2017 New Zealand National Eventing Championships preview

      Donna Smith and Tangalooma          Photo: Barbara Thomson Photography


The 2017 National Eventing Championships take place at the Kihikihi Horse Trials in the Waikato next weekend, hot on the heels of the 2016 titles which were staged less than six months ago at Arran Station, in Central Hawkes Bay.

This is the first time Kihikihi has hosted the National Championships, although they have staged FEI World Cup qualifiers in the past. It is recognised world wide as a top venue, thanks to cross-country course designer John Nicholson’s talent in producing imaginative and challenging tracks, which bring out the best in both horse and rider.

Being his home event, where he honed his skills, he is sure to have innovative new fences to test all levels, and his support crew will pull out all the stops to decorate it as always. An international line up of officials, who have met Nicholson on his overseas duties conducting course design seminars, will be in action at Kihikihi.

The Forest Gate Trophy for the Waipa Home of Champions CIC3* is the oldest trophy in the ESNZ cabinet, having been presented in 1957, and contested every year since. There are seventeen contenders for the title this year, including defending champion Donna Edwards-Smith on DSE Mr Hokey Pokey.

They are runaway leaders of the year long ESNZ Eventing Super League, which will culminate this year following the Melbourne Three-day Event, where both a Senior and Young Rider team will contest the Oceania Championships on June 10-12, Australian Queen’s Birthday weekend.

Mr Hokey Pokey has been remarkably consistent since topping the League following his win at Arran Station, the diminutive palomino never disappointing his fans even on terrain that is not suited to his short stride. However his biggest challenge is likely to be stablemate, DSE Tangolooma, returning after time out due to injury to win at Puhinui a fortnight ago.

Virginia Thompson and Star Nouveau, currently second in the Super League standings, will be campaigning in Australia, while Samantha Felton, who spent the spring in Australia, holds fourth and fifth positions with Ricker Ridge Pico Boo and Ricker Ridge Escada, She is riding with supreme confidence following her experience across the ditch, and will be highly competitive.

South Islander Brent Jury and SE Hedging, who were second at Puhinui to move into third spot in the League, will be hoping to not only earn points but catch the selectors’ eyes. The former NZ team farrier would dearly love to ride for his country. Jury is a previous winner of the Forest Gate Trophy (at Te Kauwhata in 2010) riding the aptly named SE Big, a huge thoroughbred with a devouring stride, much like SE Hedging.

Course specialist Matthew Grayling, who has won Kihikihi more times than anyone else, including World Cup qualifiers on Revo, rides the relatively inexperienced Giddyup, but is creating another kind of record with his daughter Victoria also competing on NRM Valiance. He has won the Forest Gate Trophy four times, on Revo in 2000-1, and NRM Gordon in 2005-7.

Another combination keen to make their mark are last year’s winners of the CIC2* title, the Waiteko Trophy, Ashleigh McKinstry on the home bred Pioneer Brass Monkey, who have stepped up to 3* this year, and had the fastest round at Puhinui. ESNZ High Performance Director Sarah Dalziell-Clout will also relish the chance to compete on Benrose Super Star.

The Trust Waikato CIC2* has drawn a strong entry of thirty competitors to contest the Waiteko Trophy, but the one to beat is Madison Crowe on Waitangi Pinterest. They are galloping away with the Equestrian Entries Pro-Am series, and look unlikely to be caught even at this early stage of the autumn season.

Another to watch is Abigail Long on Enzo, the current NZ Young Rider champions, and leader of the Mitavite Young Rider series. A second title in the same year would be a stellar achievement, but selection in the NZ Young Rider team to go to Melbourne is the ultimate goal.

All four championship classes (3*, 2*, 1*, & 105cm) earn bonus points in the relevant series as they are national championships, so competition at all levels will be keen.


Article by Virginia Caro