Friday, 29 February 2008

Manakau ride photos uploaded to Flickr

It was great to be at the beach for a WATRC ride. Those long, flat soft straights unleashed the speed freaks amomgst our members, and what a lot of you there are !

Of course, riding on sand, one has to be careful. Sudden changes in the firmness of the going can lead to tendon injury, so it was good to see riders taking the firmer going as they stretched their horses out for a canter.

For the photographer, being able to see my subjects coming from hundreds of meters away, and having a wide choice of position and angle was a bonus I rarely get on some of our more confined trails, and I took advantage. Great fun, and I hope you enjoy the images.

It will be wonderful to go back to Manakau next season, and I'm sure we all hope this venue will be included in the calendar. That said, there are a few lessons to be taken out of the event this year that will improve what is already a magnificent ride.

If we have another beach ride that will involve river crossings, we're going to need a few small things:
1. Accurate information about the tides, their timing, and their impact on the course;
2. A technical delegate monitoring each crossing and empowered to make a call in respect of the safety of the crossing
3. An alternative safe route to cross, or an alternative route that allows competitors to complete the course, or a shortened course.

The most frustrating thing for all members was the ultimate cancallation of the ride. One cannot dispute the wisdom of the call - safety was a very real issue.

The timing of high tide, which was published as 12:05 pm in the NZ Almanac and on the MetService website, neant that riders in the Intermediate class, would have been making their final crossing of the Waikawa stream as the tide was starting to ebb, and the flow from the estuary would have been seawards - not a safe option.

As it happened, there was an alternative route (bridge crossing at Waikawa Beach) and potentially alternative options (turn south and do the leg to the Otaki River mouth again) that were not explored on the day. There may well have been others.

Absolutely, this is not an issue of looking for scapegoats - quite simply it's a matter of learning from experience and improving our performance in future.

Think of this as an opportunity, and make something of it.

Monday, 18 February 2008

Newsletter 106 and Special General Meeting

By now, most members should have received the latest Newsletter 106 by email. It's also available for viewing or download on the website. In this newsletter, and on several pages of our site, you will find a call to attend a Special General Meeting of the club.

In the newsletter on page 5 under the banner "The Future of WATRC: Part of Endurance NZ or Going it Alone???" are reproduced a number of emails documenting the to and fro debate that has been on-going between our Committee and Endurance New Zealand.

It's clear from the emails that WATRC is in dispute with EnNZ over the matter of outstanding levies on ride entries. EnNZ believes that WATRC has failed to pay levies that are due and that WATRC is obliged to pay under the terms of its affiliation to EnNZ.

WATRC has for some time deducted a ground fee from its entries, and this deduction has been excluded from the amount on which the EnNZ levy was calculated. WATRC has done this in good faith, believing they had a dispensation (if only in precedent) to do so. EnNZ has no record of such dispensation under the rules that could allow it, but points out that in any case they would not and do not normally grant such dispensation.

Consequently, WATRC is considered in arrears on its levies and has been asked to pay the outstanding amounts.

Although EnNZ has acknowledged the widespread disatisfaction with the basis of levy calculation, their position is that it would be unfair for WATRC to be exempted their arrears when other clubs have paid the correct levies. They maintain that despite disatisfaction with the present regime, the proper way to address the problem is through the EnNZ AGM, which was the member's forum that set the present unpopular levies, and at which WATRC was represented.

In my opinion, it's unfortunate that our newsletter frames this is issue in terms of whether or not to remain affiliated with EnNZ. In my opinion, this is a reaction to the situation, not a solution to the issues, and as such it has the unintended potential to mis-direct member's thinking.

The fact is that EnNZ considers themselves in financial dispute with WATRC. What this means is that regardless of whether or not WATRC remains affiliated, EnNZ are likely to seek to recover outstanding levies.

While it's easy to criticise EnNZ and NZEF (the over-arching body for equestrian sport in New Zealand) for taking levies and giving little in return, the fact is that there are benefits to being a part of a national sporting body, and while those benefits may seem a little intangible at times, be assured that WATRC does benefit.

