The last jump has been kicked over for the event organisers of Horse of the Year. It hasn’t always been a clear run and there have been penalties along the way, but the biggest penalty of all could still await everyone that has embraced or benefitted from this fantastic Hastings event.
The powers that be, and they’ve surely wielded that power over the last few months, have now pushed local legend Kevin Hansen, his family and loyal army of volunteers too far. So now the Hansen name will be part of HOY history, rather than its future.
I’ve known Kevin for some time and I’ve regarded him as the face of Horse of the Year. He’s not a ‘show jumper’, but a ‘rough around the edges type of horse’. He was not only the front person of the show, but also the first one to roll up his sleeves and get stuck in to make the show the best it could be.
And the best it was too. The show has grown in entrants, range of events, tradeshow holders and crowds.
Kevin’s ruffled a few feathers along the way, but he’s been able to connect the vast array of cogs into what is now a behemoth of an event.
It’s so large in fact, that it was potentially outgrowing its home at the A&P Showgrounds. It had already outgrown the infrastructure capacity of the venue, with more amenities brought in than are actually housed on site.
Not only are hundreds of toilets needed, but also marquees, hundreds of metres of security fencing, stables and enough power for light up a small town.
To many HOY entrants, the event is regarded as the best in the Southern Hemisphere, if not the world.
Unlike other events that go stale after several years, Kevin and his team have continued to evolve the event and add new elements, such as moving the cross country race to the site. They have created an event that has become ‘mainstream’, which is a huge achievement considering horse events are seen as for the ‘hoity toity’.
The entertainment extravaganza on the Friday evening is the only time in a calendar year that you’ll see the showgrounds grandstand chocka full.
So why in the world has a company – formed in partnership with Hastings District Council, Equestrian New Zealand and Showjumping Hawke’s Bay – made it untenable for Kevin’s company EventPro to be involved?
I have known for a long time that there were issues and that some parts of the event management was loose. But to put the event management out to tender and potentially take it away from the event’s creator, is one of the most questionable calls
I’ve ever witnessed.
Although the event did report a loss in 2014, it was still acclaimed as a success – a $108,000 loss against an event yielding $12.5 million for the region’s economy
I know this column will rattle the cages of some and will put me offside with those that made the decision but …
Against Hansen’s track record, these questions need to be answered …
• Was a board needed to oversee the show in the first place?
• Did the board have the right people and did they have the time to actually put into being involved?
• Did the region’s councils adequately support the event in the first place – given the economic impact and strong tourism benefits of the show – and invest accordingly?
• Why was the contract with the current event managers never sorted in a timely fashion?
• Did the board consider the public fall-out of the event and identify all the risk areas, including that the event could be lost to Hawke’s Bay?
• Of the 2014 loss, how much of this is associated with decisions by the trust (who appointed a consultant as a general manager) versus those of the event managers?
• What will happen if all the event tenderers ask for too much money as event managers? This process was called an exercise to find out the real fee for event management.
• Did the board already have some event managers waiting in the wings?
• What will be the requests by a new event manager in regards to the facility (the showgrounds), as this venue has added significant additional costs to running the event.
• Was the Sport New Zealand review just a way of gathering the intellectual property and information about how to run the event? And in doing so can they pass this intelligence on to someone else?
• Have the board gauged what level of support they have from within the horse community?
• What’s the level of commitment from the current board to continue, or will they jump from a sinking ship?
We look forward to these questions being answered?
So where to from here? I hoped that a mediator would have stepped in and tried to help resolve the split. Who would have been the appropriate person? Lawrence Yule has offered a vision of Hastings being the equestrian centre of New Zealand (which now looks unlikely) so perhaps he could have stepped in?
Instead Lawrence is reported in HB Today as saying “I’m sad that you haven’t chosen to be part of the tender. That doesn’t take away from the fact that effectively you’ve got us to this point.”Now I’m not sure what he means by this – is it that the Hansens have grown the show to this point or that the Hansen’s have forced the actual tender process?
I then heard that in the HDC meeting called to review the current financials that other remarks made included the possibility that more investment needs to be put into the show.
Excuse me? The council only puts in a paltry $35,000, for an event with massive economic and social outcomes for the region. Also Hastings isn’t exactly flush with events either. New Zealand’s richest horse race has long but gone, there’s no large wine festival, few sports events and no large-scale concerts.
There’s the old saying “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth” and in this case Horse of the Year is the gift horse and Kevin is the rider. It’s a sad state of affairs.
There will be no winners. Some say the event will be back in Auckland before we know it. Controversy has never been good for events. When there’s controversy loyal sponsors get nervous and consider pulling out, while those that perhaps were looking for an out, now have one.
Unfortunately it’s too late for the board to get off its high horse. The goalposts have already moved. The Hansens have moved on and they’ll find another city that will value their efforts. It’s just a pity it’s not their home town!