There’s a saying, ‘the man at the top of the hill didn’t fall there.’
To some that’ll sound like a bit of a weird saying, but to me it’s had quite an impact.
To me it refers to the hard work and dedication it takes to reach the top and that most people don’t just land in fantastic situations by luck alone.
Over the last few years I’ve reflected on that saying quite a lot. It’s been a saying, maybe even a motto, that’s kept both me and Jonelle going. Especially over those long cold winter days here in the UK, when many of our family and friends were back in New Zealand enjoying their summers.
But if we hadn’t come to the UK, then quite possibly none of this would have been possible.
At the time shifting to the UK was a big decision. I was enjoying life in Canterbury. I was surrounded by my mates and family. I was having fun breaking and schooling youngsters. And it wasn’t until my late 20s that I made the decision to up the ante and give riding and competing a proper crack.
As it turns out making the decision was probably the easy part; transferring that decision into reality was a real slog. We struggled; we probably didn’t realise quite how much of a struggle it would be. And perhaps if we were to do it all again, we might warn ourselves of some of the difficulties that lay ahead.
Having the right team behind you is critical in this sport and by that, I mean as much the people who own the horse as the staff you need to employ. They’re the ones who have ultimate faith in you, your abilities and they’re the ones that pay the bills each month.
It took years to build the amazing team we have today. A team that has ultimate trust in us and the way in which we do things. Without them you, like we did, often resort to riding and owning horses that ultimately aren’t the types of horses that will help you win a 5* event or an Olympic medal, just so you can pay the bills.
Owning and running many of the horses we did when we first arrived absolutely stripped us.
We were broke. Living fuel tank to fuel tank and feeding ourselves last, it really was quite like that at the time. I remember one time we’d just gotten some money in to get to an event the next day. After paying for entries and fuel for the truck, we went to ASDA, a local supermarket here in the UK with the remaining 20 quid and brought what we could. Everything after that 20 quid we had to leave on the countertop. It really was that tight.
But as tough as that was, I look back on those times as a really good learning experience for us. To come from that really got us thinking about the reasons why we were here.
It kept building the fight in ourselves and created a sense of determination to achieve the things we set out to do. And we soon realised that we didn’t just want to be training and selling horses for other people to benefit from, we wanted to win ourselves at the top level. So, in a way, I’m grateful for those tough times that helped keep that vision clear.
It took us a while to get ourselves in a position to mount a proper fight for the top. It was about five years into our time here in the UK, we made a couple of adjustments and made it clear to all of our supporters and owners of our intentions. ‘If you’re with us we want you in for the long haul and with good horses and the view to winning at the top.’
I was a little hesitant at first and possibly even worried that signalling our intentions might scare a few people off, but to my pleasant surprise people just wanted to get behind us. I don’t think anyone walked away at that point and on we went with fine tuning our job.
The rewards of those tough times and tough decisions are now bearing fruit and I’m really looking forward to the things we can achieve in the coming years.
Images: Jane Thompson