EnNZ believes that our ride fees are too low, and that we could and should raise them. WATRC has suggested that raising the fees will reduce ride attendance. Regardless of the merits of either argument, if WATRC is to consume the services and resources of EnNZ, it ought morally to pay its fair share to support EnNZ. In particular, it is bound to meet the obligations it accepted when it affiliated to EnNZ.

While I think the whole question is premature, if members are going to make this an issue of whether to stay in EnNZ or go it alone, then they need to be better informed about what leavng would mean.

It would mean WATRC would become in effect a private riding club. It's events would have no standing with respect to national awards. Riders would have to go to other club events to qualify for national events. No resources from EnNZ would be available to the club. We would no longer benefit from buying power and economies of scale that a national body can secure. We would probably lose credibility with sponsors and supporters of equestrian sport. It would, in my opinion, probably spell the end of the club.

Likewise, if members prefer to remain affiliated to EnNZ they need to consider what is the value to them of WATRC, and what they're prepared to pay to be part of the national sport and to have a viable club that runs rides at such magnificent venues. If you look at the costs of other entertainments, do you think our ride fees fairly reflect their value to us?

Equestrian sport is not cheap. Shoeing a horse is not cheap. Running a vehicle powerful enough to tow a horse float is not cheap. We won't even talk about the costs of feed, grazing, veterinary care, worming, saddlery, covers, ... the list goes on. Just owning a horse is not cheap.

We pay a lot for our big pets. Do we value our rides enough to pay a little more for those too?

Here's something to think about.

WATRC has been paying the EnNZ levy (25% +GST) on half the ride fee. That is, it pays $2.81 for each $20 ride entry. It retains $17.19

EnNZ requires a levy on the full $20. That would make the levy $5.63 (rounded up) and WATRC would keep $14.37.

If WATRC raised it's ride entry to $25, the EnNZ levy would rise to $7.03, and WATRC would keep $17.97.

$5 more per ride entry is all it takes to meet our obligations to EnNZ and maintain our present level of club funding.

If the ride entry were raised to $30, the EnNZ levy would be $8.44 and the club would keep $21.56.

Now ask yourself - what can I get for $30 ? Here's some ideas:
2 movie tickets
A 2 course meal for one in Wellington (cheap and no drinks)
A 2 course meal for 2 at a country pub (maybe, and still no drinks)
One bottle of wine to go with the meal
4 glasses of wine to go with the meal (buy the bottle)
3 horse wormers (cheap ones heavily discounted)
1 shoe for your horse (fitted)
A month of halfway decent internet access (if you can get broadband in your area)
A Lotto Combo with PowerBall
15 minutes with a therapist

Hell, after getting home knackered and starving from a ride, we order in a pizza and garlic bread (from Hell) and that costs more than our current ride entry.

So it all boils down to this. Are our rides worth $5 more to help WATRC remain viable and meet it's obligations ? Or looked at another way, are our rides worth as little as a takeaway meal for 2 ?

There is of course a second question, and that is, do we perceive value from the levies on our ride entries paid to EnNZ, and the other levies paid to NZEF as club affiliation fees, and by registered riders and horses to NZEF for eligibility for national awards (this last bit raises a question for individuals - is it worth paying your NZEF registration if the club is not affiliated)?

But I emphasise that this is the second question, not the first, and it should only be asked once the first has been answered.

I remain painfully aware that club members don't have equal access to the club's publishing outlets. We have no forum where club members can debate these issues, other than at a meeting. I don't normally wade into a political debate on the club's website, and I feel I must apologise for doing so now.

Be assured that while I do have an opinion, my purpose is to support the club, its members, and its officers in reaching an informed and balanced assessment of the current issues we face, the potential consequences of our actions, and to find a beneficial resolution for all parties. If I can assist any member with makng their voice heard on this matter, I will certainly do so.

I will be at Thursday's meeting, and I urge all members who can to attend it also.

David Fitzgerald-Irons

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Photos and Results from Bright's Farm

Bright's Farm is always a challenging venue, with long climbs and descents on steep trails. Happily the weather was fine, and this year we didn't have to contend with rain sodden trails.

