From an Australian team perspective, this year’s FEI World Championships didn’t go as planned; unfortunately, that’s eventing. However, it was exciting to see two Australian off-the-track Thoroughbreds (OTT) competing on the world stage – and they certainly did their country proud.
HAZEL SHANNON & WILLINGAPARK CLIFFORD
For Hazel Shannon, 30, and 17-year-old WillingaPark Clifford (Passing Shot x Twin Pearls, by Double Income), an Australian team berth was a long time coming and well deserved. They started out with a solid dressage score of 30.3 and were clear on cross country with just 11.2 time faults.
“Clifford handled the cross country course very well. He cooled down quickly and pulled up very well. The time penalties weren’t from exhaustion; the twisting and turning down the side of a hill is where I lost time,” explains Hazel of the course. “Clifford loves his job and his enthusiasm can sometimes slow us down.
“My first priority was always to go clear. The use of the terrain was different to anything I had ridden at. The majority of the questions on course weren’t abnormal but the way they were placed is what added the extra difficulty. It is probably something that was hard to see and appreciate on the live stream. I felt like it required more organisation and balance to jump safely.”
Watching along, spectators all wanted to know how the “slide” rode; Hazel explains that it looked scarier than it was. “The slide rode well for me. It felt simple on Clifford. At the end of the day it did cause a fair amount of problems to good horses and riders though.”
Unfortunately, a very tough show jumping course – some say the most difficult they’ve seen at a World Championship – saw the duo accumulate more penalties than they would have hoped, finishing on a total of 61.5. Still, 39th from nearly 90 competitors on debut at a World Championships was an outstanding effort.
Having competed at the likes of Kentucky and Pau CCI5*, Hazel explains that the atmosphere on the final day wasn’t hugely different to what she’s experienced before – but the course was. “I think the show jump course was really tough and added to the intensity on the final day. Clifford does feel the atmosphere, but he doesn’t normally have that many faults.”
Hazel says she feels very lucky to have ridden for Australia at a World Championships; ever the competitor, she would have loved a better result but says that just makes her want to do it again and do it better next time.
Clifford’s story is, of course, well documented. Bred by Sue Devereux in Tasmania, he was broken in and trialled (under the name Side Spin) by Sue and her sister Wendy – apparently, he had no desire to be a racehorse. “It’s funny, because he has so much desire to gallop now!” laughs Hazel.