Statue project gallops along

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An artist's impression of how the War Horse statue will look in Memorial Park.

By Peter Tiffany

Work is about to start to create the larger than life bronze statue of a war horse that will be unveiled in Hamilton at Memorial Park on Armistice Day in November.

The $220,000 artwork will pay tribute to the thousands of horses - and the troopers - of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles, including many from the Waikato, who saw service in campaigns of World War I and before.

But unlike many such solemn memorials, the War Horse statue will not be up on a plinth or behind spiked railings. In fact, visitors will be encouraged to get close, to touch it and even sit in the saddle to pose for photos.

It will be installed near the spot where there is currently a picnic table close to the cenotaph in the park and will appear as if the horse it is standing on the grass.

The statue idea started with the Waikato Combined Equestrian Group. The group formed a War Horse Board with local trust TOTI (Theatre of the Impossible) which is project manager for the memorial.

The War Horse statue is designed by noted Otaki artist Matt Gauldie whose experience includes a decade of being New Zealand Defence Force artist. It shows a saddled and fully equipped New Zealand war horse sensing its missing trooper.

The horse has its head down about to nuzzle the trooper's slouch hat on the ground. The hat is also being cast in bronze as part of the artwork.

"It is a sensitive portrayal of the bond between human and horse with a lot of emotion and passion in it while showing the vitality of the horse," says Noeline Jeffries, president of the War Horse Board.

She believes the statue will add some extra life to Memorial Park where other war tributes are representations of inanimate objects.

The statue will be larger than a real War Horse and in equine terms will be between 15 and 17 hands high or up to 1.72m.

The exact height will be known only when the statue is made as some shrinkage is likely in the bronze casting process, says TOTI member Margaret Evans.

"It will be bold, robust and tactile. People will be allowed to jump on it and have their photo taken. It will be spot lit from underneath and will look as if it is standing on grass," Noeline says.

Margaret says Gauldie's design was chosen after consultation with the public and equestrian groups and was a unanimous decision.

Next month Noeline and Margaret will be part of a War Horse Board group that will travel to Otaki in the Kapiti Coast Region to give final approval to the model which will used to create the bronze cast. The statue will then be cast in pieces using the lost-wax process.

The pieces are then welded together before the finished statue travels to Hamilton.

Also involved in the project are Simon Marriott of the Waikato Mounted Rifles Association and Gallipoli historian Richard Stowers. Art adviser to the project is Hamish Keith.

Hamilton City Council has given the go-ahead for installation of the statue and the Hamilton Combined Returned Services Club is backing the project. They have agreed to move this year's Armistice Day civic ceremony on November 11 to Memorial Park for the first time in two years to include unveiling of the statue.

After the service and unveiling The Mane Event - a celebration of the Horse will be held at Claudelands Showgrounds. All horse groups are being invited to take part.

"If you are interested or if you have any ideas for acts or displays we would love to hear from you," says Noeline, who may be contacted at noelinejeffs@orcon.net.nz

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