Vicki Wilson (Havelock North) steers her stunning imported stallion Daminos TWS to a win in the Matthews Hanoverian Seven-Year-Old Championship Final at the 2019 National Young Horse Jumping Championships. Photo Credit: KAMPIC / Kerry Marshall

New Zealand’s future superstars are heading to Hawke’s Bay this week for the 2020 National Young Horse Jumping Championships with a record 510 horses taking part in the 25th anniversary event.

It’s a very special event that was started by long time Hawke’s Bay breeder Graeme Hart but only in the last eight years has it been hosted in the Bay. Champions are decided over the three days in four, five, six and seven-year-old divisions, alongside national series classes and the FEI CSI1* class which has attracted 53 entries.

“The championships are a real celebration of the young stock being bred in New Zealand,” says show secretary Sharron White, the daughter of Graeme Hart. “More and more people are bringing out young horses and as a result we are seeing our numbers grow year on year,” she says. “We have a very committed committee who continue to push to make the show better each year.”

Graeme Hart remembers well the early days of the champs. “We decided to run them at Taupo because we thought it was more central but we struggled a bit,” he says. “In the early days people would breed a horse and have it sit in the paddock until it was six or eight years old but it is well proven and accepted now that if you work away with them earlier and get them competing at four, they get better habits.”

He and his early sub-committee had sought input from some of the best from offshore including Swiss Paul Wier and American Linda Allan. These days other nations are now chasing the Kiwis for information on how they run the champs.

“I am very proud of what our committee has achieved in running this event,” says Graeme who also tipped his hat to Merran Hain and Mandy Illston who had stepped in and helped when the event nearly ground to a halt.

He is always happy to share information and knowledge gleaned from 40 years of breeding. “I just want to see our sport get better and better. When I started it was to breed horses for New Zealanders to ride at the Olympic Games and other top-level events.” He loves nothing more than to appreciate the work other breeders have put into striving for a similar goal.

“When I started all the horses were local content but now we have genetics from all over the world. The mares are the secret to success – talent is inherited and it will keep coming back if they have an x factor.”

Graeme is hoping all those who have been involved in the champs over the past 25 years will attend a luncheon in honour of their contribution to both the event and the wider sport of equestrian. “People tend to forget those who do the work for nothing for a very long time.”

The championships get underway at the Hawke’s Bay Showgrounds on Friday and run through the weekend, with the age group finals on Sunday. Faults are accumulative over the rounds, with the four-year-olds jumping a round a day over two days, and the five, six and seven-year-olds competing over three days. If scores are tied, there will be a jump-off in each age group on Sunday. The four-year-old division has attracted almost double its numbers of last year with 41 combinations on the card.

Heather McDonald is designing the courses in ring one, assisted by Olympic silver medallist Greg Best with Steven Nichols designing in ring two and Lex Peddie in ring three. It is the first time a third ring has been introduced at the champs.


By Diana Dobson
9 December 2020