Megan grooms Jester for Beijing
Photo: Anthony Trollope/RedBayStock.com
As she wandered around the cross-country course at Gawler, Adelaide, taking photos with her Barbie camera, she told her mother she wanted to jump massive fences like that one day. "My mum was like, 'as if', and 20 years after that, here I am, my first WEG, and a medal," Megan said.
Yesterday, the South Australian rider and coach was part of the Eventing team that won bronze at the World Equestrian Games in Germany - finally matching the feat of her heroes at Gawler in 1986 and giving the country its first ever Eventing medal at a WEG. (Gawler was a world championship but not a WEG. The first WEG was held in Stockholm in 1990.)
"It's very exciting. I'm in the first [Eventing] team to win a medal at WEG, I was in the first Trans-Tasman team to ever win, and the second team I was in we won again, so maybe I'm a good-luck charm," she laughed. "I've been a part of some major firsts for us and that's been really nice."
Megan's homebred Irish Sport Horse, Kirby Park Irish Jester, did a flowing and accurate dressage test to be 6th after the opening phase. He was then clear and up on the clock before having an uncharacteristic runout near the end of the cross-country on Saturday but jumped a crucial clear in the final showjumping round to finish 16th overall and help secure Australia's team medal.
Megan will now aim him at the Beijing Olympics in two years.
"I knew he was a really good horse but I've never really pushed him that fast cross-country because I'm really concerned about injuring him, so I'm always sort of careful," she said.
"But here, against the best in the world, you have to do it. I pushed him as fast as he's ever gone, I had him as fit as he's ever been and he stood up to it - he's been sound every day.
"It's given me so much confidence knowing that he's probably going to last me now for another Olympic Games, another Worlds, if not another Olympics."
The grey gelding, who is "just 16 hands [high] with a fright" and only 12 years old, won't do any eventing now until Adelaide International Horse Trials next year and then a qualifier for the Beijing Olympics, in a bid to ensure his longevity in the sport.
"I'm going to save him, look after him, so hopefully I can keep him going until he's much older. He doesn't need cross-country to stay focused, he's a careful horse, he's not scared, so I can pull him out and go somewhere and he just goes," Megan said, noting that 20-year-old Glengarrick finished 7th yesterday with New Zealand's Heelan Tompkins.
The road to WEG wasn't all smooth sailing for Megan.
In 2003 Jester was injured in the lead-up to a Trans-Tasman competition. A year later, she took him and the experienced Kirby Park Irish Hallmark to Badminton, only for Jester to hurt himself again within a week of landing in England. After leading the dressage on the first day with Hallmark, Megan fell during the cross-country, but she was determined to complete the tough Badminton track.
"They said 'Do you want to retire?' and I looked at this jump judge and said 'I haven't come half way around the world to walk home - I want a leg-up. Badminton is something I've always wanted to do, I don't care if I come last, I'm finishing!' and I did come 50th, which was last. I think I was the first person in history to be first on the first day and last on the last day."
Then her beloved Hallmark, who'd retired after Badminton but was in training for a comeback at the 2005 Adelaide, was found dead in his paddock just weeks before the event, it is thought from an allergic reaction to a spider bite.
By then, though, Jester had taken over the reins from his stablemate. After time off following his pre-Badminton injury, Jester came out to win both the Melbourne Three-Day Event and the Adelaide four-star in 2005, and was third at Melbourne this year.
Which brings us back to WEG.
"He just felt so great and looking at the pictures of my test and of the cross-country, both of us just looked so relaxed and as a team together, he felt awesome," Megan said.
"Hopefully we can keep Irish Jester in a good manner," said Eventing coach Wayne Roycroft, "because obviously he's Olympic material."
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