By Leon Gray-Lockhart
WITH Stratford born-and-bred Kirk Webby ploughing his way through the show jumping competition at the Beijing Olympics, Kirk's proud parents reflect on where it all started.It was with great fondness that Kirk's mother, Gloria remembered Kirk's first equine experience.
"Kirk was 10, just visiting friends at the farm of Don and Eila Hopkirk in Makahu, when he saw this wee pony called Buffy and he just fell in love - he spent the entire time just trying to stay up on her."
Horses have always been part of Kirk's life, his grandfather, Harold, was a race horse trainer, and his father, Norm owned racehorses, but it was on Buffy that Kirk took his first steps into riding himself.
Seeing how fond of Buffy Kirk was, the Hopkirks loaned her to the Webbys and Kirk joined the Stratford Pony Club.
After a lot of nagging, it was well-known horse trainer Sandy Wickham who helped find Kirk's next grand prix pony 'Shandy' for him.
Kirk went on to own 'Whiskey' and 'Call Me Stumpy' and had continuing show jumping success throughout his teenage years.
"Kirk was always absolutely focussed. He knew from an early age that he wanted to work with horses, he was absolutely single-minded about that" said Gloria.
As a youngster, Kirk's characteristic drive for success wasn't simply limited to horses though his well-rounded leadership and people skills were recognised at Stratford High School where, in 1988, Kirk was made Head Boy.
Following his dream, Kirk left New Zealand and spent six years in Holland riding for a Dutch family in the town of Vorden. As well as riding successfully for the family, he developed a great reputation as a skilled riding coach and stable-master.
As well as this, he spent some time in Fife, Scotland working on the renowned Belcormo Stud, in Leven with successful stud farmer, Sandra Low Mitchell.
Kirk had planned to come back to New Zealand and start a Masterton-based partnership, but a trip to New York as best man for a Dutch friend's wedding changed everything he met Robyn, and fell in love.
Nowadays, Kirk and Robyn base themselves 45 minutes from New York City in Whitehouse, New Jersey, running the successful training facility Tolleshunt Horse Farm.
"They have another farm in Florida too", said Gloria "and Kirk's kind to his horses, but he does ask a lot of them. He's been very successful as a businessman."
With business booming, and a successful international riding career, it might have seemed that Kirk had realised those youthful ambitions of working with horses full-time as an adult, but Kirk still knew he wanted to prove himself further.
"In the back of his mind, Kirk always knew he wanted to compete for New Zealand," She said.
The choice to give it a go on Sitah was an easy one the duo finding themselves with placings in numerous grand prix in 2006
Taking the plunge, Kirk headed to Germany for the Olympic qualifying competition and managed to finish first equal individual, and two faults clear of Japan in the team event.
This gained him a place in the travelling reserve team for New Zealand's Olympic effort.
When Daniel Meech had to withdraw his horse, Sorbas, because of injury two days before the competition, Kirk and Sitah headed into their first Olympic experience - the hopes of a nation on their shoulders.
"According to Kirk, Daniel's been amazing. He's been so supportive and helpful and he's sad that Daniel won't get the chance he'd been working so hard for," said Gloria.
"But Kirk's loving being part of the team. As a reserve, he hadn't felt much of a part of it all, even though they'd all been through qualifying together. Now, he's thrilled."
Despite his present success, Kirk's commitment to his Olympic ambition has been tough he hasn't been home for two months and he's missing Robyn and their two children Jade (6) and Zach (4).
However, his family are very understanding about it Robyn is herself a talented rider, and the children are just mad on horses too and Kirk's personal success in competition is important to his work.
"Kirk's profile as a rider is what sells his business, so any Olympic success he gets can only help what he is doing."
When asked whether Kirk would like to come back to NZ one day, Gloria said "I think he would dearly love to, but at the level he's at, the business would not be feasible."
"He has to be where the action is to get the depth of knowledge and skill he'll need to maintain his success."
Kirk has made it into the second to last round, for show jumping, placing 33rd so far. The top 35 riders went through to the next stage.
For the chance at a medal, Kirk will have to make it into the top 20 in the next round. Presently, there's a two-day break at the Sha Tin equestrian venue in Hong Kong, during which time the horses will have a veterinary inspection.
"We're all so proud of Kirk his brothers Zane and Joel are glued to the Olympics right now and Norm and I, well, we're just rapt he's doing so well."