Is the National title show under threat?

What is going to happen with the Nationals titles?

Dana Kirkpatrick (GM of ESNZ) and Richard Sunderland (Chair of ESNZ) at the National SJ show in Christchurch over the weekend

ESNZ President and Chair of the ESNZ Show Jumping & Show Hunter Board, Richard Sunderland, was at the NRM National Show Jumping Championships held at McLeans Island, Christchurch, last weekend for the three days of the show.  Richard has always been a big fan of the Nationals, but acknowledged that the show faced some challenges, with only two North Islanders, Auckland’s Danielle Maurer and Wellington’s Sophie Scott, making the trek down south to compete.

“It is a crisis point for the show itself,” Richard said on Sunday. He was disappointed that more riders had not made the trip down to Christchurch, despite there being travel subsidies available.  He spent a good deal of time at the show talking to various people about the challenges this event faces. “I am getting pressure from the North Islanders regarding the Nationals being here, but there are so many shows in the North Island, I think it would last a year or two up there and then get lost.”

He had also received considerable feedback from the South Islanders, and said that he had even received a suggestion from one that perhaps the show should be canned. “There is no prestige any more. We have to reintroduce prestige.”

There were some changes made to the show this year, which Richard said were good ones. It moved from four to three days, and the top class (1.60m) was not held. The structure of the national title classes was reduced from five rounds to three: “It got more South Islanders entering in the title classes and that is good to see,” said Richard.  “After talking to hundreds of people on how we can improve this show, it is obvious there are a lot of little things. We need to create more profile for the winners.  We need to look at a name change, perhaps to the New Zealand Championships. Having prize money for each round could also help.”  Currently there is only prize money for those at the top of the leaderboard at the conclusion of the three rounds.  Richard also said that the schedule needed to be looked at, as perhaps having the series classes on the first day could be an improvement.

Richard Sunderland and Ross Coles, both regular attendees of the Nationals. Ross has been the Technical Delegate at the show for many years, bringing a wealth of knowledge

Increasing the level of prize money was also talked about as a potential attraction for the North Islanders. “The total prize money should always go up, but we can’t chuck a whole lot of money at it and then they still don’t come.”

There were, of course, other factors influencing the North Island-based riders’ decisions not to enter. While the road between Blenheim and Kaikoura is now open, the issues caused by the earthquake for that road may have put some people off. There are also new North Island shows close in the calendar to the Nationals, which resulted in many choosing to stay local.

Richard was emphatic that as long as he is President, the Nationals will stay in the South Island. “That was the deal that we struck a while ago.” However his tenure as Chair may be coming to an end later this year.

He was also adamant that more discussion about the show is needed – and urgently. “There needs to be board-level discussion and some time needs to be spent on this.”  He doubted that it would be at the next board meeting, as it will depend on what else is competing for a place on the agenda.  “The organising committee here needs to be discussing this too. We need to put everything back in the mixing bowl.”

Angus Taylor was this year’s Chair of the organising committee for the Nationals, stepping up into the role for the first time. He and his small but quality committee were tireless in their commitment to make the show as good as it could be.

Gus is keen to work with the ESNZ Jumping Board to make it even better, as he believes this show is important to the South Island riders.  “The National Show Jumping Show is a pinnacle event in the South Island jumping calendar, attracting large entries and significant sponsorship. It allows many of our South Island riders to experience top-level competition and have a chance at winning a national title.”

He and his dedicated committee really want to to make this show work. “We’ve taken a large number of options to the Board and have had open communication with them about what can be done. We continue to work with riders and sponsors on ways the show can be improved while being sustainable.”

Gus Taylor somehow found the time to finish second in the McMillan Feeds 1.30m National Championship on his thoroughbred Oak As (Image: Pegasus Communications)

At the end of the event he was tired, wet, dirty and pleased with his and his committee’s efforts but disappointed at the limited number of riders helping at the show.  It was “the usual” small group of dedicated people who were there to pack up the muddy jumps; many of those who’d put their name down to help with this job (and others) did not turn up.

“I think some riders and many inexperienced families are unaware just how much planning and effort goes into running a show,” said Gus. “Although we enjoy great support from many extremely experienced individuals and are lucky to have talented younger people in our committee (including Devon van Til, Kerry Winterbourn, Zoe Shore and Thomas Gardner in particular), the lack of interest and ownership from many riders is disappointing. I suspect many show committees all over the county have similar issues.”

Thomas Gardner, Show Director, stepping up to run a good show

As for the future of the show, he, too, is keen to see more ideas coming in to bring back its prestige and attract a wider group of competitors.

The efforts the committee went to were huge and they did run a good show – from entertainment to great catering for officials and volunteers. It was a friendly show too, with a great atmosphere, and just unfortunate that the last day’s weather was so awful. Until then, there had been some great jumping in the NRM Main arena at McLeans Island. The National Equestrian Centre is looking really good and is a very suitable venue for national titles.

While the Organising Committee did as everything they could, unfortunately they couldn’t control the weather on Sunday!

While there is a different committee responsible for organising the Canterbury Show Jumping Championships this weekend, don’t be surprised if you see the same people who worked so hard to make the Nationals as good as they could be, back at work.

Update:

For those interested, there were nine entered in the GP championship, 11 in the 1.30m championship, 34 in the 1.20m championship, 40 in the 1.10, 13 in the Open Pony championships, 24 in the pony 1.10 championship, and 20 in the 1m pony championship. In addition, there were fields of up to about 16-18 in the show hunter classes. There were also plenty of non-championship classes held in rings two and three, with very strong entries.