Monday, May. 27, 2024

New Zealand From A Dressage Point Of View

Our columnist travels “down under” and reflects on what she lived and learned.

For many years, I’ve had an urge to visit New Zealand. So when the opportunity arrived to judge and conduct a couple of judges’ seminars, I agreed to go, although it fell right in the middle of the Florida show season.

The trip from Orlando to destination “down under” took 30 hours door to door, but it proved to be a small effort to make for a trip to paradise.

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Our columnist travels “down under” and reflects on what she lived and learned.

For many years, I’ve had an urge to visit New Zealand. So when the opportunity arrived to judge and conduct a couple of judges’ seminars, I agreed to go, although it fell right in the middle of the Florida show season.

The trip from Orlando to destination “down under” took 30 hours door to door, but it proved to be a small effort to make for a trip to paradise.

Christchurch on the South Island was the site of the first show, which was advertised as the National Championships, and for me it was like traveling back in time to the first Palm Beach Derby (Fla.) at the White Fences property of the Pferdekampers.

There were a number of rings, including one grass arena for the event horses, a clubhouse and a large parking lot filled with campers. A clear difference was that the horses were not stabled, but rather lived in tiny paddocks or were tied to trailers, which are called “horse floats.”

The competition standard was much like ours about 20 years ago. There were a handful of horses at each level that were capable of pulling a score in the mid to high 60s, but most were struggling with some of the requirements.

The show was run by Fédération Equestre Internationale rules, including vet check and foreign judges, but didn’t actually qualify as such, probably for financial reasons. Like many of our shows, the whole affair was glued together by the grace of volunteers who had been there and done that forever, and they had a really smooth act going. Like ours, the younger judges are in training programs, and I had a judge from Australia shadow judging with me and discussing our results afterwards.

Since fall is setting in around March in these parts, this was the show to attend if you wanted to be part of the selection of the top 4- to 6-year-olds of the year. After we judged the tests appropriate for the horses’ level, a professional rider flew in from Australia to ride the winners of each age group. On the last day, we then selected the “best in show” from all of the youngsters, together with the test rider. It was comforting to find that the horse the judges had deemed the best trained of the lot the day before also proved to be the one picked by the test rider as the one with the superior rideability.

A Different Wellington

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Christchurch is a very “English” town, abundant in trees and flowers, centered by a town square with an imposing cathedral and complete with a “town crier” who amused the college students from atop a ladder with wisdom of the ages and tips from the racetrack.

Throughout the area were the tallest hedges I’ve ever seen, which were perfectly manicured and very imposing. I was told they shelter the crops from the wind, which sweeps across the islands with sometimes-merciless force. There was a bagpipe contest in one of the many parks with at least six bands fighting it out, kilted to the nines. Flower arrangements sailed on the river, artfully arranged on little floats.

About 60 judges on each of the two islands attended the two judges’ clinics, and the participants were enthusiastic, full of questions and interactive throughout the extensive classroom sessions. The lecture session was based on the U.S. Equestrian Federation S-rated power point presentation, which I was graciously given permission to use, and I found it a great yellow brick road to follow. A good selection of demonstration horses and riders helped fill in the blanks and, as always, even the instructor learned a thing or two.

The next stop was Wellington, the capital, which is a beautiful harbor city at the bottom of the North Island. It sports the famous Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa and cable cars that take you up the steep hillside to the botanical garden and a panoramic view of the inlet to the harbor.

From there, I went by truck on narrow, twisty roads through the mountains where The Lord of the Rings was filmed. As in the movie, the breathtaking scenery of the green mountains goes on forever.

Sue and Brian Hobson hosted the second judges’ clinic. Sue is a well-known and successful competitor, and Brian builds horse vans for people, if you know what I mean. They are so well appointed and comfortable you forget they are actually built to transport equines.

An exhilarating five-hour bike ride on the back of Brian’s Gold Wing Honda allowed me to view some of the most varying and never ending gorgeous scenery in the world on the way to Hastings, where the Horse of the Year show takes place. This is the event of the year for everyone involved in horses in New Zealand, and it includes all disciplines: hunters, western, Arabians, ponies, jumpers and dressage.

With the atmosphere of a carnival, a great trade fair set up around the compe-tition arenas and fabulous weather, the show could not fail. The dressage compe-tition was a CDI*** and at the same time, there was a National Championship with the determining factor being a freestyle. 

It was a bit tricky to sort out the champions in many freestyles at second to fourth levels without seeing any of the horses in a regular test, but in the end I think we got it right. The CDI was of decent quality, and the Young Riders kept improving from day to day, once the initial tension evaporated. There were many talented horses, several promising riders, and then the ones who have not yet found their way. Again, I recognized us from years ago.

The Reason For Rugs

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I had the opportunity to spend a couple of days on a 650-acre ranch belonging to Carol and Neil Eivers, Hanoverian breeders. They also have 200 cows and enormous numbers of sheep living on their mountains.

Horse husbandry in New Zealand is quite different and sometimes smarter than ours. The lifestyle is much closer to nature as intended for a horse.

In the morning I would watch Carol prepare her feed for the breeding stock. She had chaff (a mixture of oaten and alfalfa, cut up in short pieces) as a basis for the feed. Freshly crushed barley for fiber, wheat, corn and molasses were added; the barley and crushed corn were soaked in water overnight. To this Carol added a handful of seaweed meal for minerals and granulated electrolytes and topped it off with a spoonful of copper sulfate.

I’m not convinced her diet is the answer for every horse, but the research and detail that went into planning the best menu for her horses was impressive. The feed and hay was loaded on the ATV and off we went, climbing over just about anything to reach the high pasture. I wondered how she was going to feed a dozen or more horses grain in the field without causing a war among them. No problem: as we approached the pasture, they lined up in a row and waited politely to have their grain put on the ground in their special spots.

One of Carol’s horses had stuck his foot in a fence and ripped off a large part of the bottom of his hoof. It was a nasty wound and still bleeding when we rewrapped it. I made big eyes when she brought out a jar of honey to dress the wound. It worked like a charm, and already the next day the area around the cut looked dry and clean with hardly any swelling.

Everywhere I went the horses lived outdoors around the clock, roaming in the hills under a New Zealand rug. If there was a barn on the property, it was usually populated by tractors and farm machinery and used for storage. One stall was kept aside for emergencies when a horse may have to be confined. The usually mild climate and the topography (plus a surplus of available land), allows this kind of healthy lifestyle, which avoids a number of problems such as colic, cribbing, weaving and injuries from horses being imprisoned in stalls for the better part of their lives.

If I were a horse, I’d want to live in New Zealand. As a matter of fact, if there’s a next life, I’d consider signing up for it as a human. 

Anne Gribbons


Anne Gribbons moved to the United States from Sweden in 1972 and has trained more than a dozen horses to Grand Prix. She rode on the 1986 World Championships dressage team and earned a team silver medal at the 1995 Pan American Games. An O-rated dressage judge based in Chuluota, Fla., Gribbons serves as a longstanding member of the USEF High Performance Committee. She started contributing to Between Rounds in 1995.

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