Jock Paget - from bricklayer to Olympic rider
It's easy to understand why Jonathan 'Jock' Paget felt a tad uncomfortable when he entered the eventing game eight years ago.
A Kiwi who grew up in Sydney playing rugby league at high school and went on to do a bricklaying apprenticeship is far from your stereotypical equestrian rider, and the 28-year-old admits the transition from building walls to jumping them didn't come easily, certainly not at first.
"It was even random me for, and I was the one doing it," he reflects, with a laugh.
"There were times when I did stop and think and wonder 'what am I doing here?'. I was a bit embarrassed at the start. I used to go out of my way to not wear the traditional clothing, I'd ride in jeans all the time but it's quite hard doing this stuff in jeans, the seams rub your legs and knees and everything.
"But now, if I go into a shop in my kit, it doesn't bother me any more."
Nor should it. Paget is damn good at what he does, in fact his rise has been swift and he sits at No 14 in the FEI eventing world rankings, two spots behind the great Mark Todd.
He was a late starter to the game, taking it up in his late teens after completing a bricklaying apprenticeship in Sydney, though within two years he was riding at three-star level, a meteoric rise in eventing.
And eight years on he's preparing for his first Olympics, a near certainty to be one of the five riders named when the Kiwi eventing team is announced in early July, alongside idols such as Todd, Andrew Nicholson and Caroline Powell.
He reckons his late entry is an advantage over more experienced riders, many of whom have been riding since before he was born.
"I think I started at the right time. I'd just got an apprenticeship under my belt and I was ready to do something else. I had a very good boss and a good attitude, all I wanted to do was get good quickly and I had a very good trainer. He gave me a good horse and everything was pointing in the right direction.
"Starting at that age actually worked in my favour, because I was probably a lot braver than than if I had started when I was 10. Even now, I always feel like I'm behind the eight-ball, so it makes you work harder."
Paget was born in Wellsford but moved to Sydney with his parents when he was three. He lived there till he was 19, but when he finished his bricklaying apprenticeship he moved to Tamborine, Queensland, after getting a job as a working pupil with Kevin McNab.
He spent three years there, learning the trade, before moving to Sydney to set up his own business. However, an outbreak of equine influenza in 2007 meant he could not ride in Australia, and he was offered a job with Clifton Eventers in Muriwai.
He's been with them since, splitting time between his English base in Surrey and west Auckland for the past two years.
During that time he's had good results on his top horses, Clifton Promise and Clifton Lush, notably winning the Bramham International CIC*** event and finishing fifth at the four-star Burghley Horse Trials last year on Lush, while finishing seventh at the 2010 World Equestrian Games in Kentucky and being part of the silver medal winning NZ team at the World Equestrian Festival in Aachen, Germany, last year on Promise.
Closer to home, he was the eventer of the year at the NZ Horse of the Year Show in 2009 and 2010 - not bad for a bloke who didn't have anything to do with horses growing up, although they do run in the family.
This is naturally a big year for Paget, and he's putting in the hours, on and off the horses, so he's in peak shape.
As for which horse he'll take to London, if selected, he doesn't know yet, unlike most of his teammates.
He'll take Promise to Kentucky for the Rolex four-star event there later this month, while Lush will go to the prestigious four-star Badminton event the week after.
''Clifton Lush and Promise are probably on the same level, they're both very competitive at four-star level.
''I guess it will come down to who is going better at the right time. At the moment things are looking good but with horses things can change in a minute, so you never relax. You never feel like you've done enough.''
- © Fairfax NZ News