David Goodin: old school

Catching up with New Zealand show jumping legend David Goodin, who is still out competing at the age of 80

David Goodin and Rastas Rebel (Image: NZHP)
David Goodin and Rastas Rebel (Image: NZHP)

David Goodin is a humble, knowledgeable, hardworking gentleman, who has quietly contributed so much to the New Zealand sporthorse industry. He is a rider, breeder, trainer – and his influence has stamped its mark on many others in the horse world, over several generations! David Goodin is one of the finest horseman there is, so I caught up with him to talk about his long career.

Tell me about your early childhood days with ponies?

My first pony was a Shetland called Timmy, who I took over from my older brother Graeme. But my first show pony was Lady Sue, who was 13hh, and I was 10 at the time. In 1951, I rode a pony called Bonnie, and that was around the time when the first FEI classes were introduced.

How was show jumping different, back in the early days?

My brother and I were some of the first to wear riding hats and jodhpurs. Back then, the girls did, but the boys wore short pants. There was a lot of opposition from parents about wearing hats.

A 12-year-old David at the 1948 Waerenga Sports, on Lady Sue
A 12-year-old David at the 1948 Waerenga Sports, on Lady Sue

The sports meetings were held in in a dairy or sheep paddock, and there were flat classes, round-the-ring jumping, games and pony scurry races. When the FEI classes were introduced, there was a lot of opposition – it was too honest for some. Everyone was used to having style classes, where people could influence the judge.

You had to ride or go by train to the sports meetings or shows. In 1949, the Royal Show was in Palmerston North. A train from Auckland picked up all the stock and horses going to the show. Graeme and I went alone to this show, aged 14 and 16. We got in very late because the train crashed into a truck and was delayed. We stayed with family in Palmerston North, but had to ride from the train to the show grounds.

Who was your trainer in your childhood days?

My father got friendly with the Edward brothers from Tahuna, near Morrinsville, who bred Welsh and Timor ponies, and my brother and I would work for them – we were the slaves! We would break in their ponies and when they had run out of ponies, they would go to the National Park and round up Kaimanawas. The wild ponies would come back by train, be unloaded at Morrinsville and then chased home.

We worked for Alec Edward during our school holidays, breaking in and riding these ponies. Alec was tough, he had just came back from the war. The Kaimanawas were much the same then as they are now.

Around 1946 we started pony club and Captain Jack Binsley turned us around. His lessons were like a cavalry drill – we used to hate it, because we would sooner play games on our ponies. Later in our lives, when we met Hungarian trainer, Coloman Bolgar, he said to us, “Where you learn to ride like that?” You see, we were a step ahead of the rest, because we had been disciplined! Bolgar’s teaching was the same. He was tough and we had to ‘do it till you do it right’. He was very particular!

Were you interested in any other sports?

When I was 16 I gave up riding, because I wanted to represent the Te Kauwhata School in the relay team – I enjoyed running! Dad said I had to choose between horses or running, and he didn’t believe it when I choose running. The ponies were sold, but Ross (my younger brother) and Graeme kept on riding. Graeme started having lessons with Bolgar – a lesson would last a week sometimes. That’s when met Mrs MacDonald (we called her Mother Mac) and she let him ride her horse, Telebrae.

So, what made you return to riding?

In 1955, my brother Graeme was going on a big trip to the two main shows, Hawke’s Bay and Horse of the Year in Palmerston North, with his two horses, Telebrae and Taihoa. It was a big trip for Graeme, over the Taupo hills! He was going to travel with a friend, but then the friend couldn’t go, so Dad suggested that I went along to keep him company.

At Palmerston North, the big teams event was the Rutherford Cup, but Waikato needed an extra rider. Graeme suggested that I ride Taihoa, although I had only ever done one FEI class, and hadn’t ridden for three years. I got to the show and there were no practice fences, so I jumped Taihoa through the sheep yards to get to know him. I just can’t remember how we did!

In 1956, Ben Rutherford, (who we called Mr South Island) wanted to promote show jumping in the South Island, so he wanted a North Island team to go. Bill Meech, Bruce Hansen, Sue Dodds, Ron Cooke and Graeme was the team. But Graeme was getting married, so he suggested I went on Telebrae. This was the start of our great partnership. We took the train to Wellington, then the horses were lifted in crates, by a crane, and put in the hull of the boat.

David with Telebrae, New Zealand's show jumper superstar of the 1960s, who was the first NZ horse to compete at an Olympics
David with Telebrae, show jumping superstar of the 1960s, who was the first NZ horse to compete at an Olympics

What other events were significant?

