Shows held competitions for various farming activities. In the early days ploughing with bullock or horse was common. The Gore show offered a prize for the ploughman with the largest family!
Sheep-shearing contests began in the 19th century, and became more organised in the 20th when shearing machines were introduced. A Wellington provincial shearing championship was held at the 1959 Masterton show, and inspired the hugely successful Golden Shears competition, still held in Masterton.
Wood-chopping events were held from the early 20th century, and continue in some places. Other activities included tossing sheaves of oats with a pitchfork – a feature of the Golden Bay show. After the Second World War, sheepdog trials were an important spectator attraction.
Horse riding and jumping became an important part of shows, and were very popular with the crowd. Originally draught horses were shown, especially Clydesdales, or farm hacks, often ridden side-saddle by women. As cars became common, there were fewer horses in shows, and in 1912 the president of the Masterton show feared that horses would turn into ‘weeds’ and people would no longer come to the show. 1
Jumping competitions had been introduced from the 1890s, as grandstands and show-rings were built. Until the Second World War there were normally just three classes – maiden jumper, open jumper and pair of jumpers. In the 1950s the spread of pony clubs led to a surge in dressage and jumping competitions, increasingly organised under the rules of the FEI (Fédération Equestrienne Internationale). In the 1950s Golden Bay changed the date of its show so pony clubs could take part.
Today, horse events remain hugely important and a prime drawcard. At the 2007 Oxford show, there were 224 classes of horse entries, compared with 100 of sheep and wool, and 66 of cattle.
At the end of the 19th century the Grand Parade was introduced. The prize-winning horses and cattle (but not sheep) and the machinery were paraded around the ring. Usually held on the last afternoon, the parade remains the high point of a country show.