Challenging first year for Waikato equestrian

FRED WOODCOCK
Last updated 10:12 07/12/2012

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In April last year, Lizzie Brown packed up her life in New Zealand and moved to England to chase her dream of being a professional three-day event rider and attempt to follow in the footsteps of fellow Cambridge products Mark Todd and Andrew Nicholson.

It was a daunting move for the then 23-year-old; she wasn't just leaving home but setting up a business on the other side of the world and trying to be successful in a hugely competitive and expensive sport.

It has been "quite a challenge" but 18 months on and she feels much more comfortable.

"It was a huge move for me," she said.

"When I finished uni (with a Bachelor of Business Management degree from Waikato University in 2010) I had a couple of horses which were going quite well so I thought it was a good time to go over to the UK. 

That was the next step for me, starting a career as an event rider."

Of course, not everything immediately fell into place.

"When I made the decision to go I had to sell a lot of my horses here and I just ended up taking one, so the last two years have been about rebuilding, getting in some young horses and learning about how it all works over there, because it does take a bit of time to find your feet.

"And it's really hard financially; it's always on your mind. Horses are not cheap to run and you've got to have good horses if you want to be competitive. You have to sell horses along the way, and rely on owners and sponsors to get by. I've been lucky, I've had a few good breaks, but I'm always looking for new owners and more support."

Her top horse, Henton Attorney General, didn't travel well to England so had some "pretty rubbish results" but he's enjoyed a big break in the off-season and Brown expects him to be stronger next year.

At the moment he's just a three-star horse but she'd "love to do a four-star on him" and she now has another young horse, Playtime, in her yard at Milton Stud near Marlborough, whom she rates a good prospect.

"I've learnt heaps and I feel like from next year onwards I've got some good horses and I can really start thinking about getting some good results."

The plan is to get both horses performing consistently next year so they can develop into contenders for the New Zealand team at the 2014 world championships, and then the 2016 Rio Olympics.

She's been lucky in that Wiltshire is essentially "Kiwi territory" with Nicholson and Todd in nearby yards. The old hands are "extremely generous" with advice and Brown trains with the New Zealand team under national coach Eric Duvander when they get together - she one of the younger brigade that includes the likes of Jock Paget, Clarke Johnstone, Jonelle Richards and Lucy Jackson.

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"I'm really lucky to be part of that programme," she said. "I've had lots of support from New Zealand financially as well as through coaching and it's amazing having those riders over there close to where I live. I see a lot of them.

"I didn't think Andrew and Mark would still be in the sport - which sounds really bad, they're getting on now - but they're still the best in the world and they're very generous with advice and help. The team culture among the Kiwis is quite special."

Brown is enjoying time back home, away from intense competition and the "financial stress", before returning to the UK next month.

She is doing some coaching and will compete at the Puhinui Horse Trials in South Auckland this weekend.

The CCI three-star event is as big as it gets in New Zealand - and in the southern hemisphere is only topped by the four-star Adelaide event - but Brown, who won the headline class in 2010, is just riding in the pre-novice class on a young horse called Princeton that she wants to take back to England.

There are 12 entries in the CCI three-star, including Super League leader Donna Smith (Te Kauwhata), defending champion Christen Hayde (Pukekohe), and Amberley's Annabel Wigley.

- Fairfax Media

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