The 1980s – the establishment years

Looking back at six decades of equestrian history, through the pages of NZ Horse & Pony

Mark and Charisma on their way to winning gold at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics
Mark and Charisma on their way to winning gold at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics

New Zealand has its first taste of success on the world stage during the 1980s, mainly down to Mark Todd. He wins Badminton on Southern Comfort in 1980, and goes on to win back-to-back Olympic golds with Charisma.

The golden couple on their wedding day
The golden couple on their wedding day

Naturally, NZ Horse & Pony begins to focus on his exploits, and he is a regular on the cover, including a wedding shot in January, 1987.

But it isn’t all about Mark – riders including Blyth Tait, Vaughn Jefferis, Trudy Boyce and Tinks Pottinger also feature regularly, and Merran Hain is already a legend, winning at the top levels of show jumping, showing, eventing and dressage.

Dressage is really beginning to develop as a discipline in New Zealand, with our first Inter II test officially held in 1984, and the first Grand Prix competition two years later. One of the most successful riders on the circuit is Tiny White (mother of Tinks), including taking out the Dressage Horse of the Year title in 1985 on the elegant Diablo.

Tiny White and Diablo had many successes in dressage and showing
Tiny White and Diablo had many successes in dressage and showing

The magazine begins to feature a number of articles on breeding, particularly as the progeny of imported warmbloods begin to make their marks in competition.

Major milestones:

  • New Zealand’s first horse protection society is formed in 1980.
  • Blyth Tait and Vaughn Jefferis impress in show jumping; but by the mid 1980s, both have specialised in eventing. John Cottle, Chris Hansen and Maurice Beatson are the dominant show jumpers while Catriona McLeod is winning everything at pony show jumping. Trudy Boyce and Tinks Pottinger emerge as young eventing stars, and in 1980, an 18-year-old Andrew Nicholson moves to England to base himself for eventing.
  • In 1980, Mark Todd completes his first Burghley on Jocasta, and goes on to win Badminton on Southern Comfort. Meanwhile back in New Zealand, a little black horse called Charisma, with rider Sharon Deardon, is doing well at pony club – in 1981, they win the A1 class at the Canterbury-Westland area trials, are second in the AI at pony club champs, and take out the Mamaku trophy for Novice champions at the national three-day event.
  • The legendary eventing partnership of Mark Todd and Charisma is born in 1983. The pair go on that year to win the Forest Gate Trophy for Advanced at the national one-day champs, and are second at Badminton the following year.
  • John Cottle and Arturo qualify for the World Cup show jumping final in 1983.
  • An Inter II dressage test is officially performed in New Zealand in 1984 – the first time piaffe and one-time tempi changes are seen in competition here. It is won by Sue Alleyne and Flush.
  • Allan Goodall and Skud set a new national height jumping record, 2.12m.
  • Crash helmets become compulsory at pony club in 1985.
  • ‘American show hunter’ is introduced to New Zealand in 1985 by Maree McAteer, a former Lady Rider of the Year in show jumping.
  • New Zealand’s first Grand Prix dressage test is held in 1986, and won by Marcia Bayley and Kentucky.
  • Dressage in New Zealand, according to a visiting British expert Claire Morrison, needs less in-fighting, fines for scratching, European instructors, and more professionalism. Another article argues there is “a place for warmbloods” in dressage, but claims “thoroughbreds are too good to be replaced.”
  • Acupuncture for horses is featured – but the magazine wonders, “is it just an Oriental fallacy?”

    Nicoli Fife and Oldenburg
    Nicoli Fife and Oldenburg
  • More European warmblood stallions are imported, including Genius, Wohler II, Oldenburg, Ramzes II, Polaris, Distelfink and Allermund. Polarschnee – the first Trakehner stallion – arrives, followed by Falkensee. The Irish stallion Laughton’s Legend is imported in 1987, then Kingsway Diamond in 1988, along with Holsteiners Sacremento and Lucas. An article at the time claims “broodmare quality is the key” to successful breeding.
  • The first embryo transfer foal is born in New Zealand, Eeteeone, who is by Silent Hunter out of an Umteen TB mare.
  • Wintec launches its “saddle of the future” in 1987 – synthetic leather that comes in (very) bright colours including hot pink.

Olympics and World Championships

1982 World Eventing Champs, Luhmühlen
New Zealand announces a full team to compete, but due to funding difficulties this doesn’t happen. Eventually, Mary Hamilton on Ben Arthur and Ross Renwick on The Politician compete as individuals. Ross is eliminated for jumping the wrong fence in the steeplechase, and Mary has a technical refusal in the cross-country and finishes 39th.

1984 Los Angeles Olympics
New Zealand fields its first Olympic eventing team: Mark Todd on Charisma, Mary Hamilton on Whist, Andrew Nicholson on Kahlua and Andrew Bennie on Jade. John Cottle and Arturo are selected for show jumping. Mark and Charisma make history collecting individual gold, and the team is sixth. John and Arturo are eliminated with three stops. Afterwards John says: “I don’t know what went wrong. He has never stopped in his life with me.”

1986 World Eventing Champs, Gawler

Trudy Boyce won individual silver at the World Champs
Trudy Boyce won individual silver at the World Champs in 1986

New Zealand’s team named are Mark and Charisma, Merran Hain and Chief, Tinks Pottinger and Graphic, Trudy Boyce and Mossman, Andrew Scott and Muir of Ord, Blyth Tait and Rata, and Susan Tomlin and Jonathan Grace. Trudy Boyce wins individual silver, but the team is hit with tragedies: Blyth’s horse dies shortly before the event, and Susan’s is vetted out before the start. Tinks goes into the lead after cross-country, but Graphic has taken a knock and is vetted out too, while Mark and Merran both have cross-country falls.

1988 Seoul Olympics
New Zealand sends a record 10 riders; five eventers and five show jumpers (Mark Todd rides in both disciplines). Mark and Charisma claim their second gold, leading the three-day event from start to finish, and the New Zealand team (Mark, Tinks and Volunteer, Andrew Bennie and Grayshott) win bronze. The show jumpers (Maurice Beatson, Colin McIntosh, Harvey Wilson and Mark) finish 12th, with Mark and Bago the best on a two-round total of 20.25 faults. NZ Horse & Pony comments: “We need to take a second look at the types of horses we are using for the job… on this type of course there is no room for combinations who have to use speed instead of power to clear the fences.”