Top Price – Right now that is Jonelle

Jonelle on Classic Moet jumping into third place at the Stuttgart German Masters Indoor Derby. Photo courtesy of Kerstin Hoffmann

With a brilliant ride at the Stuttgart German Masters Indoor Eventing Derby on Wednesday night, Jonelle Price (NZL) took the third place ribbon and was the highest placed female in the highly competitive field.

In this year’s 2014 FEI World Eventing Athlete Rankings, she placed second. She is the first woman to break into the top three since Mary King topped the leader board in 2011. Jonelle and Karin Donckers (BEL) are the only women in this year’s top ten, with Karin in 9th.

Riding trumps law
Riding for Eventing powerhouse New Zealand, Jonelle has not only risen to the top in her country but she is now one of the top eventers in the world. Not bad for a girl that does not come from a horse family or even a sporting family. Jonelle says, “My family thinks I am completely mad. I have no idea how I found horses. I had an obsession with horses from a young age and every Christmas I would want a pony. There is not even sporting people in my family. I am the only competitive one. They don’t even argue, they would rather back down.”

She attempted the academic route to please her mom, but she gave up studying law after one year. She says, “I was very academic at school. I was lucky to be naturally bright and I found school very easy. My mom was desperate for me to follow an academic career. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it and if I was not riding, I would do that. Law is so competitive and to keep going I would have had to apply myself more to University. So after a year, I had to make a decision and I chose riding.”

Jonelle has no regrets with her choice. Although the number of females competing in Eventing out number the males, the guys dominate the top rankings. These statistics do not discourage Jonelle, she says, “Obviously it is a very male dominated sport at the top. I probably use it more as motivation than anything. I mean obviously guys are physically more able. However, I got Faerie Dianimo because she is so tiny. So equally, there are going to be cases where it is the other way around. Maybe that is why I have ended up with quite a few mares because you need a bit more of a touch with them. Where as the geldings, you just get on and do it. It is not for the faint hearted at the top level and it takes so much to win. You have to be able to put yourself on the line to take those risks. Maybe the men are a bit more adept to doing it. But I don’t know how much of an issue that is.”

Certainly not an issue for Jonelle as she has been able to edge her way on to the New Zealand squad that includes Eventing legends Mark Todd and Andrew Nicholson. She has represented New Zealand at the:


2014 World Equestrian Games - Jonelle placed fourth on Classic Moet and was the top placing Kiwi. Photo courtesy of Libby Law

2014 World Equestrian Games – Jonelle placed fourth on Classic Moet and was the top placing Kiwi. Photo courtesy of Libby Law

Nearly on the podium
She was the highest placing Kiwi at this year’s WEG and New Zealand did not finish a team. The cross-country course, for a variety of reasons, was the end of the competition for team members Mark Todd, Jonathon Paget and her husband Tim Price. However, Jonelle was not intimidated waiting to head out on cross-country. She says, “It is natural to have some nerves. I think it is probably part of my character and maybe the reason I have been successful. Those situations are what I look for. WEG was a chance to go out there and do something a bit special. I was not looking at if from a negative view, in fact I was doing the opposite. I was thinking ‘goodness, this is just a good opportunity to do something because no one else has done it’. I really turn it around and look at it from the complete opposite side.”

The New Zealand team was a favourite heading into the WEG and the Eventing world was in shock as the team crumbled. Regardless of the disappointment, the team was very helpful to Jonelle before she took a crack at the troublesome course. She says, “Obviously in my position I was an individual and they had all gone wrong before me. It was not like I was going to be a threat to their lead or anything. I was figuring out in my mind whether or not to go direct at the last water because it was causing so many problems. Toddy said to me just before I went, ‘look you have an opportunity for a medal, you have got to take some risks, you could pull up to a medal position.’ Even though I did end up going long, it was not my intention. I had a mistake on the in that forced me to do the long route. They were very supportive and very much wanted it to happen for me.”

Recently, it has been reported that Andrew Nicholson removed himself from the New Zealand High Performance Programme because of his dissatisfaction with the vet over Nereo’s welfare at WEG. We asked Jonelle if she had issues with the care her horse received and she plainly stated, “Absolutely not.”