With the two loops having common portions at both the beginning and end, it was feasible to snap the entire field as they were going out, and then again as they were coming home or on their second loop. Despite a relatively small field, I actually got to take quite a lot of photos.

Results were published a day or two ago on the ESNZ website - one of the few times they get them out before we do..

Regretably, the club has some serious issues to resolve with Endurance New Zealand, and I urge you to read Newsletter 106 in full. More on that later no doubt.

Saturday, 9 February 2008

Photos migrated from Yahoo to Flickr

I discovered a few days ago that photos that were previously hosted on the Yahoo photo site are no longer available. Yahoo photos has been closed down, and they are now putting all their energies into Flickr.

I probably missed the announcement of this change - it's been a while since I logged into my Yahoo email account, and I think I had to re-activate it recently - so, my own fault really.

Anyway, fortunately I've kept back-up DVDs with the published photos from the 2006/2007 and 2005/2006 seasons (all shot at 8 megapixels), so uploading these to new sets on Flickr wasn't a problem.

For the 2004/2005 season when I was still using film and having my film processor scan the negatives and produce a CD, there was a litle more work as I had to re-edit the sets. Consequently there may be some different shots in the set, or some that were present on Yahoo may be missing from Flickr. Those shots were scanned at about 1.5 megapixels - good enough for standard sized photo prints, but a bit of a stretch for anything larger.

However, I doubt that anyone will be concerned, and uploading the photos again was mainly about keeping the historical record intact.

It's been a salutary lesson about the value of keeping back-ups in a digital world, and an example of how some of these "free" internet services can be here today and gone tomorrow. Let's hope that Flickr (now owned by Yahoo, and for which I pay a "pro" account fee) is a little more pro-active about letting me know if things are going to change ;-)

Tomorrow we'll be up early and on the road to Bright's Farm. Fingers crossed for some good riding for you and photo opportunities for me. Hope to see you there.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

North Island CTR Championships results published

Congratulations to all place getters and qualifiers in the CTR. While the number of competitors in the discipline was small, the quality of the competition was strong and all can feel proud of their achievements.

The Ngaroma course was set in beautiful rolling country and managed to incorporate some challenging and strategically placed hill climbs. Aside from the extra distance, the terrain was really no more challenging than many of our local venues, and the early start meant that riders could for the most part complete the ride in the cooler hours of the morning. By 10:00 am however, the sun was well up and the heat was building rapidly.

The longer distance endurance riders had an even earlier start, riding in the night with head-lamps and following a fairy-lit trail, but judging by the small number that completed the distance, those hills must have taken a toll.

Photographically speaking, my challenge was to get to a place where I was likely to see riders. With an inner loop of 20 km and a 20km extension hooked in at 13 km, my best strategy was to walk the 7 km reverse course of the inner loop in the hope of catching the CTR riders before they reached the junction. This meant I met the "gut-buster" hill going out (and had to live with the realisation that it would still be there, but higher coming back ;-)

I never made it to the junction in time - partly that hill, and partly dallying over the sunrise as I crested it, and partly because the riders would have been doing their first 13 km of flat easy going in about one hour - but I did meet some endurance riders and so all was not lost. When I did get to the junction, I carried on into the extension and waited for riders to return. It was fun, and I hope people enjoy the pics.

It was with some disappointment that I've since read the CTR report. We had not waited for the prize giving, having a five hour drive to get to our over-night stop in Marton (thanks Amy and Anthony) and we'd left feeling that some of the unfortunate issues of last year had been put behind us. And yet, similar isues have arisen again. I really don't want to say more than that, once is unfortunate happenstance, twice is coincidental but begins to look like a pattern of behaviour. Let us hope that we don't get to three times.

However, let it be said that despite some glitches, the trail was brilliantly marked, the facilities were very good, and we had a wonderful time. Despite the distance, it was well worth the trip.

Thank you to all those who made it happen, and to all those who stepped into the breach when things looked a little pear-shaped.