Celebrating the country life

by Andy Bryenton

Think back to the way things were 140 years ago, and you’ll discover a completely different view of New Zealand and our place in the world. This was an age in which the first petrol and diesel engines are still inky sketches in European laboratories, when steam and sail ruled the waves, and the far-flung colonies of the Canterbury settlement were separated from ‘Mother England’ by a hazardous sea voyage.

Even then, there was a lot to celebrate for the local farmers of Canterbury. By 1877 the first generation of folks born here would have been coming into their own, sketching out the outlines of what we’d come to know as Kiwi — not British — society. In that year, the residents of the little town of Ashburton took a big step in the right direction, organising and hosting their first Agricultural and Pastoral Show.

It’s a tradition that came from the county fairs of old England, Ireland and Scotland — not just places to show off prize animals and create new, more desirable bloodlines for the herd, or even to compete in tests of farming skills. These were the red-letter community days of the year, and that part of the A and P show has weathered the changes of the decades as they turn to centuries. The Ashburton A and P Show, now 140 years old, continues the tradition of being a meeting place between town and country, with all the added excitement of a host of hotly contested competitions.

This year the action spans two days, on the 27th and 28th of October — and with a ‘dance card’ as full as the one prepared by the hardworking organisers of the show, two days really are needed to fit in all there is to see and do. Each year the A and P show has a central theme, and 2017 opens under the banner of ‘Horse Power of Yesterday’. This concept spans a host of vintage machines, of course, but it’s horses themselves which will take pride of place as the power behind those early farming days. Remembering the brewer’s wagons, haywains, stagecoaches and of course the mighty ploughing teams provides a window on a fascinating past. 

Looking to the future, Ashburton’s A and P show has become, like many rural events, a showcase for the latest in technology. The simple days of Clydesdale and harness have been switched out for computer assisted, satellite guided, highly efficient implements to cultivate, sow and harvest, and there’s no doubt that a range of big machines will delight the young while giving their parents an insight into future productivity.

From the earliest A and P shows, there’s been an emphasis on good-natured rivalry as farmers challenge each other to grow, raise and show the very best of crops and livestock. Ashburton’s farming community love a first place ribbon as much as the next proud rural champion, so you’ll find everything from Alpacas to goats, poultry to sheep and a whole list of donkeys, horses and cattle in the show ring. There will also be hot competition for the best in vegetables, grain and wool, not to mention those other arts of the homestead such as preserves, baking and many more. Of special interest in this part of the world are the sheep dog trials — this is, after all, a place very close to the MacKenzie Country, home of perhaps the world’s most famous sheep herding dogs in days gone by.

With a focus on horses in the theme of the two day event, you can be certain lovers of all thing equestrian will be well pleased by the roster of events at this year’s show. From the smallest of Shetland ponies to the kind of powerful working horses which once did all the work of a tractor and more, there will be plenty to see. Skilled displays of show jumping complement the vast range of horse breeds on display, and judges are coming from as far away as Auckland to help decide the best of the best.

Add in even more entertainment — such as country singer Jody Direen, highland dancing and live shearing contests — alongside a feast of widely varied foods, this is an event not to be missed. For 140 years the Ashburton A and P society have upheld their promise to promote “excellence in agriculture and goodwill between Town and Country”.

This year looks like being another classic — see you there!