Wendi Williamson Seeks “Best” Journey for Dejavu from New Zealand to Omaha World Cup
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By KENNETH J. BRADDICK
Wendi Williamson and Dejavu MH, the first New Zealand combination to earn a start at a World Cup Final are struggling to work out arrangements to minimize stress on the horse for the trip from New Zealand to Omaha that would be the longest in the 32-year history of the dressage championship.
Little can be done to shorten the days long journey despite efforts by Wendi and her family, friends and supporters, New Zealand’s equestrian federation, the Omaha organizers and spontaneous offers of help from riders such as America’s Steffen Peters.
Since winning the Pacific/Asia League in early February for a start at the Final in Omaha Mar. 27-April 2, the 45-year-old rider who has never competed outside New Zealand or nearby Australia has dealt with all the permutations of getting to the American Midwest.
Dejavu, in his second year at Grand Prix, is the first horse she has trained to Big Tour. She worked with Charlotte Dujardin during the Olympic dual gold medal rider’s visit Down Under before the league final in what she thought was a step toward looking to compete at the World Games in Tryon, North Carolina next year.
The options for the journey to the World Cup are, as labeled by a NZ official, “horrendous.”
Flights from Auckland through Singapore and Hong Kong, across the Pacific to Alaska and then to Los Angeles and then on to Omaha. Or the other way through Asia to Europe and then across the Atlantic. Add quarantine on the way home.
To help out, Steffen Peters, the 2009 World Cup champion on Ravel and likely to be invited this year with Rosamunde, offered to put up Dejavu in his San Diego, California center and provide training. The two would split the cost of flying the horses from the Los Angeles area to Omaha.
The journey, Wendi told dressage-news.com Monday, “is still up in the air.”
But if she decides to go the horse will leave next week for Amsterdam to meet up with the flight carrying both dressage and jumper horses to the Finals. She will return to Amsterdam to stay in Europe for a couple of months with the hope of doing two more shows there.
Most of the travel tab will be picked up by the Omaha organizers, a recent change in dressage World Cups where previously transportation costs were paid only for Europeans or travel within Europe when the Finals were held there.
For Wendi and Dejavu, a 12-year-old gelding (De Niro x Anamour) bred in New Zealand by Matthews Hanoverians and trained by Wendi from scratch, this will be a once-in-a-lifetime journey.
She has competed outside her homeland only at the Sydney CDI at small tour. But she and her husband, Jonnie, went as spectators to the 2014 World Equestrian Games in Normandy and the 2015 European Championships in Aachen, Germany.
As a child in a non-horsey family, Wendi rode in Pony Club on borrowed ponies. Her parents were very supportive but she worked in her spare time to earn enough money to pursue her passion. Initially, and not surprising considering the history in New Zealand, was eventing. But she admits to be being “too slow” cross country and with two children gave that up.
“I took up dressage because I love the challenge and I really love training young horses,” she said. “It wasn’t until I really got hooked that I realized the cost implications of my passion!
“Getting to Grand Prix has taken so long and I am very fortunate that the foal we selected all those years ago was actually pretty talented for the Grand Prix movements, particularly piaffe, passage and pirouettes. It has made it easier for me learning and training a horse that has some aptitude for those collected movements.
“What drives me to international competition is that it challenges me to train myself and the horse to be the best I can be, allows me to represent my country and hopefully inspire other riders to strive to achieve at this level of competition.
“Our culture in New Zealand, being such a small country, drives us to try and achieve on the world stage and we are really good at that in many sports. Dressage… was probably not an ideal choice but it is a sport that is not age or gender restricted, so a real rarity in the world of sport.”
Her daughter, Becki, 14 years old, is keen on show jumping and dressage but Benji, her 13-year-old son, “keeps away from the horses as much as possible.”
Wendi works fulltime as a contaminated land specialist and rides up to six horses a day.
If she makes the trip to get into the lineup of 18 combinations–nine from Western Europe, two each from Central Europe and North America and herself from the Pacific/Asia, title defender Hans Peter Minderhoud of the Netherlands and up to three others–Wendi probably won’t be the only representative from Down Under.
Kristy Oatley, a four-time Olympian for Australia and based in Germany, has likely qualified in the Western European League where she is ranked No. 2 with just two more events scheduled. If invited, it would be her third Final.