There’s no doubting the Horse of the Year show stands out from the rest. From a class of just 12 showjumpers competing for the Olympic Cup back in 1953 it has morphed into a show with more than 1400 riders and has become the biggest event of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere. The success and growth of the show would not be possible without the ongoing commitment of both stakeholders and sponsors.
In 1949 Melbourne was awarded the 1956 Olympic Games which prompted Duncan Holden to ask the question of the British Horse Society – how could New Zealand become a member of the Federation Equestrian International (FEI) and compete at the 1956 Olympics?
In July 1950 the New Zealand Horse Society as it was known then was formed and a year later became a member of the FEI. The first Horse of the Year show was run in 1953 at the Palmerston North Showgrounds. Between 1953 and 1991, it moved around the country but stayed in Karaka (Auckland) from 1991 to 1998.
Show Jumping Hawke’s Bay (SJHB) approached Equestrian Sports New Zealand to take over the hosting agreement and hold the show in their neck of the woods where is has remained since 1999.
After some economic hardship in 2012, an agreement was reached between ESNZ, SJHB and Hastings District Council (HDC) to form a new company – Horse of the Year (Hawke’s Bay) Limited (HOYL). The new company secured 15-year hosting rights from ESNZ to host the Show for Hawke’s Bay until 2027. ESNZ assigned the licence to deliver the event to HOYL.
The next chapter
Over the years many people have contributed to the Horse of the Year show and what it has become. When HOYL took over the hosting agreement in 2012 it outsourced the delivery of the show.
Kevin Hansen and his family, who had run the event prior, became the official event management team under their company Event Pro. Kevin certainly became the face of the show. With his passion and knowledge of everything equestrian, and with the support of the wider equestrian community, attendee numbers grew.
Over that time, the show not only succeeded in attracting impressive attendee numbers but also became one of the most significant scale events in New Zealand. With that came increased infrastructure and regulations. In 1999 the show cost $80,000 to deliver, but today that number now exceeds $2.3m.
As the show grew, so did the responsibilities of those appointed to deliver the it. Increased overheads and regulations started to put pressure on revenue drivers. This meant increasing trade attendance and sponsorship contribution was paramount for the show to be successful.
In 2015, SMC Events Ltd was appointed to be the new event manager. It was a rough start coming from the back of a show that had been struggling to find its financial balance for some time. SMC delivered the show for five years and securing Land Rover as the naming rights sponsor. Ensuring the event is run yearly without deficit is no easy job. The balance between the commercial aspect and equestrian culture creates many layers and expectations.
In 2020 the HOYL board, after much discussion, decided the time had come to bring the event management in-house. HOYL are grateful for both Event Pro and SMC for putting it into a position able to do this.
Bringing the event management in-house meant any surplus made was able to be put back into the development and sustainability of the show. Regardless of those efforts, the issue of the TōmoanaShowgrounds not being fit-for-purpose remained.
In 2022 Hastings Council made the bold move of purchasing the venue, taking over in April 2023. With the support of the Hastings Council, ESNZ, Land Rover and the show’s revenue generators, the focus is firmly on the future. The time has come to invest in and improve the experience while increasing community involvement. Creating relationships and developing a long-term plan that improves the show’s security in the way of equity and venue infrastructure was the intention back in 2012 when the ESNZ agreed to sign the licence over to HOYL. Now, with a powerhouse of collaborative effort, that can happen.
The Horse of the Year Show has always been and remains the perfect platform to benchmark equestrian in New Zealand.