Jonelle Price

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

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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 [2017]. 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

Y M A L A / E C N A I L L A E R U T C I P A P D : O T O H P

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.”

Y M A L A / E G D I R E T T E B D I V A D : O T O H P

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

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