Kapiti's world famous equestrian vaulting team could lose its chance at competing in next year's World Equestrian Games because of a decision by Immigration New Zealand.
German born Kapiti Vaulting Club coach Verena Fiess, who led the team to ninth place success at the 2014 World Games in France, has been turned down by Immigration for her application for New Zealand residency.
After helping to secure a rare spot for New Zealand as one of 12 finalists from around the globe at the 2014 event, Verena is the force behind getting the team to the 2018 World Games.
Although she is working with lawyers to appeal the decision made by Immigration, Verena's future with the club remains uncertain.
"I still remember my first day at the Kapiti Vaulting Club," said Verena, who started vaulting in Germany as an eight year old before going on to coach the horse-based sport from age 16.
At 29 and needing time out from four years as a physiotherapist, she Googled vaulting clubs in New Zealand and found the country's only equestrian centre at the time.
"I'd fallen in love with New Zealand after travelling around Australia for a year in 2003 and always promised myself I'd be back one day. "
On November 5, 2013 she arrived in Auckland and ventured to the Kapiti Coast three days later, where she started work as a coach at the Waikanae based Kapiti Equestrian and Vaulting Centre.
She was eventually offered a sponsorship working visa from Reikorangi business owner Debbie Hartley of Body Mind Spirit Wellbeing, working full-time as a massage therapist on top of coaching equestrian vaulting three times a week.
"When I turned up on my first morning at the club with manager Lyn McIntyre, I was introduced to the Kiwi vaulting team, our highest class vaulters, and their coach and main horse trainer, Catarina Strom.
"We went straight to a show in Whanganui and the team performed outside on the grass, their whole team freestyle in canter, and I was totally blown away."
Used to European vaulting events being conducted at indoor arenas, Verena was astounded by Kapiti's ability to complete a whole show outside on grass, while in canter.
"I'd never seen a New Zealand vaulting team competing internationally and I wondered why because what I saw was damn good."
Having tried out for the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky in 2010, the Kapiti Vaulting Club was not selected, which Verena put down to a lack of contest in New Zealand.
"This is the only club in New Zealand so there's no competition for them to compare their performance, whereas there are 6000 vaulting clubs plus 100,000 competitive vaulters in Germany and just one team gets picked for the World Equestrian Games."
In 2014, Verena secured the help of her old vaulting club in Germany and New Zealand found its place in the World Games.
"After a long path, we finally got accepted to represent New Zealand for the first time."
A busy schedule unfolded, seeing Verena put together a new team that she trained six times a week while organising connections with the German club including host families for the kids, and helping to prepare a training camp.
"I organised horses from my club and an international judge for a competition in Germany, which was part of what was required by the New Zealand Federation.
"It was huge and the pressure was quite high."
After extensive fundraising by the Kapiti Vaulting Club, eight girls between the ages 11 and 21 flew to Europe.
With 17 nations entered into the World Equestrian Games, the first 12 made it to the final including New Zealand.
"Ninth place was amazing and no one had really expected that result."
The club went on to win the Kapiti Team Sports Award 2014 and 2015 and was invited to a high tea at Wellington's Government House.
Verena said with her life now built on the coast, she could not imagine moving away.
"I worked so hard at the club to get it to this point and hope to give other kids the same opportunity to be part of another amazing journey."
Ms Hartley, who still employs Verena as a full time massage therapist, had started a Givealittle page to cover the lawyer fees required to appeal Immigration's decision.
"She's been a huge contributor to our local and national community and without her help we wouldn't have had our first New Zealand vaulting team represented at the world games," Ms Hartley said.
"It's a real blow that she's been turned down by Immigration.
"The Kapiti Vaulting Club wants to go to the World Games next year, but won't be able to do it without Verena's help.
"New Zealand could face a huge loss."
¦To support Verena's appeal, visit her Givealittle page.