Holden, Peter Ritson Interview

Good morning. It’s the 9th of August 2018, and I’m with Peter Holden, ex-Central Hawke’s Bay; well known in the equestrian field; a real gentleman. The family’s been here for a great number of years. And Peter, thank you very much for this interview, and this is Jim Newbigin. Peter, I’ll leave it over to you to tell us all about your family history. Thank you.

Thank you, Jim. My Holden family came from Yorkshire where my great-great-grandfather, Isaac Holden, established a wool combing business in 1847. Known as Isaac Holden & Sons in the UK with a woollen mill in Bradford, and Isaac Holden & Fils in France with mills in Croix and Reims. Isaac’s invention, the Holden wool comb, was very successful, employing four thousand people in France and the UK, some mills working twenty-four hours each day to meet demand during the 1870s.

We come from a second son twice. When my grandfather, Peter Holden, went into the paper business joining Wiggins Teape in 1895 in London, he visited Australia and New Zealand in 1923 to establish branches in both countries for Wiggins Teape. When his only child, my father Duncan Holden left school, he came to New Zealand in 1925 to look at farming opportunities. My grandfather, Peter Holden, had met members of the Williams and Logan families in Hawke’s Bay on one of his business trips to New Zealand. A job for Duncan was arranged at Atua Station belonging to the Williams family, and after two years at Atua he got a job at Omarunui working for William Kinross White. He married Helen Kinross White, William’s only daughter, in 1930 and farmed a small farm near Takapau which he called Oakworth.

In 1934 my father bought Forest Gate, and he joined the Wellington Mounted Rifles in 1940 at Foxton, and later transferred to Waiouru to a tank brigade. His tank squadron, the 3rd Division, went to the Solomon Islands in 1943 and remained there until the Japanese surrendered in 1945 when he came home.

Throughout this period my mother carried on farming Forest Gate with help from Jasper Herrick, my father’s friend and trustee. They’d ride around the farm each month on my mother’s hunters and I often followed on my pony. With the wool boom during the 1950s my father put his energy into helping to found the New Zealand Horse Society, known now as the New Zealand Equestrian Federation.

Melbourne had been awarded the 1956 Olympic Games, so my father started correspondence with Colonel Mike Ansell of the British Horse Society to find out how New Zealand could become a member of the Federation Equestrian International, the FEI, the organisation responsible for the equestrian events at the Olympic Games. Letters were sent to the New Zealand Hunts Association, Royal Agricultural Society, New Zealand Polo Association, New Zealand Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association, New Zealand Racing Association, New Zealand Pony Club … in fact any affiliated association that had an interest in the horse. A meeting was arranged in Wellington where forty-five individuals attended and the New Zealand Horse Society was formed in July 1950. The three main objectives were to organised events under FEI rules, to organise a team to enter the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games, and to make an application to the FEI to recognise and become affiliated to that organisation.

Later that year the Secretary General, Commandant d’Emas, addressed a large gathering at Palmerston North, answered many questions, helped with the construction of fences and designing of courses, and was sufficiently impressed by the enthusiasm and integrity to take back to Europe New Zealand’s application to the FEI, which was duly approved.

During the early 1950s Coloman Bolger and his wife and family emigrated to New Zealand. Coloman Bolgar had won the pentathlon at the 1937 World Championships for Hungary, and was appointed official instructor to the New Zealand Horse Society. Courses were arranged throughout all the areas of the Society, taken by Coloman Bolgar. He soon became very well known throughout New Zealand.

As the standard of show jumping gradually improved New Zealand could now compete against international teams. An invitation was received from the Royal Agricultural Society of New South Wales to attend the Royal Sydney Show in 1953, held for ten days over Easter. After some months of preparation and the resultant shows during the spring of 1952, selectors named the New Zealand team of show jumpers and their riders to go to Sydney.

Hugh Thompson was Captain on Optimist, Heather Swarbrick and Rum, Eileen McKenzie and Swallow, Adrian White and Hopalong, and Peter Holden and Starlight.

Coloman Bolgar came over on the ‘Monowai’ with Adrian and I, and on the four days at sea from Wellington to Sydney the teams’ five horses were deep littered in straw at the bottom of the hold of the ship – a space equal to that given to a horse in a trailer. Coloman Bolgar [was] very helpful regarding feed and water which we did four times each day. Bill Duncan, team manager, was waiting at the wharf in Sydney; a horse transport[er] and two grooms to take us all to the Sydney Showgrounds. There were boxes for a thousand horses and grooms’ sleeping accommodation above.

