The Kiwi event rider tells Julie Harding about a surprise pregnancy, losing her focus and how she bounced back to win two CCI4* events less than a year after giving birth
FORGET STATUTORY maternity leave. Wiltshire-based New Zealand eventer Jonelle Price never contemplated having 52 weeks off work, nor even the ‘ordinary’ period of 26 weeks. She didn’t even get close. After giving birth to her first child, Otis, on 16 August 2017, Jonelle returned to the saddle only two weeks later despite having endured “a long and complicated birth”. Seven weeks after that, she flew to Pau in southern France (initially minus her new addition) and piloted the mare Faerie Dianimo into 10th place in the CCI4*, one of the toughest challenges in the equestrian world. (She was slightly disappointed and would have liked a top five, but felt a little “rusty”.) Following a “quiet” winter — that’s Jonelle’s assessment of quiet as opposed to many other new mothers’ — three months into 2018 and Jonelle was setting off to the first of many horse trials she planned to contest with a Liquorice Assortment of horses, ranging from youngsters to seasoned campaigners. At each event she would tackle the dressage phase (not particularly taxing for a new mother you could argue), the showjumping (slightly more demanding) and then the cross-country (a considerable equestrian workout that the majority of new mothers wouldn’t even contemplate). At Bicton in April, for example, she guided seven horses through the three phases over a single weekend.
Jonelle, though, like most elite riders, is made of tough stuff and invariably thinks beyond the one-day events to the bigger picture — those four-star CCIs, or eventing’s equivalent of Wimbledon. Among the entry forms she had filled in during her “quiet” winter was one for Badminton, arguably the greatest horse trials on the planet, where the solid cross-country fences are a towering 1.2m on average. Jonelle didn’t drive into the famous Gloucestershire park at the beginning of May thinking that she and Trisha Rickards’ 15-year-old mare Classic Moet would be also-rans in the 80-strong field, but, at the same time, she admits that she wouldn’t have seen herself as the odds-on favourite. And now, with a replica of the famous three-horse trophy sitting on the mantelpiece in her Marlborough home, having won continues to feel somewhat surreal. “It was a bit of a surprise,” she admits. “It wasn’t that I didn’t think I could do it, but you never think that it will be that particular day. Also, it came off the back of a quiet year last year and I didn’t know how long it would take to get back into the swing of things. I haven’t had time to take it in because we’ve been so busy. Maybe it will sink in in November when the eventing season is over. “It was maybe a relief to have finally nabbed a big one, but the focus is always on the next one and what you need to do to get better.” The next major event for Jonelle was another four-star CCI — Luhmühlen in Germany — riding another feisty female, Faerie Dianimo. She won that too. “I went there feeling a little more confident, and I thought that the mare had a fighting chance. She suffered from a few injuries after the Olympics, but at Luhmühlen she really felt back to business.”
At this particular competition, husband Tim, a top event rider himself and a previous winner of Luhmühlen CCI4* (in 2014),
“Physically the pregnancy was easy, but mentally it was difficult. For the first time in my life I didn’t have an immediate focus”
was left at home holding baby Otis, but he was already a seasoned pro at looking after his infant son. When Jonelle had flown to Pau the previous October, Tim had taken over the baby reins on that occasion as well. “At that point, Tim had hardly had Otis to himself, so it was an opportunity to have him on his own. People were surprised to hear I had left him at home with the baby, but he coped really well,” says Jonelle Pregnancy came as a shock to ambitious Jonelle. She felt below par in early 2017, but never considered what the reason might be. “I usually put on weight over Christmas, but in January I was struggling to lose it. I said to Tim, this weight just isn’t moving. We were on holiday in New Zealand and I also thought I had a virus.” “She wasn’t quite right and I told her to go to the doctors,” adds Tim. “I told the doctor that if I was a horse we would run bloods, so he gave me a blood test and it all came back fine,” adds Jonelle. “Nothing showed up and so I kept going, then I found out I was pregnant when I was four months. Physically the pregnancy was so easy, but mentally it was difficult and I think I drove people mad with my own frustration. For the first time in my life I didn’t have an immediate focus. There were no real goals or drive necessary to get there.” Despite the expansion of her waistline, Jonelle continued to school her most experienced horses every day at home. “She was getting bigger and bigger,” says Tim. “At one point she thought she was going
to ride at Badminton . She upped the dressage lessons, but when Isobel [Wessels, her dressage trainer] asked her if she was riding there, I shook my head. Jonelle was depressed for a day or two, then she was fine.”
