From Category B Show Hunter of the Year to Olympic Cup winner… Emily Hayward’s journey at the Land Rover Horse of the Year Show is a long and impressive one, and she’s still only 19.
The softly-spoken but fiercely determined young woman from Te Awamutu, who is now based in Cambridge, has had win after win after win to her name, including the Young Rider of the Year title just yesterday.
But the Olympic Cup is something else altogether. Many riders spend their entire careers trying to get their hands on it. And now on her fourth attempt, the title of show jumping’s Horse of the Year belongs to Emily and her nine-year-old thoroughbred gelding, Belischi HM.
“I’m just so happy, I don’t usually get emotional, but this is really something,” says Emily, who is a full-time rider but also helps out on her step-father Dean Morgan’s dairy farm.
Three young women were the stand-outs of today’s big class, with not a single rail between of them. Probably the favourite in the starry field – it included three former winning combinations – was Tegan Fitzsimon and her World Cup series winner Windermere Cappuccino. But Hastings local Melody Matheson and her powerful mare, Cortaflex Graffiti MH, are extraordinary competitors, and certainly had the home crowd advantage.
Belischi HM has somewhat unorthodox technique over a fence, ballooning high into the air, but he has a huge and ground-covering gallop, and is brave and scopey enough to leave out strides. He was the quickest clear in each of the first two rounds, which Emily says gave her confidence going into the jump-off.
Tegan was first out, and her ‘little coffee horse’, who has barely put a hoof wrong all season, buzzed around as cool as you like, clear again in a time of 44.22.
Melody had to pull out something special to beat that, and she promptly did, slicing her way across the planks and braving galloping down the last, shaving nearly two seconds from Tegan’s time.
So, it was all down to Emily. Though Belischi stalled a bit over the first fence, he soon made up for it, and with a bit of vocal encouragement from Emily, galloped home for a time of 41.98 and an outstanding victory.
“I know he can be a little bit faster than some of the other horses, and that speed is definitely his advantage,” she says. “He’s still so green, at nine he’s just a baby really and he’s pretty low mileage, but he hates touching rails and he takes out strides everywhere because he’s so brave.”
The horse known at home as ‘Thunder’ has had five World Cup starts under his belt, including a win this season in Feilding, but the 2019 Land Rover Horse of the Year Show didn’t seem like it was going to be his show, despite placing fifth in the 1.40m class on the first day.
“The Lady Rider didn’t go our way, so I did a 1.25m class yesterday to get up to speed again,” says Emily.
He will now take a break, and Emily hopes to take him to Australia to compete over the winter.
Melody can be very proud of her second place too; her nine-year-old mare was impressive in the extreme, and what an amazing achievement for Matthews Hanoverians stud to breed both the the Olympic Cup runner-up, and the Grand Prix Dressage winner in Don Amour MH, ridden by Wendi Williamson.
Tegan and Windermere Cappuccino were third, Brooke and LT Holst Andrea fourth, Tom Tarver fifth and Claudia sixth.
The first round
There were 20 starters in this year’s Olympic Cup, and German course designer Werner Deeg had the challenging of building a track that would test some very experienced combinations, yet not overwhelm some of the less experienced.
The first rider out was one of the latter, the tiny 16-year-old from Taupo in her first Olympic Cup, Annabel Francis on Carado GHP. And my word, she got the class off to a stupendous start, with a stunning clear round on her feisty little grey.
On the other end of the experience scale is Maurice Beatson, who was the only rider with two horses in the class today, and he had an excellent start with his much-admired chestnut mare Gold Locks, with just the last fence down.
The other four-faulters were Nakeysha Lammers on Resolution, and Brooke Edgecombe and LT Holst Andrea.
Claudia Hay had a superb clear on her breathtakingly beautiful stallion, Euro Sport Centavos, and Tom Tarver impressed as well, with a solid and confident clear on Equifibre Popeye.
But neither of them were able to repeat that in the second round; both falling victim to the airy Land Rover gate towards the end of the track. Annabel, meanwhile, had an uncharacteristic miss at the third fence, a black vertical, where Carado GHP stopped. They re-presented and cleared the rest of the course, but had incurred three time faults as well as the four faults for the refusal.