Mackenzie Marlo and DSE Presley

At a time when most teenagers are up to their eyeballs in Tay-tay (Swift), one young local rider is reaching for the weed-eater, and not the pink lipstick. 

Eighteen-year-old Mackenzie Marlo is just as committed off the field as she is on it, as a member of the 2022 Oceania Young Rider Eventing Team who knows the hard graft that goes on to create an event like the Puhinui 3DE in South Auckland.

“I love my weed-eater!” says Mackenzie.  “And I also love painting jumps, especially when I get to be a bit creative at how I paint them.”

Mackenzie says it’s all been part of learning what goes on behind the scenes over the last six years since she got her first pony.  Now based at Tich Massey’s Springbush Equestrian in Hunua, she is well aware of the effort it takes to get our premier sports events off the ground.

“I think moving to Tich Massey’s place has really showed me the dedication and the hard work that people put into the sport. There are so many people that give up so much to put on these events and to keep on providing higher level competitions to such a high standard.

“And so anything you do helps. It doesn’t have to be big, but anything to help support these people who run the events, or who are behind the scenes giving up hours of their day when they have another full -time job or when they’re running their own team of horses,” she says.

Mackenzie rides CHS Diplomat at the Melbourne 3 Day Event 2022.

Mackenzie has had a lucky start to her eventing career.  She was recruited at the last minute to travel to Melbourne as part of the team that won the Oceania Young Rider competition in 2022, riding CHS Diplomat or “Dips” as he is known. It was the first time she had travelled her horse offshore, leaving New Zealand as a 16-year-old and returning home a week later as a 17-year-old.

“We [Mackenzie and Dips] had just stepped up to three star and just got in our MERs (minimum eligibility requirement) when I got the phone call that I had moved from reserve into the team.

“I think it must’ve been, like, three weeks before we were meant to fly. Oh my goodness! we kind of got everything sorted pretty quickly and jumped on a plane.  In a way it was quite good that it happened so quickly, because I didn’t actually have time to process the fact that I was flying to a different country to compete!” she says.

It was a rapid rise for the rider who started riding with a horse trek gift for her nineth birthday.   After begging her parents for lessons, she got her first pony when she was 12.  She says it was a big step for her, owning and taking responsibility for her own pony.

Living in Auckland city, she grazed at Mangere Pony Club and says she learned a lot from the instructors and other riders there, who guided her through the basics of horsemanship.  She also had strong support from her family.

Navigating the water jump is Mackenzie on DSE Presley at the Matamata 2 Day Event 2023.

“I was really lucky, I had mum kind of on my side and she had a bit of knowledge. But as for my dad, he doesn’t know how to tack up a horse and he doesn’t understand that the saddle was the thing on the back and the bridle goes over their face,” she laughs.

But credit due, dad Shaun is joint chair of the Puhinui organising committee she adds, admitting that it means a lot to her that her father gives up his time to help support the committee and run such a big event for riders nationally.

Currently, Mackenzie is working two horses, CHS Diplomat and DSE Presley and she trains with her mentor Donna Edwards-Smith.  And her youngest sister is now starting to ride alongside her.

“Donna’s been with me ever since I started, and she and Elise have been a huge part of my riding journey so far.  I think it’s so important that you have a sounding board, like you’re able to ask questions and not be afraid to ask those questions.   And you’re able to absorb so much knowledge and then pass that on when the same questions get asked to you some time later.”

Mackenzie is also an ambassador of Gumboot Friday,  a free counselling service for any young person in New Zealand aged 25 and under established by Mike King.  Mike supported her after hearing about the challenges she faced when getting to Melbourne within such a short turnaround period two years ago.

Now her goal is to get to 5* in eventing, and she says she’d love to jump 4* on “the horses that I’m sitting on now”.  However, she is mindful that uni starts next week where she has enrolled in an Engineering degree at Auckland University.

But the weedeater is never far from her side.

“Anything that you can do that helps make their [organisers] lives easier is gonna make the competitions better.  It all makes it a better experience for you when you run your horses if it makes sense.

“Like if you give back, you’re only going to get better competitions. Even if it means you’ve been putting in endless hours with painting jumps and weed eating and helping fix up yards. You win in the end,” says Mackenzie.