Team New Zealand are setting themselves up to be strong contenders for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games next year, and results at Millstreet this weekend further reinforced that. An experienced quartet led from start to finish at the Irish event, to leave them on an impressive final score of 114.6. This is one of the best team finishing scores seen in this popular eight-leg series in recent years, perhaps unsurprising given World number one and two riders Tim and Jonelle Price made up half of the team. They were joined by the experienced Clarke Johnstone and rising star, Samantha Lissington. Team Belgium were runners-up on 131.9, while Ireland delighted their home crowd by finishing third in what was a fierce competition.

The cross-country course proved the make-or-break of many combinations and teams and making the time was suitably challenging, with no riders finishing inside it. Tim Price won the class overall on Falco, the horse that also gave him an individual and team bronze in Pratoni. His wife Jonelle also played her part on the ‘pocket rocket’ McClaren. The Prices, joined by Clarke Johnstone, were all members of the bronze-medal winning team at last year’s FEI Eventing World Championship in Pratoni del Vivaro (ITA). All three riders were mounted on experienced horses who continued their reliable form by jumping double clears in the stadium and cross-country phases. They were joined by Samantha Lissington, who was the drop score after picking up 20 penalties for a refusal on the cross-country phase.

Chef d’equipe of the New Zealand Team is former Olympic eventing rider Sam Griffiths, who summed up the result. “We are really proud of their performance. Because New Zealand doesn’t have the equivalent of a European Championship, we decided that we wanted to target a couple of Nations Cups, of which Millstreet is one, so we sent a strong contingent. It’s really good to bring the group together and practice what we need to do. We will also be hoping to do well at Aachen. It’s always really good to target an event and then deliver a really good result at that event, so we are really pleased.”

Riders were full of praise for the event and cross-country phase which was designed by Mike Etherington-Smith. “One of the reasons why we targeted Millstreet is that we know how beautiful the venue is. The Duggan family takes amazing care of it. We love Mike Etherington-Smith’s courses. They are always beautifully presented and even with the going being fast, time was incredibly difficult even with experienced combinations going pretty much as fast as they could,” said Griffiths

Tim Price was delighted with his horse Falco, a 14-year-old Hannovarian gelding.

“Falco is a cracking horse; he’s established now and his intelligence is being used for the good of everyone. I was really proud of him, he’s such a cool wee horse.

“We took this seriously because the New Zealand team were using Millstreet as a marker point for the powers that be back at home. It was important that we delivered a decent result and showed that we were on track this year and through to Paris, so we treated it as such and all brought good horses onto the team. The time was very tight [on the cross-country] so it felt like a proper test.”

The Kiwis have had mixed success at major team championships in recent years, but Griffiths believes they have a great and long-lasting future ahead, with Millstreet highlighting that. “We had incredibly strong performances from Clarke Johstone and Jonelle, so we were really solid. We are really starting to grow some strength and depth. At Millstreet we had 19 combinations competing and, for a country that is on the other side of the world, that shows it is really developing.”

The Belgian team, who finished in second place, also delivered some solid jumping performances. Tine Magnus, Belgian team member spoke for the team: “We’re going for the Olympic qualification, so we’ll be off to Strzegom next – and we’re going to win! Millstreet is a wonderful place. The cross-country was great to ride; we’re not used to such lovely big galloping tracks.”

FEI Eventing Director Catrin Norinder was also present at the event, and said: “We’d like to thank Millstreet and the Duggan family for putting on such a great FEI Eventing Nations Cup™. The surroundings and cross-country course are amazing. It was truly competitive and a unique opportunity to get so many nations together.”

This FEI Eventing Nations Cup™ series is of particular significance to some nations this year, as the highest-placed team according to the final team classification of the 2023 Series, excluding teams/NOCs already qualified, will be allocated a place for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.

This was the third leg of the Series which will now move to Strzegom (POL) which runs from 21-25 June. The Belgians lead the Nations Cup Series at this early stage, with 270 points scored, after winning the opening event in Montelibretti last month to add to their second place today.


