A & P Shows - with their prize-winning heifers, farm machinery, highland dancing, wood-chopping, sheep dog trials and carnival atmosphere - are as Kiwi as No. 8 wire and gumboots.

Last season I attended eleven, from as far north as Whangarei right down to Hawke's Bay.

Each show evokes its own particular mood. Clevedon was a foodie heaven where we enjoyed whitebait fritters for lunch and plenty of delicious tastings of chutneys and spicy nuts. The ground at Rotorua was seriously waterlogged thanks to the tail end of Cyclone Wilma which swept through the night before.

Matamata was where my daughter and her friend spent all their sideshow money on the gigantic inflatable slide. Te Aroha offered goodie bags and sportsmanship awards for the young competitors, Hawke's Bay had a lolly scramble and the stewards at Te Kauwhata dressed up like Santa's elves.


It's thanks to our eight-year-old - who competes on her little pony, Floss - that we've become such A & P Show aficionados.

We hang out alongside the equestrian ring dispensing sunblock and fresh water while we cheer our daughter on as she parades around and does workouts for the judge.

The standard of competitors is high. Back in my day we'd give the pony a shampoo and plait the mane and tail. Today the ponies are decked out like beauty contestants with dyed legs, bleached socks, diamante brow-bands, faux tails - and, sometimes, a subtle application of make-up.

There's occasionally a spot of unscripted excitement such as a loose horse that's ditched its rider or a small child having a hissy-fit and refusing to hop on board his or her mount.

But don't be fooled by the casual country ambiance. Competing at these shows is a very serious business.

The equestrian section alone is governed by 108 densely-typed pages of rules and guidelines covering, among other things, protests, forbidden substances and the Yellow Card system for dealing with inappropriate behaviour.

At stake are the highly coveted purple ribbons awarded to the champions of each section which provide competitors with their automatic ticket to the season's most prestigious equestrian event: the Horse of the Year show.

There are worse ways to see the countryside than to be on the A & P Show circuit. We get to spend time in places that otherwise would be no more than a dot on the map as we whizz through.


We've become blasé about using portable toilets and we're accustomed to nimbly avoiding cow-pats in long grass.

From time to time there are whisperings that these events are losing their cachet, that they aren't what they used to be, but I don't believe a word of it.

In February we attended Franklin's 125th show and last year we were at Whangarei's 130th summer show and Cambridge's 117th.

It's my pick that hardworking committees, sponsors, officials, competitors and the communities at large will continue to preserve and build on such long and cherished heritages.

A & P shows are a well established part of our collective history yet they don't feel retro, old-fashioned or kitsch. They just seem very genuine - and upbeat, too, in a low-key rural way.

They run like well-oiled machines where children can show off pet calves, teams of fencers are given two hours to build a fence, you feed ping-pong balls into clowns' mouths and wisps of pink candyfloss stick to everything in sight.

It's a wholesome day out. There are over eighty such shows held annually throughout the country - see ras.org.nz - and several, such as Clevedon, Franklin and Kumeu, are reasonably handy to Auckland.

Why don't you pay one a visit this summer? Go on. You know you want to.