Endurance horse riders from all over New Zealand and overseas descended on Marlborough to take part in the two-day CopRice and South Island endurance and competitive trail riding champs (CTR).
The event was based up the Waihopai Valley on the old Bankhouse Station, leased by Big Bale Contracting and belonging to Ara Vineyards, and took in several farm properties and vineyards.
There were 15 entries from the North Island, among them overseas riders based in Wellington for the season.
But the February 16-17 weekend belonged to Nelson Lakes rider Alison Higgins, riding the Canterbury-bred, owned and trained Arabian gelding, Northwinds Apollo.
Riding in the CopRice and CRT CEI 3* 160km event on the Saturday, Higgins guided Apollo over the six-loop track, in what was the horse's first start at this level, to finish by a nose in a gallop finish with Cheviot rider Philip Graham and Wolfgang Amadeus.
The two riders and their mounts led the "100 miler" race from start to finish.
They crossed the finish line in just over 10 hours.
At the final gate it looked as though Graham would win comfortably, his horse a couple of lengths in front with about 50 metres to go.
However, the vastly experienced "Wolfie" appeared to balk just before the line, letting Higgins through for a deserved win.
Her horse was also presented with the Best Conditioned Horse Award the following day.
Third was Marlborough rider Linda Harmon, riding MF El Marees to his first completion at this top level.
Former Marlborough rider Kevin James also had a good day, the only other finisher (from eight starters) in this gruelling event.
Also on Saturday was the MaxiSoy CEI 1* 100km ride, which was won easily by Wairarapa rider Cherry Brown and Samurai and I.
But the weekend was not just about endurance.
Many Marlborough club members opted to compete in the CTR (competitive trail riding).
The open 65km class was taken out by North Islander Angela Ibbotson riding her mare, Sky Pilot. Picton's Missy Green and Xavier Cheerokee were second.
In the 35km intermediate class, mother and daughter Pam and Sophie Harris battled it out, with Pam and Tampo De Oro just getting the nod.
The junior 35km CTR class was won by Charlotte Wadsworth and MF Zanbuck from McKenzie's Caitlin Holmes and DB Summer Storm.
On the second day of the event the main classes of the day were the 120km rides.
There was an excellent completion rate in these events, with just one vet out, out of nine starters. In the FourFlax CEI 2* 120km event, the finish came down to another gallop for the line with Rangiora rider Debby Worsfold guiding Aquila Toby to the win.
There was also a young rider event, the Fiber Fresh CEI JY 2* 120km, which was won by Australia-based Bridgett James, who rode her father's mare, Glendaar Crystal Fire.
It was the first time a major South Island event utilised surrounding vineyards and the course won praise from the riders.
CopRice and CRT CEI 3* 160km - 1st Alison Higgins, Northwinds Apollo, 10:09:14; 2nd Philip Graham, Wolfgang Amadeus, 10:09:15; 3rd Linda Harmon, MF El Marees, 11:31:19; 4th Kevin James, Glendaar Fire Maid, 12:01:59.
FourFlax CEI 2* 120km - 1st Debby Worsfold, Aquila Toby, 7:18:21; 2nd Louise Holmes, Silands Dainty Dish, 7:18:22; 3rd Alison Higgins, Masada Park Maya, 8:00:09; 4th Henrikus Swart, Wainui Waadi, 8:45:03; 5th Lynda Kessell, KD Kazada, 8:45:04; 6th Vanessa Tiffen, Stoneleigh Storm, 9:01:35.
Fiber Fresh CEI JY 2* 120km - 1st Bridgett James, Glendaar Crystal Fire, 9:00:59.
CopRice & CRT CEN Junior 120km - 1st Jorja James, Fahana, 9:00:58.
MaxiSoy CEI 1* 100km - 1st Cherry Brown, Samurai and I, 7:03:18; 2nd Gemma Haywood, KD Migal, 8:07:55.
Open CTR 65km - 1st Angela Ibbotson, Sky Pilot, 216; 2nd Missy Green, Xavier Cheerokee, 219.
Intermediate CTR 35km - 1st Pam Harris, Tampo De Oro, 97; 2nd Sophie Harris, Masters Silver Quest, 109; 3rd Anna Hynes, Rutherglen Jack, 110; 4th Louise Holmes, KD Trinity, 120; 5th Melisa Rae, Jazzmania, 142.
Junior CTR 35km - 1st Charlotte Wadsworth, MF Zanbuck, 97; 2nd Caitlin Holmes, DB Summer Storm, 102.
Georges Michel Wine Estate CEI 1* 80km - 1st Frank Aldridge, Merimindi Finale, 6:12:51.
NZ Quality Waters CEI JY 1* 80km - 1st Clara Haug, Aspen Hills Ida, 6:12:28.
80km Open Senior - Q Gilad Grinberg, Flir, 7:15:42.
80km Novice Senior - Q Jenny Champion, Tararua Yarah, 6:42:20; Q Sarsha Jacobsen, Talitha Bint Namish, 7:27:00.
42.5km Open Senior - 1st Sandra Evers, Silands Snippets, 3:02:12.
42.5km Open Junior - 1st Charlotte Wadsworth, MF Zanbuck, 3:02:11.
42.5km Novice Senior - Q Ebi Duess, Aspen Hills Pagan, 3:25:58; Q Robert Johnstone, Aspen Hills Celine, 3:28:55; Q Donna Boyd, Euralea Emagine, 3:46:06.
- The Marlborough Express