In 2009 Jeff Fields married New Zealand import Rachel Yorke, who had just started Sandhaven Farm. A great match, Yorke was Fields first Kiwi catch. In 2016, another Kiwi – the formidable chestnut Kiwi Iron Mark (known as ‘Mark’) – entered Jeff’s life and together they are writing a new and exciting chapter in Jeff’s career.
A 17-hand chestnut New Zealand-bred Thoroughbred, Mark was owned and trained by Melanie Purcell, who had started him as a young horse. One day Melanie, not feeling well, phoned her good friend, well-respected New Zealand show jumper Katie Laurie, and asked if she could ride Mark for her in the coming weekend’s competition. Katie stepped in, and later found that her friend had cancer, which tragically took her life just a short year later, at age 24.
Melanie’s dream was always to take Mark to North America to compete at the top levels, and Laurie picked up the baton. In February, 2015, having qualified to compete in the Longines FEI World Cup Final in Las Vegas in April, she shipped Mark to the West Coast to compete. The dream was taking shape as the horse had the scope and the heart to jump alongside the world’s best.
Purcell’s mother, June Berrington, and part owner of Mark (Laurie is also a part owner), came to the US to watch her daughter’s horse reach new heights. She was in the stands on the night of the round on Friday when sadly, after faltering at the difficult triple combination, (not the only horse and rider combination who struggled in this triple) the pair had to retire.
Determined to redeem themselves, Laurie and Mark returned the following evening for the $75,000 Canadian Pacific Grand Prix, among a group of 22 starters that included national stars and Olympians. One of only three pairs to return for the jump-off, it was Mark that took the victory lap in the winner’s cooler, a sweet victory after a previous evening of defeat.
Looking ahead to the Spruce Meadows 2015 Summer Series and beyond, Laurie left Mark at Sandhaven Farm in Woodside, CA, to rest and train with her friend and fellow Kiwi, Rachel Fields and husband Jeff. And a new journey began.
In early 2016, Jeff brought him in from turnout at Laurie’s request, to prepare him for the HITS Thermal Circuit. Rachel described the 17-hand chestnut returning to work as an orangutan. Jeff said, “He was a surprise. My job was to get him fit and he was wild. I had to sit the trot for weeks – if i gave him an inch he was gone. But he is the sweetest, kindest horse and he’ll give you everything.”
With Mark fit and ready to compete, plans changed when Laurie found out that she was to be a mother to her second child, so she cancelled her plans for Thermal, and asked Jeff and Rachel to list Mark for sale.
Since Mark is a Kiwi, Jeff thought that he’d like a fellow Kiwi to show him, so Rachel competed on him a few times. But he wasn’t quite her kind of ride; so they decided that Mark may be a better fit for Jeff.
As HITS Thermal was well underway, Berrington suggested that Jeff take Mark in the Million at the end of the circuit. He had not competed on the horse and with only a short time to prepare, he quickly advanced through the heights, 1,30m, 1.40m, 1.45m, as they rallied to compete in the ‘big daddy’ event of the circuit, the HITS AIG $1 Million Grand Prix in March.
The week of the class, Jeff felt unusually calm, as he was about to compete in the biggest class of his career. “For some reason, I felt comfortable with what we had done so far. So I took him in a 1.40m on Wednesday, gave him the rest of the week off, and then did the Million on Sunday.”
After walking the 17-effort Alan Wade designed track eight times, Jeff rode Mark beautifully, finishing tenth overall with one rail, and one time fault. Notably only three horses went clean, and several ended with time faults, in a field of truly top-level competitors, including McLain Ward, Charlie Jayne, Eric Navet, and Jonathan McCrea, to name a few.
Describing the ride, Jeff says, “I feel I can jump anything on him. When we enter the ring, nerves are gone – I feel like I’m dreaming. It’s as though he’s telling me, ‘It’s okay, I’ve got it.’ There was instantly a mutual trust. Even with a rail and that pesky time fault, It was still a dream, I wouldn’t change it.”
Since March, Jeff and Mark have continued to have a string of successes. In April they were fourth in a grand prix at Blenheim EquiSports, In May, the pair was double clear and second at the Welcome Prix in Sonoma and once again second to his good friend Lindsay Archer in the LA Saddlery Grand Prix in Paso Robles. In July, Sandhaven traveled to Colorado to compete, and once again Jeff and Mark were in the ribbons.
Although Berrington is still partial owner, Mark is for sale. “What will be, will be,” Jeff says with a philosophical grin. “Mark is a great chapter in my life. It’s been quite a ride.”
Carefully catching top Kiwi’s seems to work well for Jeff Fields. He’s willing to let go of the latest Kiwi, he plans to hold on to the other.
By Pam Maley and Jackie McFarland for Proequest.com