Despite the gloomy weather the Hawke's Bay Showgrounds grandstand was packed with eager spectators well before last night's Extravaganza kicked off at 7pm.

Fears the wet weather would force a cancellation of the beloved event were eased just hours before the event's commencement and many riders who had worked hard throughout the week could be seen leaning against the rails of the Premier Arena with a cold beverage in hand.

The night began with a warm welcome from Hastings ambassador Henare O'Keefe who said it was an honour and a privilege to be asked to the event.

In promotion of Hastings Mr O'Keefe shared a parable with the crowd which was followed by a hearty performance from a Kahurangi Maori Dance Theatre group.

Advertisement

After the welcome the horses came out to play with the much anticipated Equissage Slalom Sweepstake which saw Horse of the Year's speediest combinations go head to head on identical jumping courses for a grand prize of $1000 cash and a HOY cover.

Amanda Gibbs was spotted hooting loudly on the sidelines for her 14-year-old daughter, Amy Gibbs, who was racing around the course on Kennebrook Duchess.

It was her daughter's first time in the sweepstake but Mrs Gibbs said she thought Amy had a great chance of winning the prize money and was "very gutsy" for giving it a go.

"It was awesome! It was very exciting, and as you can see I've already lost my voice," Mrs Gibbs chuckled.

Keen onlookers flocked to the fences around the Premier Arena in the hopes of getting a close encounter with the athletic horses that thundered around the ring.

And while grey skies loomed ahead the rain held back for the night's entertainment.

Mother and daughter Margie and Zephyr George were spotted on the sidelines during the Silver Fern Stakes in comfy camping chairs and said they would be sticking around for the night's unique event.

"People usually come because it's social and entertaining and you get to see something a little bit different," Mrs George said.

"There aren't many events at night time."

Mrs George said she had travelled down from Whangarei for the event and had spent most of the week manning her imported equestrian gear business, Saddlery Direct.

Ms George, a first-timer to Horse of the Year, said she hoped to be entertained and inspired by the performances.

Along with high jumps and speed competitions the extravaganza was supplemented by unique acts that engaged the audience and kept them in festive spirits throughout the night.

While the sweepstake was impressive, the crowds really did go wild for stunt rider Tui Taka's horse who danced for the crowd before taking an elegant knee and prompting a roar of applause.