Dressage gives way to bridal gown

TIME OUT: Olympic rider Jonelle Richards back home in Motueka with Louis, a 7-year-old dressage horse.
TIME OUT: Olympic rider Jonelle Richards back home in Motueka with Louis, a 7-year-old dressage horse.

Ahead of her wedding on Friday, Olympic bronze medallist Jonelle Richards is remarkably calm.

Staying with close friends in Motueka on Tuesday, Richards, 32, had tried on her wedding dress - her third selection - for the first time the night before and had spent the morning giving her host, Jan Morice, a dressage lesson.

The England-based equestrienne is in the midst of a month-long holiday in New Zealand with the main focus her 110-guest wedding at Marlborough's Furneaux Lodge.

She has spent Christmas with family in Christchurch, a week with friends in the Coromandel and time in Motueka.

She will return to her base at Wiltshire's Mere Farm along with new husband Tim Price, on January 18.

Richards and Price have been together for more than 10 years and engaged for over two. The couple had planned to marry a year ago but postponed it so they could focus on the Olympics, since January was a crucial time to start preparing horses for the busy English eventing circuit.

The break has been a welcome one for the couple, whose lives revolve around the English eventing season that runs from March to October.

They both compete about three days a week and between the events, training and travel, "there is no real Monday to Friday - you've just got to keep going", said Richards.

Because they work and compete together, the couple are together 24 hours a day. They get some downtime over November and December and, come January, they are back getting the horses' fitness up in preparation for the season.

Richards has her first training session of the year with the New Zealand high performance team on January 31.

She said that riding eight to 10 horses a day keeps her fit but she supplements that with some circuit training and running, mostly for her own pleasure. Two weeks ago Richards ran her first half marathon.

She said the rest of her family is not sporty but attributes her mother, Lesley Richards, for instilling her "spirit and will and determination". That determination extended even to the beginning of her riding passion.

"I wanted a pony and my parents would not give in. I think I got a My Little Pony for seven straight years. I've got a collection of those somewhere. Eventually, Mum gave in and let me ride someone else's pony."

Richards rode three days a week for two years until her mother could see she was serious about the sport and by the age of 15, Richards had her own horse and "that's when my riding career started seriously", she said. By 16 she was riding for a Nelson/West Coast rep team.

Richards said it was only 18 months ago that she broke through to the top level of her sport, a move she attributes to "having the right horse at the right time" (Flintstar), an improved structure in the New Zealand team, support from Price and help from Mark Todd. " . . . Toddy was instrumental about 12 months out from the [Olympic] Games. He changed the way I thought about a few things and did a few things. I had to learn to accept second best out of [Flintstar's dressage] - accept that it was never going to be fantastic but could be really good.

"He's a New Zealand thoroughbred and he thinks he's built for galloping, not prancing."

The first Nelson athlete to win an Olympic medal in 24 years said her achievement had not really sunk in. "Obviously every person plays their part in the team so I don't really feel like it's mine."

Perhaps by the time Rio rolls around, she'll be able to claim it.

"In four years' time I'd like to think I could be a front runner for the team rather than snapping on the heels."

The Nelson Mail