Last weekend the Matamata Equestrian Group hosted an action-packed competition at John and Denise McGivens’ Richmond Downs farm for nearly 350 riders and horses.
The event, which incorporates the NZTBA-sponsored Ready Teddy Trophy, has developed over the years from the original one-day format to this year’s three-day competition covering three disciplines – dressage, show jumping and cross-country.
In 2013 the McGivens recognised the potential to host a horse trial on the property, which is set in an idyllic rolling landscape west of Matamata. It took two years to organise the first event and see their vision come to life, with the first trial in 2015 hosting some 50 competitors. Since then the competition has continued to expand.
According to Denise McGiven, the 2021 renewal was at capacity, however the reward was seeing the enjoyment competitors took out of participating.
“The event was maxed out,” she said. “Though seeing people ride through the finish flags with a big smile on their face, that’s what it’s all about for us.”
Spectacular late summer weather combined with the scenic location of the cross-country course meant spectators were treated to great views of the action. Sponsors were served with drinks and nibbles throughout each day’s proceedings, along with a social gathering on Saturday night.
“It’s been an awesome weekend with everyone coming together and interacting with a smile on their faces,” said Matamata Equestrian Group committee member and Dunstan Horse Feeds marketing manager Paxton Conder. “We’ve been really thrilled with how the weekend has gone.”
Following the success of their inaugural 2019 sponsorship of the Ready Teddy Trophy, the New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association has continued to support the Matamata Equestrian Group Trials with a dress rug, trophy and $500 cash prize for the best performed thoroughbred.
The purpose of the Ready Teddy Trophy is to recognise and celebrate thoroughbred performance outside their racing career pathway. It’s designed to show the incredible athletic ability and versatility that these animals have and which enables them to shine away from the racetrack.
The 2021 Ready Teddy Trophy was awarded to Abigail Long riding Belmont Holy Smoke after achieving the best overall performance in the 4-Star class, as well as being the overall best placed thoroughbred. Long was understandably thrilled with the result after making the six-hour drive north from Levin.
“It went better than expected,” she said. “I originally didn’t plan to run Eric (Belmont Holy Smoke) fast through the cross-country but it just happened. We were so close to the top of the leader board that I couldn’t not give it a go."
“Eric was the one to do it on; he’s super quick, very brave, very bold. So we just went out and did it and luckily we nailed it.”
Raced under the name Holy Smoke, Eric is a 12-year-old chestnut gelding by Faltaat out of Flaring Star and was bred at Grangewilliam Stud. He won three times during his 15-start racing career.
Although Long is not hugely familiar with Ready Teddy, she does know the name of the horse and Holy Smoke does share some colour similarities with the champion eventer.
“All our paddocks at home are named after famous horses and Eric was paddocked next to the Ready Teddy paddock, but I didn’t know much about him,” Long said. “I do believe that he was a chestnut, so that does match.”
Ready Teddy, by successful stallion Brilliant Invader and bred by Rotorua identity Tom Russell, was at his peak in the mid-1990s when combining with Blyth Tait to win gold at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. The combination also excelled at the World Equestrian Games, being the first to claim gold at both competitions.
Long admits that the preparation she has had to put into Holy Smoke hasn’t always been an easy ride, however the joy that went with the Ready Teddy Trophy win definitely underlined the benefits of thoroughbreds engaging in activities outside of the norm.
“He feels very much at home, galloping around and jumping over these jumps,” she said.
“Initiating the Ready Teddy Trophy concept in 2019 seemed the right fit for our association,” NZTBA CEO Justine Sclater said. “We are all focused on welfare for our thoroughbreds and this is an ideal way to recognise and support the post-racing careers of thoroughbreds for years to come.”
- Madison Tims, NZTBA