It was only a matter of time, it seemed, before Amanda Pottinger etched her name on to one of New Zealand’s most coveted equestrian prizes, the Wills Trophy for National Three-day Event Champion.
To say she is following a family tradition is something of an understatement: Amanda is the daughter of Tinks Pottinger, who was a fixture in the NZ Olympic eventing team in the late 1980s, and granddaughter of one of the doyennes of New Zealand equestrian, Tiny White.
So, is it genes or upbringing?
If there is such a thing as equestrian royalty in New Zealand, Tiny (born Helen Groome) is it. Tiny, now 93, was born and bred in Hawke’s Bay, and still drives all over the North Island from her Havelock North retirement village to watch her granddaughter compete. Tiny is the youngest of three siblings who all rode to primary school, and her earliest memories are of riding round the farm, sitting on a cushion in front of her mother. Needless to say she had her own pony in no time, and was hunting and going to shows with the family. She also remembers the weekly trip to town in the pony and trap on sale day, a highly-anticipated social outing.
World War II had broken out by the time Tiny left school, so she worked as a land girl on Te Onepu, the family farm, until 1946, as most of the men were fighting overseas. She taught at the local pony club, one of the first in the country, and was sent with a friend to do the Pony Club Instructors’ Course at Porlock Vale Riding School in England, returning home to teach.
In 1951, Tiny married Eric White, who was from nearby Otane, having met him on the hunt field, and they had three children. Son Neil soon decided he preferred motor vehicles, but daughters Ginny and Judith (nicknamed ‘Tinks’) were keen pony clubbers, and hunted with their parents; Eric was Master of the Hawke’s Bay Hunt for 17 years.
Perhaps unusually in that era, Tiny didn’t let motherhood slow down her competitive pursuits. She was named as reserve rider with her mare Madam Butterfly when the NZ Horse Society (now known as Equestrian Sports NZ) sent two horses to the Melbourne Three-day Event in 1965, but it was in dressage and showing that she really made her mark.
The undisputed queen of dressage in New Zealand for many years, Tiny credits Lockie Richards, Karl Jurena, and Franz Mairinger for her knowledge and skills.
She went to Sydney in 1971 with Rigoletto; they won not only the Prix St Georges, but also the Lady’s Hack and Best Lady Rider. She and Eric were subsequently invited to judge hacks and hunters at the Sydney Show, and at Hickstead in England.
They were instrumental in bringing the first Hanoverian stallion, Mt Everest, to New Zealand in 1976; and Eric became the inaugural chairman of the NZ Hanoverian Society.
Another shared interest was breeding and racing steeplechasers, some of whom went on to event. Graphic is the best known of these, winning the Wills Trophy at the National Three-day Event with Tinks in 1985, and Catriona Williams in 1992.
Tiny always found time to give back to the sport, being involved in the administration of dressage as a judge, selector, examiner of judges, and chair of the discipline, and never stopped helping riders “who want to learn”. Regarding her own children, she says: “You can’t teach your kids, they always know far too much!”
Tiny became New Zealand’s first FEI three-day event judge, and was also appointed an FEI dressage judge. She attended seminars in Europe, and officiated at events in France, Belgium, and Holland, as well as at Blenheim, Bramham, and Windsor in England. She was invited to become patron of Equestrian Sports NZ in 2006.
Tiny’s involvement with horses has seen her rub shoulders with royalty and made friends throughout New Zealand and around the world, but equestrian pursuits did not preclude other interests. She has an enduring love of music and opera, having played the piano and organ at school, and played for a number of weddings after leaving school.
A star is born
Tinks inherited both Tiny’s talent and competitive spirit. She says the whole family was sporty, and it extended way beyond horses.
“We were big on pony club, but we were into every sport known to mankind if we were allowed.” Tennis and hockey became favourites while at boarding school.
She and Ginny took their mother’s achievements for granted, says Tinks, and it wasn’t until their headmistress at Woodford house one day called them into her office to tell them Tiny had just won the Best Lady Rider at Sydney that they understood how good she was.
In hindsight, Tinks realises she learnt a huge amount from Tiny, watching her have lessons from Karl Jurenak and others. “It’s hard to take instruction from your parents. You don’t realise their enormous contribution to your early success until later.”
Tinks herself did a secretarial course after leaving school, and continued her eventing career. Her first horse was Royal Whip, a successful hurdler/steeplechaser belonging to her parents.
Amazingly, he managed to both race and event at the same time, alternating week about with Tinks and trainer Davey Jones. He raced at Te Rapa the weekend before Tinks rode him to third in the A1 Cup at the NZ Pony Club Champs!
Tinks’ first foray overseas was to England to help with Harvey Wilson’s show jumpers, and she and Ginny enjoyed their taste of the equestrian scene there, attending Hickstead and Badminton, and working with point-to-pointers and hunters.
Eventing back in New Zealand was still in its infancy, and Tinks says after going to Badminton she never dreamed one day she’d be back to compete there.
Home again, she teamed up with the homebred steeplechaser Graphic, and the tough but talented Gisborne-bred Volunteer. It was this pair of horses who really helped Tinks make her name in the sport.
She and Volunteer won the Mamaku Trophy for the Novice three-day event title in 1983, and the Picadilly Trophy for the Intermediate title the following year. It was Graphic’s turn in 1985 at McLeans Island, winning the Advanced title to take the Wills Trophy, with Graphic second.
