By ROBIN MARSHALL
Any thoughts of easing gently into retirement have bypassed Glentui’s Philip Graham, who at 63 is preparing to take his horse to the United States to compete in a 160km endurance event.
Philip and his horse, Sefton-bred Rosewood Bashir, are one of just two Kiwi combinations selected to represent New Zealand at September’s World Equestrian Games in North Carolina. The other is Jenny Champion from Masterton, riding the 20-year-old Barack Obama.
Endurance is a sport in which riders compete over 160km in a day. The best in the sport can do it in well under 12 hours.
The Games are held every four years. New Zealand is also sending showjumpers and eventers, with the latter likely to include riding legend Mark Todd, 62, and Badminton winner Jonelle Price, who once lived in Oxford.
Philip last represented New Zealand at the Games in 2006 in Germany, and a return to the world stage has always been at the back of his mind.
Philip gives no indication of easing off. “We won’t be running this race and coming home to retire,” he says.
“It’s just a matter of horses fitting in at the right place at the right time, and doing what they’re supposed to do. It’s always been out there as a goal. I guess this time it all fell into place.
“Horses being horses, they don’t always fit in at the right time.”
Rosewood Bashir, known as Benny at home, is back in work after taking a break after his 120km run at the New Zealand Nationals in Springfield a few weeks ago. In 2016, the combination won New Zealand’s national 160km title.
“We’re starting to get back into it and everything’s going well. We had a bit of a slow start to the season; I fell off and cracked some ribs way back in October, so that took a little longer to heal than normal. We came through the nationals well so that was a big plus.”
Philip said he was starting to put together a training plan for the next three months; no easy task for the depths of winter.
Some of the training will be done on his beef cattle farm at Glentui, but there is also a lot of travelling involved.
“Training for us is a challenge. We tend to have to float out to training; some of it is quite close, other places a little further. We’ll be looking to do that at least three times a week now. It’s a bit of a commitment training-wise from where we are now.”
At this stage there are no formal events or trials for the pair before departing for the US. “It’ll be something we’ll have to do on our own, but we’ll certainly be doing rides between now and then and doing a fairly good test ride just with ourselves.”
Philip would also work in with local clubs where possible.
Philip bought Benny, now rising 15, as a foal from his breeder, Helen Chambers, of Rosewood Stud in Sefton.
Helen, who breeds Arabian performance horses, is thrilled to have bred a horse bound for the world stage. “It’s so exciting to have something going overseas to compete at the World Games for New Zealand. It’s just amazing.”
Benny, she says, is bred specifically for endurance.
She is quick to credit Philip for his work in bringing Benny to this level.
“I only bred him, but Philip has done all this amazing work with him since, and he’s done it right. If he’d pushed him too hard at the start he could have broken him.
“He’s helped him fulfil his potential.
“We’re very excited and hope the New Zealanders go well. We’ll be watching, glued to a computer screen.”
Early indications suggest the track in North Carolina will be classed as a “technical” ride rather than an all-out speed race.
A recent 120km test event at the venue had horse speeds of around 15kmh.
It is estimated that the return trip could cost up to $80,000, but there is no way Philip is leaving his horse behind, as some riders have done in previous years.
Fundraising plans on a local level were starting to be put together.
Benny will be travelling “economy class”, flying out of Christchurch, on to Sydney, through Singapore, then Anchorage, Alaska, before flying on to New York, where the remainder of the journey is likely to be by road.
Philip and Benny will have about three weeks to get used to conditions at the Games venue, the Tryon Equestrian Center, before the endurance event starts on September 13.