10 Unforgettable Olympians: Saba Sam

In our countdown to Rio, we take a look at 10 of New Zealand's most memorable Olympic horses

saba sam w trainerRider: Graeme Hansen

Tokyo, 1964

Graeme and Saba Sam were one of four pairs in our first Olympic show jumping team: the others were Bruce Hansen (Tide), Adrian White (Eldorado) and Charlie Matthews (Syndicate – 1964’s Horse of the Year).

A little black thoroughbred, just under 15.2hh, with a tiny white star, Sam had talents beyond show jumping: he and Graeme won champion hack and champion hunter at the Horse of the Year Show. They also won the HOY puissance three years in succession, though never took the Horse of the Year show jumping title. They were joint holders of the NZ puissance record of the time (6’5” – 1.95m) with Charlie Matthews and Syndicate, and had represented New Zealand four times before Olympic selection.

The four Tokyo-bound horses left home by sea on a cold, wet and windy day in September 1963. They reached Japan later that month, had a huge trip by truck (almost 600km) to their base at Kobe, then just 35 days for conditioning.

saba samSam and Graeme were our best-performed partnership at the Games, finishing 23rd, with a total of 37.75 faults. They were 10th in round one with 12.75, but struggled in the second, taking six rails and crossing the line four seconds over time. The individual event was won by Pierre Jonqueres d’Oriola of France on Lutteur B, and the teams contest by Germany.

Sam and Graeme represented New Zealand in England in 1965 and in Australia in 1967. Sam retired in 1968; Graeme was still competing in 2006 and died the following year. He regarded himself as ‘a passenger who was fortunate enough to be Sam’s owner’. Sam’s name lives on in the Saba Sam Shield, held at HOY each year, for pony club area teams show jumping.