Story: Equestrianism and horse sports

Page 2. Development of equestrian activities

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Horses have been used for recreation since they first arrived in New Zealand. Māori as well as settlers enjoyed riding for pleasure and took part in the organised sports of horse racing, hunting and polo.

Leaping

The earliest jumping competitions in New Zealand were called leaping matches. A prize was awarded to the horse that cleared the highest bar of a single jump. It was usual to allow several trials for each rise of the bar. Sometimes a prize was also given to the best rider.

Jumping competitions

From the 1870s some A & P (agricultural and pastoral) shows held horse jumping contests. There was considerable local variation in the types of contests and rules.

Following the First World War, jumping gained in popularity, with an event known as ‘round-the-ring’. Competitors were required to go over a series of jumps placed around the perimeter of the show ring and were judged on style, pace, manners and riding.

New Zealand Horse Society

Introducing the international style of showjumping to New Zealand motivated Dick Pilmer and Duncan Holden to bring together representatives from the New Zealand Pony Clubs Association, the New Zealand Hunt Association and the Royal Agricultural Society to form a national organisation. The New Zealand Horse Society (now Equestrian Sports New Zealand) was founded in 1950. It aligned New Zealand equestrian sport with the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI), allowing New Zealanders to compete internationally and raising the standard of local horsemanship.

Horse trials

The Horse Society promoted the combined competition known as horse trials or eventing. Eventing originated in Europe to test the versatility of military officers’ mounts. Parade-ground skills were judged in the dressage test, while the ability to carry despatches quickly was tested in the cross-country phase. Only a careful, obedient horse would be able to successfully negotiate the final challenge of a showjumping course.

This event was well suited to New Zealand conditions. Riders with a strong racing and hunting background were accustomed to bold and fast riding across open country. New Zealand’s racing industry also produced thoroughbred horses with the courage, speed and stamina to contest the demanding competition.

Local competitions

From the early 1950s showjumping and horse-trial competitions were organised throughout the country by the Horse Society. The New Zealand Pony Clubs Association also ran competitions and became influential in teaching the principles of sound horsemanship to young riders.

International competitions

New Zealand equestrian enthusiasts have long believed in the quality of their horses and wanted to test them against the best of the world, but the high cost of sending horses and riders to overseas events has always been a barrier.

For many New Zealand horses and riders, Australia has provided their first experience of international competition. The success of a four-person showjumping team at the Sydney Royal Show in 1953 paved the way for further visits. In the 1960s eventers began to cross the Tasman for competition.

In the mid-1970s showjumper John Cottle took a team of his own horses to Europe to compete for several years. Others followed his lead in establishing a European or North American base to gain the experience and competitive opportunities needed for top-level sport, a pattern that continued in the 2000s.

How to cite this page:

Carolyn Mincham, 'Equestrianism and horse sports - Development of equestrian activities', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/equestrianism-and-horse-sports/page-2 (accessed 24 April 2019)

Story by Carolyn Mincham, published 5 Sep 2013