And with a blur of little furry legs they were off:
“Ronnie the pony and Jackson Adams on the inside…” went the commentator, “…with Khali and Quinn up there in the early stages and they’re being followed closely by Rascal and Maddie Dennis-Wolf…”
So began the tense commentary for the first of four “KidzKartz” 250m graduation races at Cambridge Raceway last Thursday.
Waikato KidzKartz, established in 2004, has been running its annual training course for new riders for around 16 years, and this year was no different.
Described by trainer Peter Ferguson as a programme “for the kids who want to drive, and the ponies who want to race,” this year’s introduction to harness racing spanned three days, culminating in a race-night outing on Thursday.
Children up to 16 and ponies of (pretty much) all ages can participate, earning their rights to take part in KidsKartz races all around the country. Guest speakers from the industry — vet Brian O’Shea, farrier Tim Hall, and equine dentist Bruce Neil — take part, ensuring the kids have a well-rounded knowledge of the ponies.
The course is open to everyone, Ferguson said, even those without prior horsey experience.
“It provides kids with insight into racing, but it also teaches them to be comfortable around horses. They start from scratch — they arrive and they don’t know anything and in three days they’re out driving on the track,” he said.
Successful New Zealand “drivers” have made their start in harness racing at the KidzKartz course, said Ferguson. “Kyle Marshall is a successful driver in Cambridge, Josh Dickey in Auckland, and Dylan Ferguson — who was the leading North Island youth driver last year, as well as Josh Oliver in Queensland,” he said.
“And that’s just though our club.”
In fact, one of the first kids to go through the programme was David Branch, who’s now CEO of Cambridge Raceway.
The course takes place once a year, usually in the Christmas Holidays. Kids who want to sign up for next year should check out the Waikato club’s website at www.waikatokidzkartz.co.nz, while newly signed drivers will be seen racing at the Cambridge facilities until the end of Daylight Saving.
The young drivers graduating last Thursday included Cooper Adams, Quinn Hojnocki, Poppy Beasant, Maddie Dennis-Wolf, Maddie Jarrett, Jackson Adams, Kate-Lynn Nelson and Valentina Di Maio
The three ponies graduating were Copper, Poppy and Rave.