In 1957, I was the first New Zealander to jump six foot – it was a big triple bar. And I went in the first-ever Forest Gate Eventing champs on Taihoa – I stuck him in everything and had a go. In those days the cross-country was pretty simple: hedges, spars and drums. But Telebrae was always the one to beat! My proudest moment was being the captain and only North Islander in the NZ show jumping team against the Australians at the Auckland Horse of the Year Show. But in 1960, my main aim was the Rome Olympics – but the selectors said that I wasn’t good enough to go. There were a fair amount of politics back then, and Telebrae went to Rome with Adrian White riding. This was very disappointing.

I gave up the horses and took on a family farm. I married Ann in May 1961, and then started converting the farm into a dairy farm. Twins Stuart and Neil were born in 1963, Catherine in 1966 and Bruce in 1969. Gradually, I got into instructing at pony club and slowly got back into the horse world, doing some eventing.

Building up to the Seoul Olympics, I had Matahura on the show jumping squad and Ohio in the eventing squad. But I just couldn’t keep up, I was too busy milking cows.

David Goodin and Matahuru, who was on the show jumping squad for the Seoul Olympics (NZHP)
David Goodin and Matahuru, who was on the show jumping squad for the Seoul Olympics (NZHP)

Then your youngest son, Bruce, started to step into the limelight?

I gave Matahura to Bruce and he competed in the Hastings World Cup series class at the age of 17. We didn’t know the FEI rules and didn’t realise that he needed to be 18! Our other children rode nicely, but Bruce continued on to ride in Europe. Everywhere he’s been, he has been rated as a good rider. He can just get on horses and get good results. I don’t go and watch him because I hate flying. I don’t fear flying – I just hate sitting there!

A lot of top riders were developed under your care; for example, Phillip Steiner, Daniel Meech, Simon Wilson, Michael Weston, Edward Bullock and Donna Smith, to name a few! What was the secret to your training success?

I wanted my riders to train so they are ready for what they will get overseas. As a child, Donna would yahoo around the sheep. In my camp, you have to buck up and do the job properly. Often my students would live in the house, and after a show we would have big discussions about the horses. They would have Monday to think about it and we would leave it until Tuesday to discuss the weekend. In any spare time, we would watch George Morris videos. If the students went to any instructor for squad training, they had to came back to me with a written report about what they had learnt. I never really enjoyed training, but students would come up in their school holidays and I could see how to fix their problems. I would tell them, ‘Don’t watch me – just listen to me!’

I hear that even Sir Mark Todd once worked for you?

Mark Todd came to help me as a dairy cadet and he brought Top Hunter with him. He was meant to go to the neighbour’s dairy farm but they didn’t like the idea of the horse, so that is how I got him. He was a cowboy show jumper in those days, but I think I helped him get more control. He would jump around the farm (which is very steep) and would jump in places that I never would dream of!

What is the common problem of today’s riders?

I can’t believe the attitude of many parents and riders! They might be a big fish in a small sea and they have a false feeling that they are good when they are not. I see these talented four- and five-year-old horses, but they aren’t there two years later… what’s happened? They have lost their canter and rhythm and the horse has gone backwards. We have some really good young riders at the moment, many are natural riders, doing it by balance. But our young horses and young riders don’t have enough flat work, they need to be better trained.

Dsvid Goodin and Rastas Rebel (Image: NZHP)
David believes more flatwork is the key to success (Image: NZHP)

You must be very proud to have bred one of New Zealand’s top event horses, [Balmoral Sensation (aka ‘Richie’)]. Was he always a special horse?

Yes, I always rated Richie highly. When I rode him as a young horse, I knew he could jump a big fence. Donna Smith took him on as a six-year-old, because I knew he would have a better chance in New Zealand as an eventer than as a show jumper. I was disappointed when he left Donna, but Clarke Johnstone rides him very well and I wish him the best of luck!

Tell us about your horse

I am riding Richie’s old paddock mate, Rastas Rebel, in 1.25m classes. I need to get him to relax a bit more in front of the jump! But I am injury-prone and struggle a bit. I have missed the last three Horse of the Year Shows due to injuries, but I hope to be there this year!

David Goodin and Rastas Rebel (Image: NZHP)
David and Rastas Rebel (Image: NZHP)
  • This article first appeared in the February 2016 issue of NZ Horse & Pony magazine