Top equestrian endurance riders had a long day in the saddle at the Trans Tasman Endurance Challenge in the central North Island.
Australian Equestrian Endurance team members on borrowed horses joined New Zealand riders at Waiouru on Sunday for a 3am start to the Trans Tasman event, riding into the darkness across hilly farmland. They competed in 80km and 120km rides over five farms between Tangiwai and Hihitahi.
The Trans Tasman Endurance Challenge is a biennial event, last held at Stirling's Crossing in Queensland.
The horses are checked by a team of vets before and after each 40km lap to ensure they still have a normal pulse and are not lame or dehydrated, so riders had to keep at a steady pace and stop at water troughs. They also had to stop for gates which gave the horses a rest.
"There's dozens of them," an Aussie rider, who was used to riding in more open country, said.
The visiting riders were also used to drier, flatter land and enjoyed the soft green turf and the diversity of scenery on the volcanic plateau.
Sonya Ryan, Australian chef d'equipe, said her team greatly appreciated the high quality of the horses they were given to ride, and the generosity of their owners.
"They really love their horses and wanted to see how well they could do with our top riders guiding them," Ryan said.
Makahiwi Stables' Phoenix carried Australia's Talia Franke to a win in the junior 120km competition in 8 hours 46 minutes, while New Zealand team member Pip Mutch on Mauku Bella won the senior 120km, also in 8:46, with Sian Reid second in 8:48 and Australia's Jessie Herman third in 9:01.
Jenny Champion won the 80km ride in 6:08, followed by Deidre Bartlett (NZ, 6:25) and Jane Ferguson (NZ, 6:46), then Sorsha Stuart-Rokvic (Australia, 7:15).
Last weekend more than 50 riders competed in 10 different rides of 24km or more.
They included Mutch's 10-year-old sister Isla who made her firsr 80km ride in 7:54, and 78-year-old Mike Bragg who rode the full 120km in a respectable 9:49.