in­ter­view New Zealand event rider Jonelle Price

The Kiwi even­ter talks to Lucy Hig­gin­son about jug­gling first-time mother­hood with horses — and her se­cret to keep­ing the show on the road

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JONELLE PRICE’S son Otis, who is in the next-door room when we meet, may be only five months old but the 37-year-old’s mis­sion for Septem­ber’s World Eques­trian Games is clear: not just to make the New Zealand team, but “to de­liver the goods”. Mak­ing life that bit more com­pli­cated is the fact her hus­band Tim is also odds-on to make the team — and Otis’ grand­par­ents all live on the other side of the world.

“This is cer­tainly a big year,” agrees Jonelle, a team bronze medal­list at Lon­don 2012. “The past six years have been pretty dis­ap­point­ing as a team. In­di­vid­u­ally we’ve had fan­tas­tic re­sults, yet we’ve failed when it mat­ters at cham­pi­onships. It’s haunt­ing us a bit, and we’re un­der pres­sure to de­liver.

“My ul­ti­mate dream is a team gold medal. Plus, I’m des­per­ate for Toddy [Mark Todd] to win a team gold be­fore he re­tires, and we’re run­ning out of chances. We’re a small but mighty group from New Zealand and we gen­uinely are great mates. To do that with your friends and your hus­band would be the ul­ti­mate [dream].”

THAT Jonelle has this goal and the re­solve to meet it will sur­prise no one who has watched her across coun­try. She never gives less than 100%, and rarely puts a foot wrong while nail­ing bril­liant times. It’s this flair and feel that have taken her from a non-horsey back­ground all the way to the Olympic podium.

Preg­nancy and birth hardly broke her

stride — “I rode two to three horses a day right up to Otis be­ing born” — and she was back com­pet­ing in a month. Yet the Prices have been up­front about the fact that Otis’ ar­rival was a wel­come sur­prise.

“Never in a mil­lion years did I think we would have a baby in 2017,” laughs Jonelle.

“But if it didn’t hap­pen then, pos­si­bly it would not have hap­pened. The time when we should have been think­ing about a fam­ily, our ca­reers had just started to gather mo­men­tum. I’d def­i­nitely been drag­ging my feet about it.”

While Jonelle found preg­nancy easy — “Bad­minton came round and I re­ally felt like I could have been there rid­ing” — men­tally it was tougher.

“It was the first time in my life that I had no fo­cus and drive,” she says. “Plus I’m a con­trol freak so hand­ing over the horses was hard.”

Hav­ing “be­gun to drive Tim bonkers”, she started work­ing twice a week with a per­sonal trainer to main­tain fit­ness while Tim took on five of her rides.

“We were lucky,” she ac­knowl­edges. “So many women have to out­source dur­ing preg­nancy which is hard on busi­ness — and dan­ger­ous [in case horses don’t come back].”

Jonelle’s mini-sea­son cul­mi­nated with Faerie Dian­imo at Pau, where they came 10th, a re­sult she found dis­ap­point­ing but still gave her “a lot of pos­i­tives to take away”.

Key to Jonelle’s 2018 am­bi­tions — and no doubt her best Christ­mas present — is Har­riet, Otis’ new nanny. She will now ac­com­pany the fam­ily for a month on the Span­ish Sun­shine Tour. This trip to the five-week in­ter­na­tional showjump­ing event is some­thing Jonelle first did on her own be­fore Rio.

“It was the phase I thought I could im­prove the most,” she ex­plains, “and I want my horses to feel a bit ‘overqual­i­fied’ when it comes to the last day of Bad­minton or Burgh­ley.”

It’s all part of the Prices’ con­stant quest for im­prove­ment, as is some proper down­time over the win­ter rather than zoom­ing round the world giv­ing clin­ics, so they’re both rar­ing to go for the new sea­son.

AMONTH over­seas might not suit ev­ery nanny, but Har­riet, hap­pily, is horsey, and the plan is for her and Otis to come to many events “or we’d never see him”.

“When we ad­ver­tise any job we say: ‘There are no set hours. We are your life and we want you to be part of ours’,” ex­plains Jonelle. “When there’s work to do, we work, and when there’s not, we rest. We work on a give-and-take ba­sis and like to think we help them in re­turn.”

If this might make an HR depart­ment flinch it cer­tainly works for the Prices, who en­joy very low staff turnover.

But then few cou­ples are as much fun to be around as Tim and Jonelle. Tim long ago marked him­self as a re­porter’s favourite with his comic quotes and he doesn’t let me down this time: “I don’t know who he looks like,” I muse, ad­mir­ing Otis. “The far­rier…?” he teases.

Even jug­gling the baby with calls to de­liv­ery men who’ve just dropped off the wrong sofa, there is hu­mour in the air and they seem a truly happy team. Tim and Jonelle have been to­gether for 17 years, mar­ried for five and built a busi­ness from noth­ing af­ter ar­riv­ing here 13 years ago, al­beit at a slightly slower rate than ex­pected.

“Be­ing for­eign, it’s def­i­nitely harder,”

Jonelle says. “We don’t have young riders and ju­niors in New Zealand, or a net­work of par­ents’ friends and so on. At one stage we had about 12 horses and owned them all. Now we prob­a­bly have 25 and own two.”

Al­most all of them are out ev­ery night in small groups in large pad­docks.

“We en­cour­age horses to be horses,” says Jonelle. “We hack them a lot and give them a good seven-week hol­i­day with their shoes off. There are def­i­nitely el­e­ments of New Zealand in us, for sure.”

Their Wilt­shire base fits their style of horse­care so well that they have no im­me­di­ate plans to look for their own yard.

“We love Mere Farm,” stresses Jonelle. “Tim and Melissa Brown [its own­ers] have been in­stru­men­tal to our sur­vival in this coun­try, and hav­ing 120 acres is very im­por­tant to us.”

In­stead they have bought them­selves a post­card-pretty thatched cot­tage in Marl­bor­ough, “so we felt we had some­thing”.

Fate has de­creed that most of Jonelle’s rides are mares, which is not with­out irony.

“Be­fore Faerie Dian­imo, I didn’t ride or buy mares; the per­cep­tion back then was that they were harder to man­age. By chance I ended up with a cou­ple that have be­come very good — and dis­cov­ered that I love them. Now I have only three geld­ings. Small, feisty mares are right up my street,” she laughs. “They chal­lenge me — they are so bloody de­ter­mined. We’re a good match.”

‘The time when we should have been think­ing about a fam­ily, our ca­reers had just started to gather mo­men­tum. I’d def­i­nitely been drag­ging my feet

about it’

‘My ul­ti­mate dream is a team gold medal’: Kiwi even­ter Jonelle Price, pic­tured with promis­ing nine-year-old Coo­ley Show­time, states her mis­sion for the 2018 World Eques­trian Games

Jonelle and Tim ad­mit that five-month-old Otis was a wel­come sur­prise: ‘If it hadn’t hap­pened then, it might never have hap­pened at all’

Jonelle rid­ing Faerie Dian­imo at Pau CCI4* in 2014. ‘Small feisty

mares’ are right up her street

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