The early days of Trans-Tasman Competition (1953-1959)
Above: Peter Holden on Rum at the Royal Easter Show Sydney 1955
Australia and New Zealand have a rich history of competition against each other which is still strong today. We have riders and horses crossing the Tasman on a regular basis for events such as Takapoto Showjumping, HOY, Aquis Champions Tour and the Young Rider Trans-Tasman challenge. In the next few articles we are going to look more closely at this friendly rivalry and how it has evolved over the years.
The formation of the New Zealand Horse Society in 1950 coincided with the introduction of standardised FEI jumping rules to the country. While the widespread application of these rules took a while to gain traction, with many diehards continuing their “round the ring” hunter style competitions, the appointment of an official Horse Society trainer, Coloman Bolgar in 1952 pushed things along. Bolgar conducted clinics throughout the country, converting many participants to the new, modern FEI rules and by 1953 the Society had accepted an invitation to send a representative team to Australia to compete at the Royal Easter Show in 1953.
The team comprised of Hugh Thompson and Optimist, Adrian White (who later went on to represent New Zealand at the 1960 and 1964 Olympic Games) and Hopalong, Mrs J Mackenzie and Swallow, Peter Holden and Starlight and Heather Swarbrick and Rum. The team was managed by the Society president, Bill Duncan from Taihape. The tour was a success with the highlight being New Zealand taking out the first Inter-Dominion teams jumping event, beating both New South Wales and Victoria.
Above: New Zealand’s Peter Holden holds a photo of himself riding Rum at the Sydney Show in 1957. At right is a painting his late mother, Helen, did of him on Starlight in 1953. Photo credit: Warren Buckland.
In 1954, just a single combination traversed the Tasman to again compete at the Sydney Royal Easter Show. In his second visit, 1953 team captain Hugh Thompson, this time pairing with Tumbleweed, again demonstrated the superior standard of Jumping in New Zealand by winning the most prestigious class on the program, the EFA Cup.
The next year (1955) saw the New Zealand Horse Society send a team to compete at the Royal Easter Show. The team was made up of, new captain Bill Meech with Wein Again, along with first time visitors. Graham Goodin and Telebrae and Esther Belliss and Kilfi. Also, back to try and repeat their 1953 success were Adrian White and Hopalong and Peter Holden, this time, in combination with Rum.
In the lead up to the Show, the team competed at local events at Camden and Warwick Farm, both near Sydney. Adrian White and Hopalong won the Table-A class at Camden and the next day, Peter Holden and Rum won at Warwick Farm with Esther Belliss and Kilfi coming second. The team would have gone into the Royal Easter Show competitions full of confidence.
On this occasion, the team was unable to emulate the success of 1953, although they were very competitive (finishing with three wins, three seconds and six thirds). NSW took out the event with Victoria a distant third to the unlucky visitors. Belliss took a number of falls and could not compete in all the classes. Also contributing to their situation was the emergence of a young star on the rise from NSW, Kevin Bacon, who won 13 contests during the show, in what was one of his first appearances there.
Above: Australia’s Kevin Bacon and Moonlight at the Sydney Royal show in 1955 (at this stage in Australia jump riders still wore jockey’s silks and used a racing saddle).
During the second half of the 1950’s, a number of efforts by the Equestrian Federation of Australia (EFA) were directed towards sending an Australian Representative team to compete in New Zealand. These campaigns were not successful until early in 1959 when a large contingent of Australian horses and riders made up the first competitive showjumping tour to New Zealand.
Above: First Australian Showjumping Team to tour New Zealand 1959. Whisper, Frank Lawton, Bert Jacobs, Royal, Max Gooch, Kath Burgess, Pilgrim, Geoff Richards, Our Chief, John Moss. Front Row- Peta Brown, Colin Kelly, Ted Dwyer, and Marjorie Coombs. (Kevin Bacon was originally selected to go with Bendigo but illness forced him to withdraw).
The tour started off in Blenheim for a one day show, where the Australian Team performed very strongly with Max Gooch and Royal winning the Marlborough area Championship. The Australian team then moved on to Christchurch and then on to Dunedin before heading back to Christchurch to catch the ferry over to Wellington for the start of the North Island tour.
Above: Max Gooch and Royal winning the Marlborough are Championship.
Starting in Wellington and then moving on to Hastings, the Aussies started to encounter some tough competition with the Hawkes Bay Area having the toughest fences and strongest opposition from the New Zealanders. New Zealand at this time had many fine riders and wonderful horses including Landrover, Telebrae, Saba Sam, Treason and Revenue.
Adrian White (born 21 April 1933) and Telebrae. This combination went on to finish 23rd in the individual competition at the 1960 Rome Olympics.
The Australian team moved on to shows in Gisborne, Hamilton and then finally Auckland for the Horse of the Year Show. Both teams put in a great showing, but it was New Zealand’s Ellis Upritchard and Landrover were regarded as the stars of the tour, with Landrover winning the Horse of the Year.
Both the Equestrian Federation of Australia and the New Zealand Horse Society affirmed that the tour was a great success. The Horse Society was delighted that the shows drew big crowds and from the Equestrian Federation’s perspective, the experience gained by the riders and the stage was set for visits from either country every two years, which would prove invaluable to both countries in the improvement of the sport.