Eventing at the Horse of the Year Show has never promised so much excitement with a strong field of 23 combinations entered in the CCI4*-S class (formerly CIC3*) at Hastings, including four of New Zealand's top internationals.
Matangi's Samantha Lissington (nee Felton) has made three of her Ricker Ridge horses available for Tim and Jonelle Price, who have flown in from the UK, with Jock Paget joining the fray, and Blyth Tait, now based back in New Zealand again, who will ride adventurer Chloe Phillips-Harris' Cor Jet.
Lissington rode four of the 12 starters in the 4* class at Puhinui earlier this month, but will only ride Ricker Ridge Rui, the current leader of the ESNZ Eventing Super League, at Hastings. Jonelle will ride the mare RR Divine Right, Tim is pairing up with RR Escada, and Jock will compete on RR Riley.
Phillips-Harris, who has competed Cor Jet at the Land Rover Horse of the Year previously, will be busy signing copies of her recently released book Fearless, recounting her experiences while participating in the Mongol Derby as well as helping welfare teams trying to improve the conditions for working animals in underprivileged countries around the world.
Te Kauwhata's Donna Edwards-Smith will resume the mantle of most rides in the class with three horses entered, Gay McClunie's DSE Cluny, on whom she holds second spot in the Super League, DSE Tangolooma, and the perennial crowd favourite, DSE Mr Hokey Pokey, who is resuming after time out.
Last year's winners Clarke Johnstone and Balmoral Sensation will not be defending their title, having suffered a minor injury while helping the New Zealand team win the Nations Cup at Aachen last year, and missing the World Equestrian Games as a result. However, they are now on back on track to campaign for selection for Tokyo 2020.
Last year's runner up Nick Brooks and the promising For Fame will be hoping to step up, but the competition will be keen. Diane Gilder and her handsome Australian thoroughbred Your Attorney hit their straps to win at Puhinui, while sole South Islander Courtney Davis and By Hoki bring top form from Canterbury.
The current national three-day event champions, Havelock North's Amanda Pottinger and Just Kidding, will have their first top level start since their meritorious second in the Australian International Three-day Event at Adelaide last November. Don't be surprised to see them lead after tomorrow's dressage, and fight to hold that top spot to the end.
The ground jury to judge the 4* is UK based Kiwi Andrew Bennie, who has officiated at many international events, including Olympic Games, Tim Downes (GBR), and Barbara Woolhouse (NZL). The technical delegate is Philip Surl (GBR), who fittingly officiates at the Burghley Horse Trials in England.
The showjumping phase takes place in the premier arena at midday on Friday, and the cross-country on Saturday afternoon, preceded by the CCI3*-S class, which has attracted 36 competitors, and will be judged by Helen Christie (NZL), Sumiko Suzuki (JPN), and Sukhdev Rathore (IND).
Blyth Tait rides Havanna in this 3* class, the horse he brought from the UK before Christmas having decided to base himself in New Zealand again. However, they will not run at top level until the horse has acclimatised. Blyth's previous international horse Xanthus III, now enjoying life in the hands of his former groom Fiona Fraser, will also contest this class.
Lissington has RR Sooty GNZ entered, and the in form Monica Oakley has three chances with Artist, Festival, and Man of Honour. Young Rider champion Vicky Brown-Cole competes the title winning Cutting Edge as well as her 2017 Young Rider Oceania team horse Eli, both attractive greys.
The Horse of the Year provides eventers with a great opportunity to experience the intensity of competing in front of crowds, which helps prepare them for overseas competition, and provides spectators with a close up view of the action most only see on television.