The stars of New Zealand head back to Burghley | An Eventful Life

The stars of New Zealand head back to Burghley

   The Christchurh children are all keen to see their idols

New Zealand’s Olympic Eventing team had a very quick, but extremely intensive visit home. Four of the team flew in on Tuesday morning, with their bronze medals, to be greeted by a very enthusiastic crowd. There were a number of pony clubbers at the airport, in full pony club gear, including helmets! No sign of jet lag, the riders spent quite some time signing autographs and posing with fans before being whisked off to functions with sponsors Bell Tea, and then a number of media appearances. The team, Mark Todd especially, are currently national media favourites, so there were appearances on the main news, the lunchtime news, the breakfast news, Sky Sports, not to mention newspapers and equestrian magazines all over the place!

   Jock Paget gets caught on camera by a keen fan

Andrew Nicholson flew in the next day, without his bronze medal which was left at home in his rush to get to the airport. The team then headed down to Cambridge (“Home of Champions”) where they were the stars of a civic parade. The Cambridge Pony Club members did a guard of honour into the town hall for their heroes. That night there was a function at a local establishment, very well attended, and lots of fun from all accounts.

 

The next day found the team in Wellington where they had more official visits and meetings with Sports New Zealand (who fund the high performance program) and with Equestrian Sports NZ. They were also hosted at an event by Catwalk Trust, a charity that raises funds for spinal cord injury research.

 

   Andrew Nicholson giving Emily Cammock & Dambala a dressage lesson

The last day of this frantic tour was spent in Christchurch. Andrew Nicholson and Jock Paget arrived early to attend the National Equestrian Centre in the morning. A good crowd turned up to watch, many taking the opportunity to grab photos and autographs. Leading Canterbury riders, Emily Cammock, Annabel Wigley and Katie Rankin, benefited from the dressage, cross country and showjumping lessons, and were given some excellent advice from the number 1- and 3-ranked eventing riders in the world!  Once again, media coverage was extensive, and the riders featured on the national news that night as well as on the front page of the Canterbury paper the next day.

   Fans queue for autographs

The main event of the whole tour was the official Welcome Home Event for the New Zealand Olympic team in earthquake ravaged Christchurch. Most medallists and many of the team made it to Christchurch for the lunchtime event, and there were a huge number of children present, desperate to see their heroes. Mark Todd’s popularity is huge. He spent an hour in a bubble-like marquee signing autographs, then as he made his way out to the double-decker bus which was transporting the athletes out of the venue, he got absolutely mobbed, and the kids started chanting “Mark Todd, Mark Todd, Mark Todd”. It took security guards to finally get him on the bus so it could depart! While Toddy was signing everything from clothing to flags, to posters, the rest of the team made appearances at retirement homes, hospitals and schools.

   The Kiwi eventers get pop star attention

We finally got them all back to McLeans Island for a lovely afternoon, sitting in the sun, answering questions from the 300 or so eventing faithful who had gathered. This was followed by another autograph and photo session. It was with considerable difficulty the team were extracted in order to get them to the airport to catch their plane back to Auckland and then on to London.

   Lots of question and answer sessions

The feedback received from the efforts the team put in to these few days has been amazing; everyone has been full of praise for the stamina and attitude of the riders. It is widely recognised what an effort the riders put in, especially as four of them are going to be competing at Burghley just days after they return to the UK. With good grace, they tried to sign everything thrust at them (including a baby at one stage - see photo below!), smiled in 1000s of photos, shared their medals, answered questions, and generally showed what true champions they are, in every sense of the word.

Article and photos by Jane Thompson