Mother-daughter prepare for ride of their lives

FAMILY AFFAIR: Mother and daughter Andrea and Georgia Smith, who are off to the world endurance equestrian champs in France.
FAMILY AFFAIR: Mother and daughter Andrea and Georgia Smith, who are off to the world endurance equestrian champs in France.

Endurance riding has always been a family affair for the Smiths and the World Equestrian Games will be no different. Andrea and Georgia Smith talk to The Dominion Post about being the first mother and daughter to represent New Zealand at the games.

The only odd thing about Andrea and Georgia Smith competing at the World Equestrian Games is that the rest of the family won't be riding with them.

The endurance discipline of the sport dominates the Smiths' life and their love of doing it together was memorably captured in an episode of Country Calendar two years ago.

Georgia Smith was 15 then. Now 17, she's about to become the youngest rider to represent New Zealand at the Games and the first to do so in concert with her mother.

Andrea Smith, a winner of multiple national and North Island titles, rode at the 2008 World Endurance Championships in Malaysia and was always going to be on the New Zealand team this time round. The question was whether Georgia, a decorated junior rider, could crack the five-strong lineup too.

The prefect and head of equestrian at Nga Tawa Diocesan School, near Marton, still needs a lot of lead in her saddle to get her up to the 75kg weight limit required to race in the senior ranks. But there's no doubt about her ability on a horse, which she confirmed by winning this year's North Island Open title.

Now she's off to the biggest event on the world calendar and not too bothered by Mum being there as well.

"Nah," Georgia Smith said.

The pair's selection had been expected so, rather than euphoria, confirmation of it brought the realisation that $100,000 or so needs to be found between now and August if the Smiths and their horses are going to make it to the Games in France.

"It was nice, but then you've got that - oh my God - financial thing," Andrea Smith said.

"And you feel a bit of pressure from that and you feel that you can't back out. Not that you want to back out, but you know? So I tend not to think about it too much."

Fresh from a shift as a radiographer at the medical centre in Raetihi, Smith raced to run an auction at Nga Tawa on Thursday night and is working through a lengthy list of other potential earners to pay the pair's way.

But no matter how much fundraising the mother-of-two does, it still seems as if she'll be coming back minus her beloved horse Max.

It will cost $60,000 per horse to get them to and from France, and that's before airfares for her and Georgia, plus their strappers.

So Max, or Glenmore Tariq, to give the 11-year-old gelding his official name, will be sold while they're over there.

"But that's not by choice," she said, as her youngest daughter Brigitte popped by the Nga Tawa stables to say hello.

She and husband Murray, himself an accomplished rider, run a 1400-acre sheep and beef farm 26km inland from Mangaweka.

They also breed endurance horses, many of whom are sold to buyers in the United Arab Emirates as soon as they show promise.

"But then we kind of thought it's really no fun to do all the hard work [and then sell them]. So we decided to try and keep some good ones to compete on."

Max was one of those, but bills are bills and the gelding will reluctantly have to be sold to pay them.

Like all the Smiths' horses, he started life doing stock work, before becoming an endurance horse. And it's the conditioning their horses get from the hilly country on the farm that make them good competitive mounts and attractive to offshore buyers.

Georgia's lucky that her horse, Glenmore Vixen, is a younger mare that the Smiths hope to breed from at some stage.

BUT that's all in the future. For now there are high hopes Andrea Smith can record a top-10 finish in France and propel New Zealand to their first team medal of any colour, since they won gold in 1998.

"Often it's held in the UAE and while that's a cool place to go and ride, we can't really be competitive over there because the speeds are so fast and the conditions are so different that, to have your horse really acclimatise for that properly, you'd have to be there for a year or so," she said.

"Whereas the French have not designed a course to suit the UAE [horses and riders]. I rode there at the test event last August so, for the first time, New Zealand is really set up to do well."

Or as well as you can do in a 160km event in which your horse has to pass multiple vet checks. The distance will be divided into a minimum of six loops and, after each one, the horse's heart rate and general soundness are examined before they're allowed to go on.

Smith's seen plenty of good horse and rider combinations travel a long way, only to be eliminated at the first veterinary inspection. It can be cruel, but it's also one of the reasons the Smiths can't get enough of the sport.

"Yeah, we don't go on holiday. We just go on horse rides."

The Dominion Post