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For Lionel Sinnamon (81) and James Morgan (91), their love of horses started from humble beginnings at gymkhanas.

Gymkhanas, which commonly featured racing and timed games for horses and their riders, were once prominent across small-town New Zealand.

Mr Sinnamon said in earlier years, hacks were common on farms and were often the go-to horses for gymkhanas.

At the age of 21, Mr Sinnamon got a trotting licence.

Centre stage . . . Lionel Sinnamon (second left) with Ceasar Rocks and family (from left) Shaun Glassford, Ashleigh Glassford and Michael Anderson. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

In his earlier years, when he was too young to race them, he would put the horse in someone else’s name instead.

He said harness racing had since become much more professional, one of the most significant changes over the years.

Mr Sinnamon, a Central Otago Trotting Club life member and owner-trainer, said horses and the racing scene had given him a lot of enjoyment over the years.

Two horses, in particular, came to mind – his first horse, Lyric Lady and Ima Chip, the winner of five races.

“[Ima Chip] had personality plus,” he said.

For Mr Sinnamon, horse racing is a family tradition.

Both his grandfathers, Bob Mee and Darcy Sinnamon, along with his father Bill Sinnamon, were involved in racing.

Further along Omakau’s main street is fellow Central Otago Trotting Club life member Mr Morgan.

His stories are similar; the main difference is that he has retired from horse training.

“I always rode ponies. We started off with gymkhanas . . . there used to be five or six around the area. That’s how we got started. And I used to do a lot of mustering up in the hills, so we had two or three hacks.”

He has many fond memories of his years as a trainer, including his first winner, Van Winkle, which he bought for 20 pounds.

“The [race] stake was 110 pounds and I think I got 80 pounds.”

Good old days . . . James Morgan reminisces, after being recognised for his contribution to harness racing, about his years as a racehorse owner and trainer. PHOTO: ALEXIA JOHNSTON

He also won six races with Rebel, a horse he was given by Alec Mitchell.

“I hacked him for about three years and took him to the gymkhanas. He used to jump the sheep tracks so I trained him into a trotter and finished winning six races with him.”

And, then there was Tetarney, a horse he nursed after it got tetanus, hence his name.

“I used to get up every three to four hours and give him an injection. He was lucky to be alive.”

Mr Morgan’s efforts to save him paid off after Tetarney went on to win and became one of New Zealand’s fastest horses at the time.

“I won 58 races altogether,” he said of his years training.

“I used to win a couple and then sell them. I got pretty cunning. If you hung on to them for too long the price went off.”

Mr Sinnamon and Mr Morgan, who have each been president of the Central Otago Trotting Club, were recognised for outstanding contribution to harness racing at the 2017-18 Otago Harness Racing Awards.