Early in February 2021 a number of people and their horses enjoyed the lovely event at Hunua (near Auckland) as the Springbush Horse Trials were back on after a couple of years hiatus.


It really is a superb venue, decent hills with a great backdrop of bush all around, a stream running through the property and great vantage points for spectators with some fabulous birdsong in many spots.  The cicadas were out in force too, as was the sun!


Tich Massey, one of the few FEI level 3 Course Designers in New Zealand, is the owner of the property where the trials are held. His mother and father came to the Hunua area in the 1950s where they milked cows for many years. Tich says while he has been involved in the farm for 30 years, he has lived there for 15.


“This is the 16th Springbush horse trials,” said Tich.  “There have been a couple that have been missed and a couple that have been cancelled due to weather but horse trials have been held here for probably over about 20 years.”


While it is great to see the event back on the calendar, on the day Tich wasn’t personally convinced that starting it up again was such a good idea.  “There is a lot of work and commitment that goes with organising this.  We rely on a lot of people to do a lot of stuff.”


“There are five events in four months for me and it is getting a bit too much,” he reflected.  “It’s not just me though, there are a few people doing a lot of work. Diane Gilder, for instance is another example.  She is the secretary here and she also does Puhinui.  The officials here, they do a lot too.”


The workloads on so few does concern Tich.  “Last weekend was Papatoetoe Pony Club and then Clevedon was a couple of weeks before that and it is all the same people involved in all these events. I don’t know what the answer is but there is a lot of pressure on a small group of people.”


The Hunua event has traditionally been held in February. While it was early February this year, the sought-after course designer would have liked to enjoy a bit of a gap after a busy period.  “That would give me more time after Puhinui to get ready because January is when everyone wants to come and camp and school their horses here, so it is difficult to do much on the course then. But organising committees for all the various events have to work  around each other so we make it work.” Tich is also course designer for the 4* class at Matamata horse trials which are late February.


As course designer for all the tracks in Hunua, ranging from 3* plus to 95cm, Tich kept in mind the time of the year and the event’s place in the eventing calendar.  “As it is early in the season I haven’t made the courses too technical and hopefully they are encouraging. While there are a few questions for the three-star, it is not top end.  I am hoping it is appropriate for this time of the year.”


Tich couldn’t praise the Springbush organising committee enough, describing them as “amazing.”  “It is pretty much a new group, with one or two originals from the last committee. Everyone is doing their bit and we are really trying to keep the costs down.”


Keeping those costs down became really important as they were hoping for a few more entries than the 200 that were received. “That was disappointing,” said Tich.  “Like all events, costs are high, and sponsorship and grants are hard to get. If you just rely on entries, you are not going to cover your way.”


Tich wasn’t sure why the entries were not higher.  “Perhaps people thought it was a bit soon for them, it is still very much summer.  This year this was not an FEI event, it is a national event so the top-end horses will be going to Matamata two weeks after this. Some said they needed a run before Matamata, and others not.” Ground conditions may have been a factor for some Tich thought.  “It is a bit hard as it is February but this is river silt here, so it is not bone-hard.”


There is no time for Tich to have a rest after this event.  “I am at Matamata, then back here for the Hunua Pony Club Event, where we are running 65 for the first time to try to get more entries. The weekend after that it is back to Puhinui.”


Tich admits that he is probably his own worst enemy with workloads as he isn’t one to “just” be a designer, he is very hands-on.  “I have to be involved, I can’t just say ‘do this or do that,’ I get in there and help build.”  He was out on course throughout the cross country day, taking flags down after classes, checking on how things were going and chatting with fence judges.


Like so many, COVID has changed his workload and plans.  “Originally I was supposed to be going to Australia to do my event at Tamworth but obviously I can’t travel at the moment.  It has actually been a bit of a relief, to be honest.”


Australia is still on the agenda however, depending on what happens with the pandemic.  “Hopefully once we get into May I can travel – although I am not convinced it is going to be happening – but if possible, I will be in Australia over winter if I can.  That is what I normally do.”


What is normal is the extra-ordinary effort that people like Tich Massey put in to our eventing sport.   Thank you Tich.


By Jane Thompson