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Happy to help . . . North Otago Pony Club life member Johnny Lavender has spent hours repairing and painting the jumps to be used at the Springston Trophy. PHOTO: SALLY BROOKER

The North Otago Pony Club is hosting the 47th annual Springston Trophy to celebrate its own 70th birthday.

The three-day spectacle – the biggest pony club event in the southern hemisphere – is renowned as the New Zealand Pony Clubs Association’s premier South Island competition.

It involves riders completing three tests on consecutive days: dressage, cross-country, and showjumping.

Forty-one teams of six from across the South Island will converge on the pony club grounds beside the Oamaru Racecourse on October 5-7.

Most will stay in motels and private accommodation, while their horses will be grazed between tests in paddocks offered by local supporters.

North Otago Pony Club life member and Springston Trophy patron Johnny Lavender said the number of teams had “crept up again” after dropping to the 20s in past years.

Pony club participation was at its peak in the 1980s, when North Otago had seven branches and about 160 children riding.

When North Otago hosted the Springston Trophy in 1984, 60 teams took part. All were billeted locally.

Lavender was pleased with the resurgence, which he attributed to leaders promoting it strongly.

When he joined the Herbert Pony Club in 1952, there were even numbers of boys and girls. Then the advent of farm motorbikes tempted many boys away from horse riding, although men still made up a good proportion of national representatives.

The advent of corporate dairy farming further reduced the prevalence of riding in the rural sector, Lavender said. There was no room or time for ponies on most dairy farms.

Organising the Springston Trophy took a lot of work, especially designing the cross-country course. Because most pony club parents were at work during the day, “retirees and anyone who can turn up” were relied upon to help.

Lavender, a lively octogenarian, offered to get the jumps into pristine condition. He had to repair rusted-out parts of the steel ends before painting them white, and he painted two coats of jaunty stipes on the Oregon timber rails.

“I did them freehand. They should be good for another 10 years.”

Lavender believes pony club teaches young people good life lessons, including learning respect for others and putting their animals’ needs first.

He has seen several generations of riders mature into young adults who joined the workforce with “not many hiccups”.

Some were able to turn their equestrian interest into a career, working with stables either in New Zealand or overseas or becoming jockeys or drivers.

Pony clubs were also places where participants made friends for life, he said.