The parents of Australian equestrian Mathew Slade, who drowned in the Waikato River, have spoken out about their son who was passionate about horse riding.
"Mathew was the embodiment of health and fitness. He was so passionate about all his endeavours but none more so than his riding," said his parents Warwick and Karen Slade in a statement issued last night.
The 21-year-old's body was found on Thursday. He had gone for a swim on Wednesday near the Full James Rapids downstream of the Aratiatia Dam near Taupo when he started calling for help. A female companion ran to the riverbank but Mr Slade had disappeared. About 2pm on Thursday his body was found by the Police National Dive Team close to where he was last seen.
Mr Slade had been preparing to compete in an equestrian pairs event this weekend.
In the statement Mr and Mrs Slade spoke fondly of their son's love of horse riding which began as a 6-year-old when he got his first pony Trigger.
"We soon realised that riding was in his soul and he lived to ride. All he wanted to do was be the best Mounted Games rider he could be. He represented his local pony club Riddells Creek at local and state events, he also represented Pony Club Victoria at State and National events. He was never prouder than when he was the youngest representative on the Victorian team that went to South Australia in 2008. Victoria had battled for this title for 17 years and this was the first year they were successful."
He became involved in the Mounted Games Association and competed in various competitions in Australia. He represented Australia in the United States and also at the Southern Hemisphere championship which was contested at the Royal Melbourne Show with teams from New Zealand and South Africa.
During this competition the Slade family billeted members of the New Zealand team and offers were made for Mr Slade to return to New Zealand to help with preparations for the World Championships in March.
Mr Slade was to be involved with getting ponies ready, attending lead-up competitions and training sessions.
"He was so excited about this wonderful opportunity and had been having a wonderful time with his host family."
Mr and Mrs Slade flew to New Zealand when they heard their son was missing and were greeted by families who had hosted and been involved with Mr Slade, all of whom spoke highly of him.
Mr and Mrs Slade spoke of the support they had received not only from the extended New Zealand Mounted Games family but also the New Zealand police.
"Every effort had been made to search for Mathew who had been swimming in the Waikato River after a hard day's riding. They had been swimming in the same place early that morning when the river level was lower and returned because it had been so much fun. Unfortunately the water level was now higher and the current stronger. They were having so much fun, there was no nonsense, just a group of kids and adults having some fun enjoying the majestic river, mother nature - one of Mathew's best friends. We will always be grateful to know that he was not alone in the end and knowing the details of what happened has definitely helped with coming to terms with the whole sad situation."
When Mr Slade's body was brought out from the river a group of about 60 riders and their horses formed a guard of honour.
"We must say the biggest thank you to everyone involved, the local police, the Consul General, the friends and family associated with the New Zealand Mounted Games Association who were there and couldn't do enough for us."
The family wanted to remind people about the need to be cautious while swimming in rivers.
"It doesn't matter how strong, fit and a good swimmer you are, rivers can be unpredictable and within seconds you can get into trouble regardless of how careful and sensible you are."