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A grey day for beach races

A grey cloud hung over the Tolaga Bay Beach Picnic Races, with two horses put down after suffering injuries yesterday.

“We've never had any incidents over the past 20 years, but it is an accident that can happen at any event,” said committee spokeswoman Nicki Jefferd.

“It was sad for the two horses, their owners and riders.

“The riders were checked out for medical injuries but they were ok which was a relief.

“It has really affected us because we're all horse people, we love our horses.”

The animals were buried yesterday evening at a local farm, where the owners, riders and some members of the race committee held a small service.

Before the horse deaths, The Gisborne Herald spoke with one of the organisers, Chris Ovenden, who was pleased with the turnout.

He said no matter what the weather, people cannot help but come to the races.

“It's a bug, isn't it?

“The staunch ones and the campers know we're on every year.

“Look at the crowd, it's great — it's pissing down with rain and they come out.

“I've tried to make it a family affair, no grog, it's safe.

“The whole day is based on the tide, and a public holiday if I can get it.

“It's a dead low-tide at half-past 12 and that's when our thoroughbred races are held, but the rest of the races are shepherding horses and whoever is keen.”

One soul who is keener than the rest is racer Dinah Atkins.

“I've been riding since I was a kid, now I'm 85,” she said.

Dinah had her name down to ride only four of the seven races because, she said, “you have to give the horses a rest”.

“I'm riding my horse Ginger now, who I've had for two years.”

She had her last horse for 30 years before she had to put him down and bury him.

“I enjoy it, I've been riding all my life. All my kids ride, all my mokos ride.”

“She's a cowgirl from way back,” a passing punter said as he hugged her.

But if racing a horse four times in the blustery rain at 85 was not enough to impress, another passerby said she saw Mrs Atkins commuting 10km to the races at Kaiaua Beach from Tolaga Bay by horseback.

Mrs Jefferd said they had a team of highly-trained stewards, volunteers, horse wranglers and vets on board at the races, but sometimes these things happened.

“We have full procedures in place for our volunteers and people on the day. We had two vets on the day with one on call and they were the ones who make the call”.

Attending vet Bob Jackman said one horse collapsed and was unable to be moved without further suffering, while the second horse sustained fractures to both front legs.

“Events such as these are very uncommon, with only one other instance having occurred in the 35 years of my attendance.

“The overarching concern in these situations is that any animal suffering must be minimised, and after assessment of the animals and discussion with the owners, both horses were shot.”

Mr Jackman said these sort of incidents happen occasionally on any farms with horses and euthanising them promptly is standard practice.

Mrs Jefferd said their team reassess how they run things every year and will see if there's anything they can do to improve.

SPCA was contacted for comment but did not respond before this story was published.

BUYING IN: Julianne Madden places her bet with Sue McCosh at the beach races' on-course equaliser facility. Picture by Paul Rickard
KICKING UP SAND: Trudy Arnold and Wheels, Richard Meihana and Teeps, Kaylee Tidy and Blu Boi are pictured metres before the finish line in the East Coast Farm Vets Handicap non-thoroughbreds race.
BORN TO RIDE: Oldest racer of the day, Dinah Atkins (85), pictured right with her horse Ginger resting in between races. Picture by Paul Rickard
OFF AND RACING: Riders hit the beach for the Farmers Air Ltd Shepherds Race non-thoroughbreds S&D Smith Cup at the Tolaga Bay Beach Picnic Races. Picture by Paul Rickard

  1. Mike Carr, Hawke's Bay says:

    A sad day for us. We went after the second horse went down – was not nice to see this happen.