The country’s best endurance combinations are en route to Mayfield in Mid Canterbury for this weekend’s Fiber Fresh National Endurance Championships, the finale of the season and the last chance to impress selectors for the FEI Alltech World Equestrian Games.
In coming days nearly 100 horses – along with their riders, grooms, and supporters – will flood into the tiny town of Mayfield for the even, based at the town’s A&P Showgrounds.
New Zealand’s best chance of standing atop the podium at the Games in Normandy in August could well lie with its endurance team. The team of five riders will be chosen in late May to go to France.
Warren James, Equestrian Sports New Zealand (ESNZ) Endurance Board chairman, said the nationals are the only opportunity each year to see all the best horses and best riders competing against each other for the coveted qualification buckle, and the title of national champion.
“This year the event takes on special significance as riders vie for a place on the New Zealand team travelling to France in August. Those riders will get to compete against the best endurance riders in the world at the World Equestrian Games (WEG).
“Some riders have already qualified for WEG but need to maintain international standards to impress the selectors. Others are hoping to achieve a qualifying result and then challenge for a position on the team.
“This extra challenge will make for a strong competition and the ESNZ Endurance Board is looking forward to an exciting event.”
But it’s not just about international aspirations. A host of horses and riders of all ages will be competing in an array of competitions, from the gruelling 160km championship class right down to the 33km competitive trail riding (CTR) class. Many are looking simply to make it around the course safely, holding true to the sport’s motto: “To complete is to win”.
They have come from all over the country for this event, the finale in the country’s endurance season, with riders from the far north and deep south. The age range is huge, too, with the youngest rider entered aged eight and the most senior in his 70s.
Many volunteers and members of the local Mt Nimrod Endurance Riding Club have put months of effort into the event, including gaining access to private properties, course planning and marking, organising officials from throughout New Zealand and overseas, and getting sponsors and prizes.
Dozens of volunteers and officials are also jetting in for the event, some from offshore, with the action starting at 1am on Friday, when the 160km runners set off on the quest to become national champion.
ESNZ High Performance director Sarah Harris said the nationals will provide the High Performance Programme with the final selection opportunity to test fitness and form before the naming of the World Games team.
“WEG hopefuls are presently split between the two High Performance Squads, A and B. The A Squad combinations have already achieved the required performance criteria for the Worlds, and the B Squad are tracking well to the World Championships in 2016, but still have performance criteria to meet for 2014.
“I believe this is an exciting time for the endurance discipline as there is a real contest for places into the HP Squad Programme and World Games Team. Depth of this nature has not been seen in the sport in recent years, this can only bode well for the future of the sport in New Zealand.”
There is an array of classes over the weekend, with the 160km riders first over the start line at 1am on Friday morning.
For those who are not early birds, there will be horses finishing and going through vet checks at various times each day.