The future of New Zealand’s equestrian was toasted by some of the nation’s sporting leaders today with the official opening of the National Equestrian Centre’s new international-standard indoor arena in Taupo.
The Minister of Sport, the Honourable Grant Robertson did the honours before around 170 people including dignitaries, long-time supporters of equestrian, life members of Equestrian Sports New Zealand, Olympians and many other special guests.
Mr Robertson praised the efforts of the many volunteers who had worked tirelessly to raise the $3.5 million for the project, but particularly NEC convenor Dr Wallie Niederer who had created a true legacy. “Your driving energy has kept the project going,” he said. “I hope you are proud today. It is a great pleasure to be here. I have heard a lot about it, but to see it (in person) is quite remarkable. It is a world class facility and a jewel in the crown.”
It was particularly special to that it catered for all five disciplines – eventing, dressage, jumping, para-equestrian and endurance – which said a lot about the cohesion of the sport.
“It is a long term investment in our young riders. This is where the next Sir Mark Todd, Blyth Tait and Jock Paget will come from.”
Mr Robertson said sport was “critical” to building strong communities. “It is part of our wellbeing. It is part of our national identity, and equestrian sport is very much a part of that. It is an absolute privilege and an honour to declare this officially open.”
Taupo district mayor David Trewavas also praised the efforts of the many who had come together to see the project through, describing the new arena as something Taupo and New Zealand could be very proud of.
ESNZ president Richard Sunderland agreed, saying never in his wildest dreams did he think the arena would be as impressive as it is. As an 18 year-old he had attended the very first working bee with NEC founder, the late Pat Donnelly, who had told them all about his vision. “We thought he had been in the sun too long,” said Mr Sunderland. But along came
Dr Niederer who with Derek Booth, Mark King, ESNZ patron Jennifer Miller and the late Dave Grant, had turned dreams to reality. Mr Sunderland said the training centre was a fitting tribute to Mr Grant.
ESNZ high performance director Sarah Dalziell-Clout said the new centre would be extremely valuable for New Zealand’s riders of the future, allowing them to train in an environment that provide a smoother transition to the world stage.
There were many more plans for the future that would only add to the centre.
“I am very excited for the future,” she said. “This will allow us to keep up with our international counterparts. It is an opportunity for them to train and compete on a surface that will ensure longevity of our horses and to train through the winter months. It is also a chance for us to attract international coaches and where our high performance programmes can continue to grow.”
Dr Niederer was quick to share the credit with those who had given so much. However, it had come right down to the wire with the code of compliance granted late the afternoon before the opening.
“I am very proud of what we have achieved here,” he said. “It is fantastic to get to this conclusion.”
Sport New Zealand chief executive Peter Miskimmin was thrilled for all who had put so much effort and passion into the centre. “It is an important day but also for the future it is a legacy for equestrian sport in New Zealand. It is wonderful. I am in awe of Wallie and what he has done. I remember when he first came into my office to talk about his idea – that was a long time ago and it is incredibly rewarding to see this open today.”
Guests were welcomed with a powhiri by local tangata whenua Ngati Tahu Ngati Whaoa and treated to displays of jumping, dressage, eventing and Pony Club.
The footprint of the new building, which was started in April 2016, covers 65mx75m and includes a big indoor arena with the same footing as was used at the London Olympic Games, seating for up to 300, a conference room, a mezzanine floor that affords views of inside and outside arenas, a cafe, commercial kitchen, offices and toilets.
By Diana Dobson
Photos by Diana Dobson/Black Balloon