Tinks married Andy Pottinger in 1983, and the couple lived on the Pottinger family farm, Anerley, at Tinui, on the hilly east coast of the Wairarapa. It was great for getting the horses fit, but it was a long way to travel to competitions.
In 1985, an all-female team went to Gawler in South Australia to try out the venue for the following year’s Eventing World Championships. Tinks won on Volunteer, and with team-mates Trudy Boyce (Mossman), Karen Tweedie (now Niederer, with Sandalwood), and Judith Charleston (on High Rate), defeated the Australians, and the biennial Trans-Tasman series was born.
The following year at the World Champs, Tinks held the overnight lead on Volunteer after cross-country, which was sensational given that all the top European horses and riders were there. It was a devastating blow when Volunteer was spun at the final trot-up, and it cost New Zealand team gold as well, so was a double whammy.
Ginny Leng took the individual gold, and graciously put the medal round Tinks’ neck at the wild party in the Kiwi supporters’ tent afterwards. Trudy Boyce, meanwhile, had put in a superb performance on Mossman to win the silver medal.
Volunteer had knocked a knee, but was sound on grass, so NZ team vet Dr Wally Niederer started the process of persuading the FEI to introduce a hold box where a veterinarian could examine problems in detail and advise the ground jury whether it was in fact necessary to eliminate a horse. So the bitter disappointment Tinks and the team suffered proved to be a black cloud but with a silver lining.
However, as a result of her performance, Tinks gained a valuable sponsor in NZ mohair exporter Arpac, which enabled her to take both horses to England, and “a whole new world opened up.”
She kept her horses at Mark Todd’s yard. “He was an amazing mentor, and a wonderful friend. He had everything organised.”
Tinks went on to be fourth at both Burghley in 1987 and the following year’s Badminton, and was then selected for the Seoul Olympics. She and Volunteer were fifth individually, and helped the New Zealand team, headed by Mark and Charisma, to bronze.
After her return to New Zealand in the early 1990s, Tinks continued to event, producing young horses to win more national titles; 10 in all with seven different horses. She and Andy also started a family, with son Sam followed three years later by Amanda.
Like her mother, Tinks also does her bit for the sport. She and Andy were instrumental in securing Tauherenikau Racecourse as a horse trials venue, hosting the National One-day Event 11 times.
She also organised the Talent ID and Development squads for a decade prior to being appointed Performance Leader in 2011. She has coached Trans-Tasman Young Rider teams, and mentored many riders of all ages. She now grooms for her daughter, which is a bit of a reversal of roles, but it works for both of them.
Passing on the torch
Amanda has not only carried on the family equestrian tradition; she has also inherited the nickname tradition, being widely known as Muzi.
As a child, she “tagged along” when Tinks was coaching, and says she was lucky to be exposed to big events like the Trans-Tasman where she listened and learned a lot.
Muzi went to pony club eventing champs with Tauhara Silver Fern; they led after dressage, but the mare didn’t like ditches so instead was switched to show jumping, where she excelled.
The pair won the pony six-bar at HOY, and were twice reserve champion working pony hunter. Muzi also won the Speed Pony of the Year three times on two different ponies – “I liked speed!”
Muzi was a keen and talented hockey player, and she was named in the New Zealand under-21 in 2011 while she was at university.
But it wasn’t possible to do justice to both sports, so she hung up her hockey stick to focus on riding, which paid off when she was named in the Talent Development squad in 2012.
During her three years of an Ag Science degree, Muzi did summer work experience with the BEL Group dairy company in Central Hawke’s Bay, and this led to a job offer after graduation.
But first, Muzi had a year’s OE where she worked for British eventer Pippa Funnell, as well as spending time with both Sir Mark Todd and Lucy Jackson.
She is now a full-time analyst for BEL Group, but is fortunate to have flexible working hours, so she can continue with eventing.
Muzi is now based in Havelock North, and her horses live at Golden Oaks Stud just out of Hastings, where the facilities include a 60 x 40 arena with show jumps and a galloping track.
Her top ride is the small, sharp and undeniably talented Just Kidding (‘Fergus’), a thoroughbred by Fusaichi Pegasus, out of Gypsy Princess, who was a $100,000 yearling at the Karaka Sales. He trialled but was too small, and was also very naughty, napping, rearing and dropping his riders. So why did Muzi buy him? “There was something about him, his cocky attitude, his look-at-me presence; he thinks he stands 17 hands not 15.2!”
She admits he was “on thin ice” for a while, having put her and Tinks on the ground with a very quick spin, but says she knew the potential was there, despite his diminutive stature.
Asked about the expectations of living up to her illustrious heritage, Muzi says: “There is no pressure to deliver, but I have my own dreams.”
However, there is an element of competitiveness: Muzi wants to win all the titles at Taupo now too, as Tinks has done. In doing so, Tinks is a member of a small and very elite group, as only Donna Smith and Matthew Grayling etched their names on all national three-day titles.
So far, Amanda has won the Thomson Trophy (for the Pre-Novice Championship), in 2011 with Achilles II; the Mamaku Trophy in 2014 with Just Kidding, and now the 2016 Wills Trophy.
So, is it nature or nurture? Muzi thinks “genetics are marginal but upbringing is paramount.”
But we all agree opportunity has a huge influence.
I think determination is in the genes, if nothing else. They are all strong women, not afraid to state their minds, and not likely to change their opinions, so formidable opponents, which makes them very competitive and contributes to their remarkable success.
- This article was first published in the December 2016 issue of NZ Horse & Pony