Shane Dougan was the toast of the New Zealand team and his horse the centre of overseas attention after the combination finished eighth in the endurance at the World Equestrian Games in Aachen, Germany today.
Eketahuna's Dougan and his 10-year-old Arabian stallion Vigar Riffal produced New Zealand's best ever endurance result at a World Games on the way to overtaking a dozen other combinations in an extra quick final loop of the 160km journey.
Dougan averaged 41kph in the final of the six loops after finishing the first in 70th place of the 160 starters.
"He could have gone quicker," an ecstatic Dougan said afterwards. "There was plenty left in the tank, he's a great little horse. It was very slippery out there but it has been a real thrill to be at the World Games and something I will remember all my life."
Marlborough's Kylie Avery, the team's youngest member at 20 and her nine-year-old part-Arabian stallion Silands Jasark also performed with distinction to be the only other combination to finish for New Zealand in 22nd place.
The New Zealand team of five - one individual combination and four members riding as a team - were part of a high attrition rate in today's competition where the test of fitness and stamina for both horse and rider also had to endure torrential rain in the last two laps which made the going treacherous.
New Zealand received an early set-back when the experienced Brian Tiffan and Sonny failed the first vet check with the horse pulling up lame. It was a disappointing final outing for the combination as the 13-year-old homebred Anglo-Arab gelding is to be sold to overseas interests.
With pressure on the remaining three team riders having to complete the course to be in with a chance of a medal, the New Zealanders made significant strides in the second lap. Australian-based Howard Harris and Harmere Turfan worked their way into second place and the Kiwis into third overall.
Although Harris slipped back over the ensuing two laps, Avery and Dougan were making inroads and kept the trio in the hunt for a team bronze right up until the penultimate loop.
Harmere Turfan lost his footing in the conditions causing lameness which resulted in the pair being vetted out, leaving the remaining two-horse team of Dougan and Avery out of the medal count.
The individual combination of Philip Graham and Wolfgang Amadeus also faced bad luck on the fifth loop when the 11-year-old Anglo Arab gelding also suffered a leg injury and was ruled ineligible to carry on.
"It was great to be a part of this team and just a shame it didn't work out how we thought it was going too," Dougan said. "But that's the way it goes. It was a pretty hard track with a lot of rock and hard surface."
Dougan, who nearly pulled out of the trip because of financial constraints, is now in the happy position of weighing up a variety of tidy offers he has had for Vigar Riffal.