Australia and China secure Olympic Eventing qualification

Eventers from Australia and The People’s Republic of China were suitably euphoric after claiming the two Olympic places up for grabs at Millstreet this weekend. Australia were the decisive overall winners of the CCIO3*-L FEI Eventing Designated Qualifier for Groups F and G on a score of 100.8, while China made history by qualifying for a team spot in second place on 122.1.

British-based Alex Hua Tian (fourth individually on Chicko) first rode at the Olympics in 2008 but, until now, he has been China’s sole representative. They finished a painfully narrow margin ahead of Japan who were heart-broken to finish third on 125.7, and missing out on qualification.

Indeed, Millstreet in Co Cork took on extra significance this year when it played host to six teams in the CCIO3*-L Qualifier, which was one of the final chances to qualify for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games for Groups F and G which consists of nations in Africa, the Middle East, South-East Asia and Oceania.

Six nations contested the crucial qualifying event: Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand, South Africa and Morocco. Australia, who have had an illustrious Eventing record over decades, as well as multiple team gold medals, had so far not qualified for the Paris Olympic Games in 2024. They took no chances, fielding the Tokyo silver medal trio of Andrew Hoy, Shane Rose and Millstreet regular Kevin McNab. Although it was the 27 year old Shenae Lowings who ruled the roost this weekend by leading the class from the start.

Finishing on a Dressage score of 24.9, Lowings rode one of the fastest cross-country times of the day, on the former racehorse Bold Venture. This talented combination made their first major appearance for the Australian team at the World Championships in Pratoni del Vivaro, last year. “Paris, here we come!” she declared on completion of the event.

“This has been the plan for a long time, so to do the job here is great, and means that we can now work towards Paris and maybe going one better than in Tokyo,” explained 2021 team silver medallist Shane Rose, who had flown all the way from Australia to help the national effort.

The People’s Republic of China were visibly thrilled with their performance and qualification. They fielded a team of four athletes who rode some strong Jumping and cross-country rounds against combinations who had previously competed at Olympic Games and World Championships.

Hua Tian was joined by Huadong Sun (eighth) and Yingfeng Bao (ninth) who are both based in the Netherlands with trainer Martin Lips. Whilst Ruiji Liang (17th) divides his time between Belgium and China and is chiefly a Jumping athlete. “It’s worth saying just how much of a sacrifice they have all made, leaving their families behind to represent their country in Eventing,” said Alex.

The New Zealand Team were also competing with some of their less experienced horses as they had already qualified for Paris in Pratoni last year, but their Chef d’Equipe Sam Griffiths summed up this pivotal competition for other nations:

“I’ve actually just bumped into the Chinese team who got their spot and they are absolutely over the moon. The Australians fielded an incredibly strong team. The course was strong enough and time played quite an issue. It ended up being a really good competition. The Australians were a bit ahead, but between the Japanese and the Chinese, it came right down to the Jumping, making it a really exciting competition to watch. Japan is a really strong nation so that was a really big ‘upstep’ that China qualified in front of Japan.”

There are 16 team slots on offer for Eventing at Paris 2024, including one for host nation France. There will be serious competition for the remaining five Olympic team places, with Australia and China now taking the tenth and eleventh slot. Germany (2022 world champions at Herning), the USA, New Zealand, and Great Britain (2020 Tokyo champions), as well as Ireland, Sweden and Switzerland all secured their places as the highest ranked teams at the 2022 FEI Eventing World Championship at Pratoni del Vivaro (ITA), whilst Team Poland took the only qualifying spot in Group C FEI Designated Olympic Qualifier at Baborówko (POL).

The FEI Eventing European Championship at Pin au Haras, France this August and the 2023 Pan American Games at Santiago, Chile in October will provide further chances for nations to qualify. The last chance to earn a single Team slot to Paris 2024 will be the FEI Eventing Nations Cup™ Series, which wraps up at Boekelo in the Netherlands in October.

All is not lost for athletes whose teams don’t ultimately qualify to compete at the Château de Versailles next year.

In addition to the 16 Team spots (48 athletes), there are 17 Individual quota places to be allocated across multiple Olympic groups. Final places will be determined in 2024 and will be announced by the FEI once they have been confirmed.

Results here.