by Helen Martin
When Chris and Shelley Ross bought a 15-acre strip of land by James Mackie Road on State Highway 16 in 2005 they intended to develop it as a lifestyle block and sell it. Their plans changed when a digger starting to clear it found a base of sand, and further test digs established the scope of the sand was massive. This led Shelley, a local horsewoman whose sporting prowess included being long listed for the Olympics, to the idea of establishing a much-needed local equestrian centre, and she and Chris set to, purchasing more land and turning the plan into a reality. Once Woodhill Sands Equestrian Centre was established it became affiliated to the national federation, Equestrian Sports NZ, and for over 10 years many national and international shows and local pony club events were successfully held there.
Wanting to move onto other projects the couple sold the business in 2017 to Woodhill Sands Trust, a community-owned, not-for-profit organisation established for the purpose, which fund-raised through local area groups. Venue manager Angelo Nobilo, who looks after the property and runs events, explains, “There’s pressure out here for land to be used for other things so it was a monumental feat, the result of a lot of hard work from some very motivated people involved in equestrian sport.” She describes it as a great community asset and a top-quality venue, where the grass arena has a very good jumping surface and the sand arenas have a firm surface and are quick draining. Assisting Angela is a solid team, including the Trust members, a grounds man, a part time book keeper, café staff employed when shows are on, course designers and willing volunteers who give their time to maintain the gear and help set up for shows.
There’s always something happening at Woodhill Sands, with a show every weekend. Local groups like pony clubs make good use of it and it’s the first Equestrian Centre in the country to start Spring shows in the national calendar, with people competing from Kaitaia to Taupo. A round of the World Cup is the biggest show. In the last three world cups the final, with up to 600 horses competing, has been run there by Waitemata Show Jumping in January.
Angela used to ride competitively, but says now she’s a ‘happy hacker’, riding just for pleasure. “I enjoy organising. I love giving out ribbons to the kids. It’s great that Woodhill Sands guarantees equestrian sport will have a home in the community, where kids coming up through pony clubs have somewhere to go to keep riding.”