Pottinger pining for Paris with Kiwi thoroughbred

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  • December 20, 2023
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By Joshua Smith, LOVERACING.NZ News Desk

As one door closes, another opens, and that is the case for leading New Zealand eventer Amanda Pottinger.

The Kiwi horsewoman recently called time on the eventing career of her star thoroughbred Just Kidding, who took Pottinger to the lofty heights of competing at some of the most iconic competitions in the world, including the Badminton Horse Trials and the 2022 World Championships in Pratoni, Italy.

By Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus, Just Kidding was initially destined for a career on the racetrack and was sold out of Curraghmore’s 2008 New Zealand Bloodstock Premier Yearling Sale draft for $110,000.

He joined trainer John Sargent’s Matamata barn for whom he raced as Sun Of God and had three raceday starts, however, it soon became apparent that his racing career was limited when finishing last in two of those outings.

He subsequently entered the care of former jockey Darryn Weatherley, who was working for Sargeant at the time, and it was through that connection that Pottinger first came about the diminutive gelding.

“He came from Darryn and Lou Weatherley and they have a small family run business,” Pottinger said.

“We had a horse off them before through John Sargent, who Darryn used to work for. John found us a horse that was owned by Darryn and Lou at the time and that was how the relationship started with Darryn and Lou.

“One day we were driving past and called in to see them. They had Ferg (Just Kidding) there in the paddock.

“He was very naughty the day we looked at him but it was just his type and movement that I liked about him, but he was tiny – he was like a pony.

“Darryn wasn’t letting him go very easily because he was used as the babysitter to take the younger horses to the track. They knew he wasn’t a very good racehorse at that point, but he was a bit of a pet for them.”

Pottinger’s tenacity paid off and she took the then five-year-old home. It would prove to be one of the best decisions of Pottineger’s life, with the gelding going on to help launch her riding career onto the world stage.

“He has completely made my career. He has taken me all around the world and competed at the highest level of the sport,” Pottinger said.

“Finishing second in the five-star in Adelaide on our debut was a real highlight, as was completing Badminton. Being on a small thoroughbred from New Zealand was pretty unheard of at the time.

“We were in the top 10 after dressage on the first day. I think I was seventh equal with Oliver Townend, who was world number one at the time, that was a big thrill.

“A Badminton to us is like a Wimbledon for tennis. They are the Grand Slams of our sport. He has also taken me to the World Championships to represent my country. He has well exceeded all expectations.”

While the curtain has come down on Just Kidding’s eventing career, Pottinger is excited about the prospects of another thoroughbred in her care that she hopes will take her to the Paris Olympics next year.

“I have another horse, Good Timing, that is still in the UK,” Pottinger said. “He is campaigning for the Paris Olympics in six months time. I head back to England at the end of January and that is 100 percent our goal to get to Paris.

“He is only a 12-year-old. He was born and bred in New Zealand by Stan (Alexander) and Gail Temperton, who just live down the road from me now. They bred him and then sold him as a racehorse, but they have bought back into him in a syndicate to carry on his journey as an event horse.

“He is a phenomenal horse who hit the English eventing scene at the beginning of last year and is now full steam ahead campaigning for Paris.

“For me, Badminton was amazing and the World Championships was the next step, but the Olympics is definitely at the top of the list.”

Thoroughbreds have been a big part of Pottinger’s life and she is enjoying representing the breed at elite-level in eventing.

“I am a massive fan of thoroughbreds,” she said. “They are not all I have had, but they are all I had at a younger age because they were all that I could afford.

“Now having them at the top of the sport and comparing them to some of the other bred horses, I certainly haven’t changed my opinion on them, even 10 years later and going all around the world.

“They are such a great animal to be sitting on at that upper end of the sport. Their endurance and galloping really comes to play.

“You never get worried that you are going to run out of steam at the end. When you are still able to accelerate in the last few minutes, that is a feeling that is a luxury at that level because endurance is massive.

“To still have something that is able to accelerate and still be ears pricked and wanting to do the job is an unbelievable feeling.”

Pottinger has also enjoyed being a Welfare Ambassador for New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing over the last few years, and enjoys educating people about life after racing for thoroughbreds and their capability as eventing horses.

“I started with NZTR a couple of years back. They sponsor prizes in eventing, dressage and showjumping. I was a big fan of it and wrote them to thank them for it and that is how the relationship started,” she said.

“I think it is massively important for people to see the journey of post-racing and there are other uses in the ability for horses to change disciplines. The versatility of the thoroughbred is amazing.

“I promote the life after racing to show that they can be used in other disciplines and right at the top of that discipline.

“It’s also about educating people about how to re-train these horses. Even though you do get them after racing at a young age, there is a part of it that is re-training, not just training. I am really trying to promote that actually with the right tools and right education, it is easier than what people have a perception of it being.

“I am really big on trying to get people to get those skills to help get the best of the thoroughbred, even though it would have already had a racing career.”

Pottinger currently splits her time between England and New Zealand, but said she is set to make a permanent move back home to New Zealand following the Olympics next year.

“My fiancé lives in New Zealand and has a business here. We are juggling life on both sides of the world, which takes a great deal of commitment,” Pottinger said.

“He is amazingly supportive of what I do, so I come back to New Zealand and try to support him in what he does.

“I am fortunate that while I am in New Zealand I can still run a business by training and coaching people with their horses.

“I can only split it to a couple of months here before I have to go back there (England) to get back on the horse and training.

“This coming year with the Olympics, I need to get back there pretty soon, but after the Olympics we have made the call that I will be moving back to base myself permanently in New Zealand for the future of my career.”

Pottinger is hoping that her full-time presence back in her homeland will help spur on the next generation of eventing riders in New Zealand.

“What tends to happen with our sport is that you get a big influx going to the UK, which is the natural progression because of Badminton, Burghley and those events. There is only a small contingent (of elite riders) now based back in New Zealand, so what that looks like when I move back is a little uncertain at the moment.

“I think you need to have the people in the UK competing against the best in the world and you also need top riders back here promoting the sport and up the game of the next generation.” – LOVERACING.NZ News Desk

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