Eventing super couple
Jonelle is married to Tim Price, fellow New Zealander. Often these two are battling it out on the leaderboards as they just did at the Stuttgart German Masters Indoor Eventing Derby where she placed third and he placed fourth. They are both at the top of their game and one of the few couples that are consistently in the top placings. So how do top riders stay married and compete against each other? Jonelle says, “Of course there are challenges. We have been together for 15 years riding alongside each other. So even though we are a bit more in the public’s eye and a little more high profile, we have been together for a very long time. When we met, we were riding and competing alongside each other so we have never known any different.”

Sharing their toys
Professional riders are always seeking horses to further their careers. Deciding on who gets the ride when you are married and operating a business together can be a challenge. Jonelle explains, “It is always a slightly tricky subject. I guess like anything in life when you are in a relationship, there has to be a certain amount of give and take. When Faerie Dianimo arrived and was so tiny, Tim riding her was never an option. He takes some of the bigger and stronger horses. However, there are some that make me ask, ‘should I have it or you have it and that gets tricky’. We are competitive people naturally; there is a selfish element of an athlete that makes them good at what they do. But like anything, it is a case of good management.”

Sometimes, the horses have switched between them just because of circumstances. Flintstar, the horse that Jonelle took to the Olympics, was originally Tim’s horse. Tim broke his leg so Jonelle rode it for him when he was recovering.

She says, “I upgraded him to a three-star. Then Tim was like, ‘I can’t take the horse from her now’ and we went to the Olympics. Likewise, I started Bango, the eight-year-old horse he took to Boekelo. Right from day one I thought it was a world-class horse. Tim took it from me as a four-year-old but I knew that I had taken Flintstar. At the time, he needed something to ride. I went to the Olympics so I cannot complain but I think Bango in the long run will be the better horse. You just have to pick and choose your battles, there is an element of give and take.”

Making time outside of business
In recent years, Eventing super couples like Andrew and Bettina Hoy and Clayton and Lucinda Fredericks have divorced. Divorce rates are high everywhere so we asked Jonelle how they manage to live high profile lives competing and keep a marriage intact. Jonelle recognizes the need for time outside the sport. She says, “We do try to lead a balanced life. We obviously work hard in the season but every second year we go to New Zealand for Christmas with our families. On the alternate year, we do something together. Last year we went to Vietnam. We did a bit of backpacking for three weeks and then finished at the resort. We love doing stuff outside of horses; it is limited how much we get to do it. It is nice for us to remember that horses are not what keep us together and that we do not need horses in our life to still be compatible. We get on probably better when horses are not involved because there is no need for decisions and it takes that element out of it.”

When will baby make three
They are young and successful and the next natural progression would be parenthood. Jonelle says, “Children are certainly something I want. I am 34 now although I still feel like 24 and I know that I may have to stop being so selfish at some point and just do it. The last couple of years have been good for us and I don’t want it to stop. However, I know that I have to be the one obviously, not Tim. I suppose there is never really the perfect time. Some of these girls can time it just right but you don’t have control over it, so maybe after 2016.”

Jonelle is looking forward to Rio and has no concerns about the Kiwi powerhouse getting an Olympic team qualification. She says, “WEG was certainly a disappointment for the team. But so goes Eventing and horses sometimes. We are pretty sure that we can qualify a team through the FEI Rankings.”

New Zealand will be hungry for redemption after 2014 WEG and Jonelle may be leading the charge.

To keep up with Jonelle daily:
[Website] [Facebook]

Kerstin Hoffmann art can be purchased at: [Website]

Kerstin Hoffmann, German artist had Jonelle and Tim sign one of her original drawings at the German Indoor Derby. Photo courtesy of Kerstin Hoffmann

Kerstin Hoffmann, German artist, had Jonelle and Tim sign one of her original drawings at the German Indoor Derby. Photo courtesy of Kerstin Hoffmann

Scroll for more top stories on Eventing Connect