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
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
‘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