Tim took over the majority of Jonelle’s horses, having to adapt to the small mares she prefers when his preference is generally a more imposing gelding. He also had his wife instructing him from the ground. “There were pros and cons to that because I’m so opinionated,” confesses Jonelle. “Tim got the truth the whole time, which has its pluses and minuses.” The Badminton winner admits that if Otis hadn’t happened “organically”, the couple probably wouldn’t have consciously thought about slotting a baby into their hectic lives. They’re currently campaigning 27 horses from their rented Mere Farm base and have welcomed the help of nanny Harriet Ashbridge, who’s on the same page in terms of loving horses. She also events at the lower levels. “If Otis hadn’t been sprung on us it may not have happened, and while we’re both very focused on our careers, we’re also very laid back and happy for things to happen naturally, although at first we were in denial and were so disorganised,” admits Jonelle. “We hadn’t bought a single thing and we’ve learned as we’ve gone along. If someone had held out a baby for us to take before Otis we would have run a mile.” Jonelle rode her three leading lights up to Otis’s due date, but as she was popping Faerie Dianimo over a couple of jumps the mare lit up like a firecracker. “Tim told me to get off straightaway. He was fine with me riding in general, but then on my due date he said, you’ve done enough.” “It just takes a rogue fall,” adds Tim. “It’s a long time since I gave up on having a conventional wife, but it would have been nice if she had ogled other babies, read baby books and made mobiles.” But Jonelle did make mobiles. “I made 10,” she interjects. “I can’t sew, though. I just stuck them together. Look.” She points at the one dangling from the ceiling in the sitting room of the couple’s tastefully refurbished thatched cottage that dates from 1600. They moved in last March.
Otis is now 11 months old. He’s currently exploring the concept of walking; there is plenty of chat, clapping and waving and he’s also talking his own language. “But I’m not sure what he’s saying,” laughs Jonelle. Despite her full diary, Jonelle planned in a week in New Zealand at the end of June to celebrate the 70th birthday of her father, Paul Richards. But a 23-hour flight to such a far-flung destination with a lively tot — even a welltravelled one who had a passport purchased for him aged two weeks — wasn’t easy. “Although he travelled well, 24 hours was a long time on the plane,” admits Jonelle. “We were only out there for a week, so we weren’t able to adjust to the time zone before we were on the way home again. It’s made the trips to horse trials in Europe with him seem like a doddle.” What a difference 12 months makes. This time last year, Tim and Jonelle, who is surely a shoe-in for New Zealand’s World Equestrian Games team, only had themselves, their careers and their horses to worry about, but over the winter Jonelle did occasionally wonder whether the birth of her first baby would affect her riding. “I don’t feel any different, that’s for sure. My mindset hasn’t changed and the objective was always to continue with my career, but ultimately Otis enhances our lives. We’ve made changes, but it’s business as usual. “As for winning Badminton and Luhmühlen, it’s hard to say why it’s happened now. If only you could put your finger on it you would be able to replicate it. Both mares have been knocking on the door for a long time and if you keep knocking, that door will eventually open.”
“Going back to riding is different for everyone. The key is to do what you feel comfortable doing”
It was an unexpected pregnancy, but Jonelle says Otis has enhanced her and husband Tim’s lives
The 16hh grey Faerie Dianimo (stable name Maggie May) is also owned by Trisha Rickards, who bred her by Keystone Dimaggio out of the former eventing mare Faerie Dazzler VII. Jonelle says Maggie is a real show-off and likes nothing better than to perform to an audience. She’s a bit of a fuss-pot when it comes to eating. “Faerie Dianimo is tougher than me and more determined. She knows how to dig deep. She’s something else. She should be called Dynamo.”
Jonelle took on Trisha Rickards’ Classic Moet (stable name Molly) as a 10-yearold. The daughter of Classic has contested seven four-star CCIs back to back and by winning Badminton in May she was giving Trisha her first four-star winner in 30 years of event horse ownership. The mare likes to do everything at top speed, according to Jonelle, including hacking and dressage. JONELLE’S LEADING LADIES