Untouchable girl: Merran Hain

Catching up with New Zealand show jumping legend, Merran Hain

Just another day at the office for Merran and Untouchable (Image: Kampic)
Just another day at the office for Merran and Untouchable (Image: Kampic)

Merran Hain is quite possibly the only person in New Zealand who has been competing at the top level on the show circuit – not missing a season –  for over 50 years. Not only is she a fierce competitor, but Merran has been involved in various official roles and is an active show organising committee member. There is no one else who could match her history, knowledge and contribution to the sport of show jumping in New Zealand, so it is interesting and important to hear what this iconic lady has to say.

Merranand Untouchable in action (Image: Kampic)
Merran and Untouchable in action (Image: Kampic)

Merran took time to talk to me during the Gisborne A&P Show, where she placed in 15 out of the 16 classes she entered with her horse, Untouchable. She won the Amateur show jumping class, the wire jump, Champion Riding Horse and Reserve Champion Showhunter, to list a few. She was also busy harrowing the new warm-up areas, fixing water problems and building show hunter courses. This degree of involvement in the sport is the stuff legends are made of!

How many years have you been show jumping?

I’m not sure exactly, but my first major win was the 1968 Lady Rider of the Year and I suppose I was show jumping a few years before that… so you work it out!

You have represented NZ in show jumping, dressage and eventing – why did you make show jumping your focus?

Living in Gisborne, I have to travel long distances, so I liked how with show jumping you have several chances to win in one weekend. Also, show jumping has no ‘human element’, there is no judge’s opinion. In the early days, it wasn’t always the case, with hand-held timers. My father-in-law, Doug Hain, brought the first electronic timers into New Zealand. He got a lot of flack for it at the time!

Do you have any desire to represent New Zealand in any other disciplines; like endurance or vaulting?

What sort of question is that?

Who has most influenced your riding?

When I was about 24, I spent some time in Australia with Hungarian Karl Jurenak, as a working pupil.

What has been the single greatest achievement in your jumping career?

There have been two! Going to the Seoul Olympics as groom and owner of Bago, where Mark Todd rode him in the final round. And in 1999, when I first won the Horse of the Year class with Tregonning  – I never dreamt I could do that!

Merran on her way to winning the Olympic Cup on her horse of a lifetime, Tregonning (NZHP Library)
Merran on her way to winning the Olympic Cup on her horse of a lifetime, Tregonning (NZHP Library)

Has any class or title eluded you?

I never won the Advanced 3DE at Taupo – I got second with Trooper. And I never won the World Cup series.

Who have been your most respected arch rivals?

Harvey Wilson, Maurice Beatson, Stuart Mitchell and John Cottle to name a few…  that is going back a few years. Now, all I want to do is beat the young ones!

Who was your best long-term groom?

I have had some very good ones! Kelly Bibby, Mel Cooper, Daniella Steed and Leonie Belk have been some of the best.

How many grandchildren do you have? And do any of them show a keen interest in ponies?

Eight. And not really, except for Sam’s daughter, Lilla, who is forbidden to ride….  but she will win in the end!

What one attribute does a rider need to last 50 years in the jumping world?

[With a twinkle in her eye…] A well-off husband! No, all you need is family support.

What advice do you have for a young rider who dreams about representing NZ in the future?

Learn the basics. Look at people who are successful, ask for help, watch others and see how they train. Watch international riders and courses (on TV), read books. And have respect for your elders!

What advice do you have for the NZSJ administration?

Unfortunately, the sport is being run by a lot of people who have no knowledge or history in it. They have not been involved actively in running events and competing.  They need to learn how to run shows and see what is going on at the grass roots.

Why is it that you have had the best of horses and strong financial backing, yet you still drive a modest, basic truck?

As long as you get the horse to the show, what is the difference? Some people make their sport rule their life, I would rather spend my money on the farm. Anyway, my truck has the best sound system … (as she turns up the volume on Neil Diamond…)

What is the best part about show jumping?

I do it for pleasure! I have met a lot of nice people who are lifelong friends.

You are well known for enjoying a party! What has been the best show party, so far?

When our racehorse, Willy Smith, won the Wellington Cup. We flew home that night and celebrated at the Gisborne jumping show – that was the best party!

What is your favourite song?

Meatloaf’s Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad. And I have been known to sing The Gambler in a variety of places…

How do you feel about the fact some people find you to be scary?

Ha! They don’t know me very well!nzhp_1

  • This article was first published in the December 2014 issue of NZ Horse & Pony