Horse of the Year Show returns to Hawke's Bay after three-year hiatus

The Horse of the Year Show is back on in Hawke's Bay after being cancelled for three years on the trot due to COVID-19 and Cyclone Gabrielle.  

It's the largest of its kind in Australasia and brings a much-needed financial boost to the region. 

Horse of the Year is the pinnacle of the equestrian calendar with 15 different disciplines from show jumping to dressage, eventing and mounted games. 

It last ran in 2020, where more than 50,000 specators flocked to the show. The event brings millions of dollars to Hawke's Bay and organisers have been champing at the bit to get it underway again.

Landrover Horse of the Year chair Tim Aitken said it's a relief and a joy that the show is back on. 

"It's so hard to get here but now we're here... Just look at the weather, look at the people - [I'm] really excited about it all."

He said the show is something many riders aim for in their careers. 

"People say to get to Horse of the Year is the highlight of their riding."

Former Olympian Vaughan Jefferis agrees. He's at the event training the younger generation and told Newshub the sport has many benefits. 

"I think it's a healthy sport for children - you see that children who ride ponies are always healthy and well-adjusted kids," he said. "I think it's a great sport for kids all round - it gives them a sense of purpose."

It's an unusual sport where different ages and genders are often competing against each other. One of the youngest in the ring is 10-year-old Zara Peacock from Waipukurau.

"I like being around ponies and I like the feeling," she said.

That's a sentiment shared by many, with nearly 1400 horses competing in the show and more than a 1000 riders from all over the country and even as far as Australia. 

Making it to this level of competition isn't easy though and requires hours of grueling training. Show jumper Olivia Newsom said it's a very physical sport that takes a lot of fitness training on top of the daily riding.

"Most athletes wouldn't train as hard as we do or put in as much effort. It's not about one person, it's about working as a team with your horse," she said.

Fellow competitor Rachel Malcolm said working with horses can be unpredictable.

"You have your ups and down, horses are animals and you get injuries and disappointments."  

The show is open to the public and, with a jam packed schedule for the rest of the week, there's plenty of action to watch. The biggest classes are on Sunday when the Olympic Cup for the prestigious Horse of the Year title will take place and the Eventer of the Year will be presented the inaugural Sir Mark Todd Trophy.