Get the kids harnessed up

By Dionne Christian

Kidz Kartz is a great way to introduce children to harness racing. Photo / Thinkstock
Kidz Kartz is a great way to introduce children to harness racing. Photo / Thinkstock

Kidz Kartz is something my family and I look forward to seeing more of in the New Year - and knowing adventurous Miss Three, I'll venture to add something we may later become more involved with.

Put simply, Kidz Kartz is harness racing for children aged 6-16 although only those aged 10 and older can participate in competitive races at licensed racing tracks. They use miniature horses and ponies up to 13 hands high that, like their bigger counterparts, are harnessed to a sulky to race on a trotting track. Race lengths vary starting with 400m for the smallest ponies, 600m for those of average size and 800m for bigger ponies.

Sure, they look adorable but it's becoming a serious sport with around 300 young New Zealanders taking an active interest. Indeed, those wanting to get out on to a race track must complete a three-day course to get a license.

Junior harness racing, popular in Australia, North America and Europe, was introduced to New Zealand in 2003 by Kumeu's Deneece Goldsworthy. Deneece heard about it from a fellow trotting enthusiast who, recently returned from Europe, kept saying someone should introduce harness racing for children to New Zealand.

"I started looking into it and thought the same way but it took about 18 months to get everything up and running," she says. "In the end, we thought, 'if we're going to do this, we just have to do it' so we arranged through the Auckland Trotting Club to have a race at Alexander Park Raceway and we were off!"

She admits some in the sport were circumspect about how successful the pony racing would be, but says Kidz Kartz events became a regular fixture because people started enquiring as to whether "the ponies" would be appearing at Auckland's Alexander Park Raceway.

"They really wanted to see the ponies; the demand was there."

Kidz Kartz ponies and club members now make regular appearances at the Interislander Summer Festival harness racing events, various beach races and have their own competitive events like the Auckland Cup, the New Zealand Cup and the Inter-Dominion.

There are also a growing number of clubs around the country for those wanting to join in.

Deneece established the Kumeu Club with five ponies aiming to make it affordable and accessible for as many children as possible. Now with 16 ponies, the club, which meets on Wednesday evenings and Sunday mornings in summer, attracts a number of city-based members who don't have space for their own pony.

Other clubs are now based in Counties, Waikato, Christchurch, Otago and Southland with membership estimated at around 300. The aim is to have fun, but also to nurture young talent, provide horse-crazy kids with hands-on experience in another equestrian event and teach more about caring for horses and ponies.

For more, see kidzkartz.co.nz or hrnz.co.nz/kids/kidz-kartz. Both websites have links to local clubs.

- NZ Herald

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