Land Rover Horse of the Year is putting its best foot forward this year to raise vital funds for spinal injury sufferers.
Auction item proceeds from the event's Equestrian Sports NZ hall of fame cocktail evening this Thursday will go directly to the CatWalk Spinal Cord Injury Research Trust, to support pioneering laboratory research aimed at getting paralysis sufferers out of their wheelchairs and back on their feet.
Spinal injuries affect a number of horse riders every year in New Zealand.
Latest ACC statistics showing the cost and number of compensation claims for horse riding injuries has increased since 2012, with claims totalling more than $20 million for the year ending June 2017.
Horse of the Year Marketing and Media Manager Alisha Neilson said the idea of raising cash for CatWalk seemed a logical fit.
"CatWalk founder Catriona Williams has been such a pin-up personality not only for equestrian - a sport in which she excelled at the highest level, but now as an inspirational global figure in her quest towards spinal injury cure.
"The gains she has single-handedly made in this field and the profile she has generated has been nothing short of incredible."
As part of the night's proceedings, Catriona will interview former riding pals and Horse of the Year headline acts Tim and Jonelle Price.
Auction items for the evening include a signed All Blacks jersey and ball from CatWalk patron and international rugby Hall of Famer Richie McCaw, a signed rugby ball from Dan Carter, memorabilia from Olympic great Blyth Tait and a signed Black Caps bat.
McCaw's Godzone teammate and racing mentor Bob McLaughlan is also donating a guided adventure package.
McCaw said any money raised for CatWalk would be money well spent.
"I have seen the effects of spinal injuries and how much of a life-changing event this is.
"Playing rugby I have seen how bad luck can change your life in an instant forever and realising the risk is always there has meant CatWalk's work has always been something I have supported closely.
"A spinal injury could affect anyone at any time and having a cure would be awesome - so dig deep and support the great work CatWalk is doing to fund this research," McCaw said.
Williams, founder of the CatWalk Trust and a C6/C7 tetraplegic since 2002, says having the support of some of New Zealand's biggest sporting stars makes her incredibly proud to be a Kiwi.
"They are our rock stars and their support adds enormous value to our ultimate goal of getting wheelies walking again.
"They are proof that with hard work, rock solid goals and a whole lot of dogged determination, dreams do come true."
Williams said NZ had one of highest rates of spinal cord injury per capita in the Western world, with between 80 and 130 people per year suffering an acute spinal cord injury that results in paralysis.
Tying her work back to Horse of the Year was an easy decision, she said.
"Although I haven't competed for 16 years I've been almost every year since as the electric atmosphere is the addiction you just can't get enough of.
"It's where dreams come true and even bigger goals are set. It's where you realise anything is possible and gives you the confidence to aim for international stardom.
"No matter what, a title here is etched into NZ Sport Horse history forever and it's these titles that make this show unique and incredibly special."
Another silent auction item across the week will be a 250kg powder coated horseshoe sculpture, created and donated by young equestrian Olivia Ahlborn.
The 19-year-old university student spent around four months welding the 500 horseshoes into shape. The reserve price for the sculpture (which is heading to the NZ Rural Sculpture Awards) has been set at $20,000 with 25 per cent of the proceeds going directly to CatWalk.