Jumping is the most popular of New Zealand’s equestrian sports, with approximately 3,500 horses competing in either showjumping or show-hunter events, or both, nationwide in 2011.
A showjumping course is made up of 10–13 removable obstacles arranged within an enclosed arena. Horse and rider must jump the brightly decorated obstacles in a designated sequence, which involves turns and changes of direction. The object is to complete the course leaving the easily dislodged rails of the jumps in place. If a rail falls or the horse refuses to jump, penalties or ‘faults’ are incurred. Usually the winner is the competitor with the fewest faults. If more than one horse and rider has a ‘clear round’, the equals compete against each other in a ‘jump-off’ against the clock. The competitor with the fewest faults in the fastest time is the winner.
Show hunter is a judged event. Judges look for a horse that shows forward-going, free-flowing movement and the correct ‘round’ shape over a jump, qualities that make for a safe, smooth ride on the hunt field. The competition is held over a course of up to 10 naturally coloured jumps.
Most top-level equestrians specialise in one discipline, but Gisborne beef stud breeder Merran Hain is an exception. Over her long riding career, she has represented New Zealand in eventing, dressage and showjumping. In 2011, in her 60s, she was still contesting national titles.
Dressage is a discipline dating back over 2,000 years. It was based on the need to develop the strength, flexibility, confidence and obedience of the war horse. The ultimate goal was to achieve harmony between horse and rider.
Competitors must perform a set pattern of movements appropriate to their level of training. Tests are ridden in an arena of 40 metres by 20 metres, or 60 metres by 20 metres, with lettered markers. A test is scored by one or more judges who allocate a mark for each movement. Freestyle, also known as Kur, has developed as an additional performance test since the 1980s, and is now a major crowd-pleaser. It involves the horse and rider performing dressage movements to music.
Dressage took longer to develop in New Zealand than showjumping and eventing, but it has grown in popularity, with approximately 2,000 horses registered with Equestrian Sports New Zealand to compete in 2011. 90% of dressage riders are female.