Story: Equestrianism and horse sports

Page 1. Equestrianism and horse sports overview

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Equestrianism denotes a range of skilled activities performed by a horse and its rider or driver. The best-known are the traditional English disciplines of jumping, dressage, eventing and endurance. These are competitive sports.

Other equestrian activities may be competitive or simply recreational.

  • Horse trekking is a popular outdoor pursuit. Commercial operations as well as clubs throughout the country cater for non-competitive riding.
  • Mounted games consist of a number of obstacle and relay races with ponies.
  • Western riding clubs organise a number of events based on the style of riding developed by working horsemen of the American west.
  • Polo is a mounted sport played by two teams of four. Players score goals by driving a small ball into the opposing team’s goal using a long-handled mallet. Polo has been played in New Zealand since 1890. In the 2000s the New Zealand team has had considerable international success.
  • Polocrosse is described as ‘a joyful mixture of polo, lacrosse and netball’.1
  • Carriage driving skills are practised by dedicated individuals and clubs of enthusiasts.
  • Hunting involves a group of riders pursuing a hare, with the assistance of a pack of hounds which follows the quarry’s scent. It is one of the oldest organised equestrian pastimes in New Zealand.
  • Rodeo is based on the working practices of cowboys and tests riders’ skills in handling horses and other livestock. It includes events such as team roping, steer wrestling, bareback riding and barrel racing.

Equestrian Sports New Zealand

The national organisation is Equestrian Sports New Zealand (ESNZ), which had approximately 6,000 members in 2011. ESNZ represents jumping, dressage, eventing, endurance and para-equestrian disciplines. Each has a board and a number of area committees or clubs. There is also a national ESNZ board. Annual registration allows members to compete in ESNZ events nationwide.

Local competitions

Competitive equestrian sports are primarily contested by individual horse and rider combinations at local and national horse events. Limited prize money and sponsorship mean that New Zealand riders are primarily amateur competitors. Male and female riders compete on the same basis in almost all equestrian sports. Many of the participants have a rural background.

Stand up

Sure to bring the Horse of the Year crowd to its feet is the song ‘Stand up (for the champions)’ by Right Said Fred. It is played following prizegivings in the main arena, and everyone sings along and claps to the rhythm as the winners ride their victory lap.

Horse of the Year

The ESNZ disciplines as well as other equestrian sports compete at the annual Horse of the Year show in Hawke’s Bay. This is the country’s largest horse show, with 1,803 horses and their riders taking part in 2012. Over 70,000 spectators attend the six-day event.

International competitions

National teams compete at some international events such as the Olympics and World Equestrian Games.

Beginning with Mark Todd’s victory at the prestigious Badminton three-day event in England in 1980, New Zealand eventers have enjoyed considerable international success. Individual and team victories at the Olympics, World Equestrian Games and other four-star events have made New Zealand a leading nation in the sport.

New Zealand endurance riding teams compete internationally and in 1999 won the gold medal at the World Endurance Championships at Seih Assalam in the United Arab Emirates.

  1. Polocrosse New Zealand, ‘About the game,’ (last accessed 8 May 2012). Back
How to cite this page:

Carolyn Mincham, 'Equestrianism and horse sports - Equestrianism and horse sports overview', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 4 February 2023)

Story by Carolyn Mincham, published 5 Sep 2013