Dannevirke's heritage as the birthplace of showjumping in New Zealand was celebrated at the A&P Show on Saturday afternoon.

It was a historic and unique occasion when descendants of that day in 1951 came together to reminisce.

Havelock North's Peter Holden and his youngest son Matt were celebrating the day 67 years ago when Duncan Holden, Peter's father, built the first FEI course in New Zealand at the Dannevirke A&P Showgrounds.

"That was the first FEI showjumping event to be held in the country and it was here at the 37th Dannevirke and Districts A&P Show," Peter told the Dannevirke News.


There were 29 starts on the 852-yard course which had 11 fences. The time allowed for the riders and horses was two minutes.

Starters included Henry Isaacson, whose two sons Graeme and Doug were on course on Saturday, with Doug competing and judging, Peter Small, Bill Meech and his cousin Ian Meech, Malcolm and Judy Coop and Peter Holden, then just 17 riding a bay gelding, called Pater.

"As well as building the course my father gave five guineas towards the prize money of £20 which was split amongst the top-four placings," Peter said.

Duncan Holden on Starlight came in first, Hugh Thompson on Optimist second, Ted English on Big Shot third and Mrs C E Baird and Ranger fourth.

"The event judge was the late Larry White, of Sherwood in Takapau," Peter said.

On Saturday Hugh Thompson's daughter, Sue Thompson-Brown, and her brother Murray represented the family at the presentation following the Kelso 1m.30m event.

"The Holdens have had a big impact on showjumping and hunting," Doug Isaacson's wife Carole said.

Some years ago the Holden family donated the Starlight Cup and the Duncan Holden Memorial Perpetual Trophy to the Dannevirke and Districts Association, with the trophy donated to the winner of the grand prix.

And although Peter's youngest son Matt never rode competitively, he still keeps the family connection with the Dannevirke show. Running a sheep genetics business, Kelso, based in Onga Onga in the Hawke's Bay and Marton in Rangitikei, Matt said it's about giving back to the community.

"It's been a lovely relaxed day here and it's about people meeting people," he said. "We have a lot of clients and their children who are into showjumping and that's why we like to give back to shows such as this."

While keen to acknowledge Henry Isaacson as New Zealand's best huntsman, Peter tries to modestly play down his own prestigious riding career, before retiring in 1958 when he married.

He was a member of the first New Zealand showjumping team to Sydney in 1953 and again in 1955.

"I was just 19 and very excited," he said. "My cousin Adrian White was also in the team and he was New Zealand's first equestrian, riding in Rome in 1960, finishing 17th in the individual event."

Peter won two Horse of the Year Olympic Cup titles, first in 1953 on Starlight, his father's horse, and then in 1957 on Rum.

Competing against Hawke's Bay's best, including Hugh Thompson, Bill Meech and Bruce Hansen, winning was a huge thrill, he said.

It was his father Duncan who was the driving force behind the first Horse of the Year Show and in 2010 the Holden family was inducted into the Horse of the Year Hall of Fame.

But Peter is chuffed the Dannevirke and Tararua Districts A&P Show has its place in showjumping fame too, 67 years on.