It has been frequently stated, “to ride is to borrow wings”.
If living proof of that oft-quoted mantra is needed, the Marlborough Equestrian Park is the place to be on February 15-16.
For two days many of the nation’s most accomplished horse and rider combinations will test their skills by attempting to soar over a combination of obstacles of varying heights and difficulty.
Spectators at the Select Marlborough Wineries South Island Showjumping and Show Hunter championships will be treated to international-class competition, featuring over 200 horses and 100 riders.
Some of the nation’s leading combinations will vie for South Island titles in both showjumping, where competitors are judged on speed and faults, and show hunting, where they are judged on manners and style.
Marlborough showjumping stalwart Helen Ensor, one of the enthusiastic and hard-working team behind the event, anticipated some thrilling sights as the Grand Prix horses tackle fences up to 1.6m high, some with a horizontal spread of 1.55m.
As a spectator sport showjumping is hard to beat, with patrons able to view the high-flying action from close range.
Some leading performers will be present. Tegan Fitzsimons, the 2019 FEI Jumping World Cup (New Zealand League) champion has confirmed her attendance, while Ensor said the Marlborough event hoped to attract “some of the top [Grand Prix] showjumpers from the North Island”.
There will also be local riders in action, including pony grand prix competitor Meg Bissett, amateur class rider Georgia Reed and showhunter class entrant Jane Fowler, who have all shown impressive form in various competitions this season.
“We don’t have any Grand Prix horses here in Marlborough,” explained Ensor, “but we are certainly holding our own in the amateur and other classes.”
The vastly-experienced rider is not about to miss out on the excitement either, competing in the up to 1.25m grade on her mount, Zactac Carnival.
Ensor said the organisers were hoping for “a carnival atmosphere” at the Park, which opened in 2014, with food carts, wine tents and trade stands on site, along with almost continual action in the show ring.
This will be the largest event staged at the venue and has received plenty of local support.
“We have had an amazing response from local businesses,” said Ensor. “We have 12 wineries sponsoring the horse Grand Prix … and they are all Marlborough wineries.”
Organisers have had to think big to cater for the influx of horses and riders, bringing in 120 portable yards to augment the stabling on site, with any overflow destined for Waterlea Racecourse. Many of the riders will stay in their horse trucks on site, she suggested, while others will support local accommodation providers.
Ensor said competitors would walk the course, working out how many strides their mounts would take between each of the jumps, which they have to remember when they tackle the modular set-up.
While there is plenty of adrenaline associated with tackling such formidable obstacles, she said everything “just clicks into place” when you start your round.
“Because you are concentrating and remembering what you have walked … you are not thinking about feeling amazing while you are doing it, you are just thinking about how you are going to ride it and get around this course clear.”
Ensor said the SI champs had been staged in Blenheim previously, over a decade ago at the A and P Showgrounds, and recalled that they were a major success attracting around two thousand spectators.
Entry is free and plenty of parking is available at the Marlborough Equestrian Park, which will be signposted from the Ferry Bridge at Spring Creek.