1970s – the emerging years

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

Mark Todd Top Hunter
Mark Todd and Top Hunter, who were second in the Waiteko Trophy at the 1978 one-day trials, and as a result were selected for the World Three-day Eventing Champs in Kentucky (Image: NZHP Library)

NZ Horse & Pony encourages a great deal of reader participation within the magazine, which carries a lively letters page as a result. The issues of greatest concern throughout the decade are not so very different from debates still going on today in equestrian circles, including biased A&P show judging, the overuse of whips and spurs, excessive speed in pony jumping classes, and ‘coloured’ horses (dun, palomino, piebald, skewbald and roan) being ignored by showing judges.

The magazine also starts a long-running series on horse stamps, reflecting the popularity of stamp collecting at the time, and begins articles on ‘alternative’ treatments such as chiropractic and herbalism for horses.

The focus on show jumping starts to change as eventing comes of age in New Zealand during the 1970s, with our first three-day events staged, and our first team to contest a World Championship. The magazine also features series of articles on driving, polocrosse, donkeys and Western riding.

Grand Champion show pony at the 1976 Royal Show in Hamilton, Kimberley, ridden by Anna Topschijs
Grand Champion show pony at the 1976 Royal Show in Hamilton, Kimberley, ridden by Anna Topschijs

Major milestones:

  • New Zealand’s first endurance ride is held, over 50 miles, at Tokoroa, in 1970. It is won by Kevin Mearns and Viscount in a time of four hours, 10 minutes and 17 seconds. The first 100 mile race (just under 170km) is held a year later in Hastings, and won by Robin Deane on Sir Robb.
  • Safety harnesses for hard hats are introduced in 1972.
  • New Zealand’s first national stallion parade is held in 1972; reflecting the breeds around at this time it has sections for Arabians, Welsh, thoroughbred, standardbred, pony and both ‘lightweight and heavyweight hack’ stallions.
  • New Zealand riders compete at the Sydney three-day event for the first time in 1972; Ted Harrison and York are second in the Novice division. Meanwhile, at the Sydney Royal Easter Show, Tiny White wins the Prix St Georges on Rigoletto – dressage at this level has never been ridden competitively in New Zealand.
  • New Zealand’s first national three-day event is held, at Hastings in 1973, and won by Florence West and Dusky, second are Maurice Beatson and Lord Aurora and third is Merran McPhail (later Hain) on Onassis. Riders are encouraged to consider training thoroughbreds for eventing, instead of the crossbreds and stationbreds that are most commonly used.
  • In 1973, Isola, an ambitious indoor training centre, is established south of Auckland, and in Taupo, the National Equestrian Centre is established by the New Zealand Horse Society on 95 acres at Aratiatia.
  • The world’s first egg transfer foal is born in England in 1974, thanks to the pioneering work of New Zealander, Professor Twink Allen.
  • New Zealand sends its first show jumping team to Europe in 1976: John Cottle, Joe Yorke and Harvey Wilson.
  • The warmblood era dawns in 1976 when Mt Everest, the first Hanoverian stallion imported to New Zealand, arrives; three years later, the Hanoverian Breeders Association is formed and immediately highlights the problem of the lack of quality broodmares. Two years later, Mt Everest is followed by Winnebago, the first German-registered Hanoverian to be imported, then Witzbold.

    Mt Everest, the first Hanoverian stallion to be imported to New Zealand, in 1976
    Mt Everest, the first Hanoverian stallion to be imported to New Zealand, in 1976

Olympics and World Championships

1972 Munich Olympics
New Zealand is unable to send a show jumping team due to transportation problems.

Joe Yorke and Big Red at the 1976 Montreal Olympics
Joe Yorke and Big Red at the 1976 Montreal Olympics

1976 Montreal Olympics
Joe Yorke and Big Red represent New Zealand in show jumping. He is considered by the director of the NZ Horse Society, IA Nimon, to be “unlucky” not to have qualified for the second round, taking four fences down in the first. The largest fence is a 1.6m oxer with a 2.2m spread. The horse had an unfortunate build-up, with a blood disorder restricting his preparation, and is found to have a fractured splint bone on his return to England.

1978 World 3DE Champs, Kentucky
New Zealand’s first eventing team is sent to contest the World Three-day Championships in Kentucky. The team are Carol Harrison and Topic, Joanne Bridgman with Bandolier, Nicoli Fife with Never Dwell, and Mark Todd with Top Hunter. Mary Hamilton and Vladivostock compete as individuals. Carol finishes sixth, Joanne 21st despite two falls, both Mark and Nicoli pull out when their horses are injured cross-country, and Mary is eliminated; nevertheless, the experience is deemed a huge success.