After a season of stepping up into consistent, top finishes that catapulted him up the world rankings, Sharn Wordley is taking a moment to enjoy a few well-deserved margaritas on the beach. The proximity of the tropical Bahamas to Wellington, Florida are a woefully underused benefit among riders who base themselves in the area during winter season, but for Wordley, the time was right to relax and rewind, if only for a few days.
During the first few months of 2016, the 2008 Olympic veteran who represents New Zealand in competition but is based year-round in the United States, moved up the Longines FEI World Rankings from #102 to #76, a significant jump that he credits to the progress of his two top horses, Barnetta and Casper. Casper, a 10-year-old Oldenburg gelding (Contender x Baloubet Du Rouet) and Barnetta, a 12-year-old Westphalian gelding (Baloubet Du Rouet x Polydora) are both owned by The Sky Group, and have moved up within his program at his longtime base of Ashland Stables.
So while a few days away from the daily grind is refreshing, it is rare that Wordley allows himself to take a step back. In addition to developing his own string of grand prix jumpers, he owns and operates several businesses, including the well-established and widely known Wordley-Martin Footing. We found out how he does it all:
Q: You’re coming off a very consistent couple of months with your horses. How does it feel to have that progress under your belt?
A: This time last year I was ranked somewhere at 2,200 in the FEI ranking list. My goal then was to be inside the top 200 by now. So to be number 76 superseded that goal and is fantastic. Where I really want to be is in the top 50. The top 30 doesn’t interest me that much, because you have to be on the road every single weekend going around the world to maintain that ranking. But to get into nearly the top 75 inside of 12 months is great.
Q: After you finished 2nd in the CSI5* grand prix at WEF on March 19th, you had some very good things to say about Casper’s performance in what was his first 5* grand prix and first grand prix under the lights. He’s only 10 but would you consider him to be your strongest big tour horse now?
A: Yes I would; that was my first week showing him in the grand prix at WEF. I wanted to mix him up so I did him in Live Oak and at Ocala. For sure he’s my best horse and I’ve only taken him up the levels slowly. He’s been very consistent, and I haven’t even tried to go very fast with him yet.
Q: And what about Barnetta, what’s the history behind him?
A: Both horses are owned by my sponsor The Sky Group. And Barnetta is a very good horse for me too. He was 2nd in the Central Park Grand Prix last year, and also had consistent finishes all over the place.
Both horses are basically new horses for me. I’ve had Casper for a year, and Barnetta I’ve had for just over a year as well. And I just have been taking my time with them.
I also ride several grand prix horses for Ashland; Auckland and Derly Chin de Muze, who are both fantastic horses. Auckland is a 10-year-old and is up and coming, and Derly has been to the Olympics with Eric. I was 3rd in the Million Grand Prix with her, and 3rd in the American Invitational. She’s coming back from an injury but should be competing this summer.
Q: What’s the culture like between Kiwi riders in the USA, and how does it feel being one of just a few Kiwi riders on the East Coast?
A: There are some other Kiwi riders on the West Coast of the USA but we don’t really get to see them. The only Kiwi rider based on the East Coast besides me is Kirk Webby. So for us it’s very much an individual sport.
If you can win a grand prix in America, you can win a grand prix anywhere in the world.”
I think that makes it a bit harder, because if you have a few of your countrymen around it always makes things a bit more fun, with Nations Cups and stuff. When things are going good with your horses it’s fine, but it’s kind of hard when you’ve got to go on your own all the time.
Q: You’ve been in the USA since 2004, correct? It’s certainly helped your career to be based there.
A: Yes it has. I lived in Europe for about 10 years, but I like the weather in America best first and foremost. And because I don’t just do riding, because I have other businesses, the business culture here in America, is much better. You can start businesses in America far easier than you can in other countries
Plus, of course, the sport. It’s fantastic in the States and it’s underrated. Everyone thinks the sport in American is less than in Europe, but its not. If you can win a grand prix in America, you can win a grand prix anywhere in the world.
Q: Can you describe what your other businesses entail?
A: Yes, myself and my business partner Craig Martin own Wordley Martin Footing. We are very busy with that, as we build arenas and do the footing for many of the top riders in North America. And I have a couple of other businesses that are both within and completely outside of the horse industry; a hat company that works with theme parks and cruise ships. There is a bit of a property development arm of our footing/construction business that’s kind of separate, and together with my partner in Europe, Steve Tinti, I have a stable in Brussels with approximately 20 horses. Steve helps me find good horses.
I don’t like to have a big client base of training people; I like to train one or two people at a time, so you’ve got to do something else to earn money to ride!
Q: And how is your program structured at Ashland Stables?
A: Ashland Stables is based in Lexington, KY and Wellington, FL. I have six different grand prix horses of varying levels, with Casper and Barnetta for the really big levels. We do quite a lot of sales, and as I said, I train a couple of people, but sparingly. It’s more like when the right person or situation comes along, we do a bit of training. But the focus is for sure on the bigger levels!
Q: You’re taking the time to have a vacation now, which is always a good decision! What will be next up when you return home to Wellington?
A: We have six weeks of FEI competition starting in May. We’ll go to Lexington and also Tryon. And then I’m going to send one team of horses in Europe and go back and forwards doing the FEI shows, with my goal to be in the top 50 rankings. I am for sure excited to do some nicer shows in Europe. New Zealand is planning on having at team at the Nations Cup Final final at Barcelona so I’ll have my eye on that.
Q: You’ve got more balls to juggle than the average professional; how do you get it all done?
A: It is a challenge because I have very poor time management skills, but I have really good people, staff, office managers and grooms. Working with me is kind of like running around after a four year old child but they do pretty well at it!
We have a fairly good idea of where we’re headed to and we’ve got a really great team of horses. So I’m hoping that this year will be even better than last year!