represent Australia and is something I have dreamed about since I started riding ponies,” he says. “I did ride for Australia when I was about 18 when I rode at an invitational in Hong Kong on a borrowed horse.”
Rowan is originally from Armidale in New South Wales, but has spent the last 19 years in UK. Blue Movie is out of Nick Skelton’s top mare, Showtime, by Pilot.
When asked how he felt about beating some of the world’s best, Rowan had a great reply. “The hardest thing is beating the jumps!”
Looking ahead to the next few days of competition, Rowan says that she can go even quicker, as well as bigger. “I am always having to keep her steady. We jumped in Spruce Meadows at the Masters in the 1.70m and she was fantastic. We ended up 11th there.”
Jamie Kermond had a great round on Yandoo Oaks Constellation, and is in 35th individually. He was stoked with his clear. “It is my third WEG and it is the first clear round I have jumped, so it was pretty special to get a clean round. The horse is in great form and tried really hard.”
As to the heat, Jamie said that his big horse prefers it colder. “We knew it was going to be hot and the horses got here in plenty of time, which I think was good as they got to settle and adapt.”
Jamie is usually based in Sydney but has been in Europe since competing in the last World Cup. “He jumped really well there, and then after that we knew there weren’t a lot of people pushing for the WEG team so we backed off the horse and tried all year to set him up for this. We sacrificed a lot of shows in Europe, but we are really happy with where we have got him.”
It is especially rewarding that the horse has been in the family for most of his life. “Jamie, my wife, picked him out as a two-year-old and he has been at our stables ever since. I have been riding the horse since he was about a six-year-old. It is extra-special.”
Billy Raymont is also another Australian who has been in Europe for the last few months after competing at the World Cup. He is currently in 34th place on Oaks Redwood, and was a little disappointed with his one rail. “He was fantastic though; he was really good to ride, he felt fresh and sharp.”
“I came to Europe doing the Hong Kong Masters on the way in February and did a campaign through to the World Cup final. That was initially as far as our plan went. He had a lot of placings in Europe and then he was shortlisted in the WEG team.”
As to the heat, Billy wasn’t too phased about it. “I am lucky, I am a Queenslander, so this is a pretty normal day in Queensland.”
Former eventer Scott Keach is the fourth Australian, and is currently in 44th place. His score was the discard score for the team.