Rider response 'overwhelming'

Up to $125,000 in prize money is attracting unprecedented competition for equestrian event Ride the Rhythm, to be held at the Forsyth Barr Stadium on February 1, organiser Kevin Hansen says.

Mr Hansen also organised the New Zealand Horse of the Year Show and said Ride the Rhythm would boast the strongest field of Australian show-jumpers to ever compete in New Zealand.

''The response from the Australians has been overwhelming. I have been blown away. It is undoubtedly the most impressive line-up ever to compete on New Zealand shores.''

Mr Hansen initially hoped to entice ''four or five'' Australian competitors and, to date, 14 had confirmed, with ''more in the pipeline''.

Entries closed on January 5.

''It is going to change the face of showjumping in New Zealand,'' he said.

If a competitor broke the New Zealand showjumping height record of 2.21m, they would receive $70,000, and if more than one did so, the $70,000 would be shared. If the record was not broken, the highest show-jumper would get $5000.

Further prizes totalling $50,000 were available in a super grand prix event, and $5000 in a junior grand prix.

Mr Hansen said New Zealand Olympians Katie McVean, Maurice Beatson and Samantha McIntosh would lead the Kiwi contingent, each entering two horses.

Otago riders Claudia Hay, of Mosgiel, and Brittany Whelan, of Dunedin, were also entered, having placed first and second respectively in a South Island showjumping grand prix earlier this year.

Alison Rowland, of Perth, was the top Australian competitor to enter Ride the Rhythm.

She won this year's jumping title at the Be the Influence Equestrian Grand Final in Melbourne, as well as the Australian League of the recent FEI World Cup.

Fellow Australian rider Rory Hovell would also compete, as part of his bid to qualify for the 2014 World Equestrian Games and the 2016 Olympic Games. Mr Hansen said the competition would be tough and unlike anything previously seen in New Zealand.

''With the added attraction of it being held in the world's only permanent-grass indoor stadium, it's going to be a true transtasman battle,'' he said.

Equestrian events would be followed by a concert from English group The Hollies.

Mr Hansen hoped Ride the Rhythm would become an annual event.

-rosie.manins@odt.co.nz

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