10 Unforgettable Olympians: Chief

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

(Image: Barbara Thomson)

Rider: Vicky Latta


Chief was a New Zealand-bred bay thoroughbred gelding of 16.2hh, 13 years old at the time of the Barcelona Games. His sire, Abridge Member, was British and his dam, Nomadic, was by a French stallion.

Merran Hain rode him in his first international competition, the 1986 World Champs at Gawler; three years later he and Vicky were members of our winning trans-Tasman team. Vicky herself had come through the pony club ranks to compete in show jumping and eventing. She abandoned a law career to campaign Chief in Europe, where he finished 11th individually at WEG in Stockholm (1990), had six wins at English fixtures such as Ston Easton, Wilton and Tetbury, and was third at Badminton in 1992, resulting in Olympic selection. Vicky, a true perfectionist, concentrated on eliminating any weaknesses she perceived in herself and Chief, and the pair arrived in Spain in superb form.

Like many others in the contest, they suffered from inconsistent dressage judging, though finished a handy 19th. They were magnificent across country, but a controversial technical ‘error’ in the penalty area at Fence 24 cost them 10 undeserved faults (the area had been incorrectly measured), and they were sixth at that stage. This was crucial to the team’s fortunes: without the 10 penalties (and still taking Spinning Rhombus into account) we would have won team gold.

One show jumping rail put Chief and Vicky into fourth overall on 87.80, just 0.2pen behind bronze medal winners, Blyth Tait and Messiah. And, of course, they won silver with the team.

Four years later in Atlanta, Vicky became New Zealand’s first female Olympic double-medallist, winning team bronze on Broadcast News. She retired from competitive riding after those Games, and returned to her law career. She is a member of the International Olympic Academy.