Christmas came early for Gisborne farmer Fraser Tombleson when he and his homebred mare Mea I topped a far more fancied field to take the honours in the fourth round of the FEI World Cup New Zealand League in Taupo this evening.
The 27-year-old was one of just two to go clear from 18 starters in the nation’s most prestigious series. He then held his nerve and guided his very special mare to victory.
“It hasn’t even sunk in yet,” he said. “I just can’t believe it. I am pretty happy” But he was quick to share the credit of the biggest win of his career. “It is a real team effort with mum and dad, my partner Jaime (Humphreys), and Merran (Hain), who has taken me under her wing a bit.”
It was only in October 2017 that the combination had their first start at 1.4m level, but then this grey mare has been a star from the start, winning the six-year-of-the year crown and finishing second in the seven-year-old series.
Nine-year-old Mea was bred by Fraser’s father Warrick, by One Eye out of Mia. Warrick rides the horse most of the time at home. “He keeps her very fit and in good shape.”
The dodgy weather in Taupo saw the second round of the World Cup changed slightly – instead of the two clear rounds going last, they went first. Tegan Fitzsimon (West Melton) and Windermere Cappuccino were out first, and rode a magnificent clear, stopping the clock at 52.1 seconds. Fraser knew he had to go “pretty speedy” – which he did, slicing corners and coming home clear in 50.33.
“The change in the class meant I was a little rushed but that was probably good as I had no time to get nervous. Watching Tegan I knew I had to go pretty speedy so I went as quick as I could without being silly. This is just her third World Cup start . . . I wasn’t even sure I would ever ride again, let alone do a World Cup.”
Fraser was a very successful young rider but didn’t compete for 10 years. “It was a bit of a fluke she was the one sitting in the paddock. She is the reason I am riding – as long as I do my bit, she does the rest. She is very easy to ride.”
Today he walked the course with former Olympian John Cottle, but he often does so with Merran Hain. “She talks me through a lot of stuff and gives me good advice,” he says of the equestrienne who is the only New Zealander to have represented the country in all three Olympic sports of dressage, eventing and showjumping. She is also a close family friend and has known Fraser his whole life.
Living in Gisborne means Fraser and his team clock plenty of miles during the showjumping season. “That’s just what you do when you live in Gisborne – you travel a long way to get anywhere.”
He’s unsure whether he will make the series final in mid-January, as he’s best man at a wedding just two days before. “This win has thrown a real spanner in the works!”
With a season that has already produced results beyond his wildest expectations he still has a lot to think about.
Today though, he and Mea were very popular winners at the National Equestrian Centre’s Taupo Christmas Classic.
Eighteen started the first round with just Fraser and Tegan notching clears, 11 combinations finishing on four faults and four on eight. The treble in the last proved problematic for many, along with the last fence which appeared a few times to be staying up, only to drop just as the crowd broke into applause.
With ‘inclement’ weather approaching, it was decided to run the two clear rounds ahead of the four-faulters. Taupo had received plenty of thunder and lightning earlier in the show and no one wanted that interruption for the prestigious class.
As it turned out, the weather held – just – for the class to be completed. The second round saw 9 of the 11 four-faulters add nothing to their tallies but the clock quickly sorted the final placings.
Unsurprisingly, Briar Burnett-Grant (Taupo) and Fiber Fresh Veroana, a combination known for their speed, stepped up to take third place with a cracking 48.85 second round. Tom Tarver (Kawerau) and his lovely grey gelding Popeye did their best but crossed the flags at 49.57 seconds – both riders had dropped the first of the treble in the opener. Fifth was filled by another flyer in Lily Tootill (Karaka) aboard Ulysses NZPH who would have been kicking herself for taking the last rail in the opening round but stopped the clock in the second round effort at 49.77.
Hawke’s Bay’s Tess Williams and Sinatra II in their first world cup start of the season took out sixth/. They too fell victim to the final line of the opening round with the last rail hitting the turf but made short work of the second round with their 54 second effort.
Course designer Gary Sinclair may have told the crowd the course “wasn’t huge”, but the wall was at the maximum of 1.6m in the second round. The ground, while “good enough” had called for him to make the odd adjustment.
The World Cup Series now moves to Dannevirke in the New Year before the grand final in Auckland on January 13.
Results – FEI World Cup New Zealand League: Fraser Tombleson (Gisborne) Mea I 1, Tegan Fitzsimon (West Melton) Windermere Cappuccino 2, Briar Burnett-Grant (Taupo) Fiber Fresh Veroana 3, Tom Tarver (Kawerau) Popeye 4, Lily Tootill (Karaka) Ulysses NZPH 5, Tess Williams (Hawke’s Bay) Sinatra II 6.