We had two weeks to get our horses fit again. Four days at sea, not able to lie down was hard on the horses, and their legs were all very swollen. Once the twelve-day show started we sometimes were competing at nine am in the morning, and then jumping under lights for the first time until eleven pm at night. We were fortunate to win more than our share, and Coloman Bolgar was delighted when we won the teams’ competition, beating the Australians.

1955 I was again selected in the New Zealand Showjumping team to compete at Sydney. Bill Meech was Captain on Weinagain, David Goodinn with Telebrae, Esther Bellis and Kilfi, Peter Holden on Rum and Adrian White on Hopalong. [The] Australians had improved more than we had, importing many top trainers from Europe. We still had our share of success, but beaten in the teams’ competition by the Australians.

Adrian and I returned with our horses and a month later sailed to England to attend a six weeks’ course at the Cheshire Equestrian Centre near Holmes Chapel. Our instructor, Captain Eddie Goldman, was Swiss and had trained at the Swiss Cavalry School and was one of the leading instructors in England. Some months later we attended the 1956 Equestrian Olympic Games in Stockholm to learn the standards New Zealand had to achieve to successfully complete at the Olympic Games.

After some eighteen months in the UK when I spent time with my grandfather, Peter Holden, who lived there, visiting many of our relations and his friends. Also spent three months at Holder & Sons at Bradford learning about wool, where I attended my Hereworth friend Robin Lowry’s wedding.

Arrived back to Forest Gate aged twenty-five and my father asked me to manage Forest Gate, and formed a partnership, Duncan Holden & Son. This allowed him time to give his energy as a Director of the New Zealand Horse Society, to concentrate on competing at the Rome Olympic Games in 1960, in four years’ time.

I married Juliet de Castro on 20 September 1958, retired from competitive riding and was now full-time farming. My parents attended the 1960 Rome Olympic Games, where cousin Adrian White with Telebrae was New Zealand’s only nomination. He finished twenty-second out of the sixty-five competing.

New Zealand had a showjumping team at the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games – Graham Hansen with Sabre Sam, Bruce Hansen with Tide, Charlie Matthews with Syndicate, Adrian White on Eldorado – and finished tenth out of the fourteen teams competing.

Australia having won a gold medal at Rome for horse trials, the Horse Trials Committee thought more money should be made available to them, as showjumpers had competed at two Olympic Games with limited success. By 1984 the New Zealand Horse Trials team of Mark Todd, Charisma; Andrew Benny, Kay; Dale Frost, Jade; Mary Hamilton, Whist; and Andrew Nicholson, Kahula, competed at Los Angeles Olympic Games with Mark Todd and Charisma winning individual gold medals for New Zealand – the first of many.

Olympic Games results from 1984 and World Championships results from 1986: New Zealanders won eight gold, five silver and seven bronze medals in horse trials, a total of twenty for which the Equestrian Sport New Zealand can feel very proud.

By 1967 Juliet and I had four children, two daughters, then two sons. Both were involved with organisations in Central Hawke’s Bay – Juliet was involved with the Brownies, the Girl Guides, and went on to become Hawke’s Bay Commissioner for Girl Guides. I became involved with the Onga Onga Sports Club, Central Hawke’s Bay A & P Association, Central and Southern Hawke’s Bay area of the Equestrian Sports New Zealand, Dannevirke Hunt. [I] was also elected member of the Waipawa District Council of the then Hawke’s Bay Catchment Board from ‘71 to ‘77 – now the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council – and ten years on the vestry of the Waipawa Anglican Parish. I joined the General Committee of the Hawke’s Bay A & P Society in 1969, became President from ‘89 to 1992, and carried on my interest with that Society today.

Juliet and I have travelled to many countries, including a round the World trip in ‘72 for three months, attending the Munich Olympic Games where my focus was on the equestrian discipline, while Juliet flew to UK to stay with her sister … elder sister, Diana, who was now married and lives there. This trip included flights on seventeen different international airlines and we circumnavigated the world.

Both our daughters were married at Forest Gate. Debbie married Robert Wilson in 1985 and farmed Tuivale near Tikokino. They have three sons and one daughter. Caroline married Geordie Witters in 1986 and farmed Woodlands in Gisborne, and have two sons and one daughter. Duncan married Wendy Cartridge in 1991 and farmed Forest Gate near Onga [Onga], and have two sons and one daughter. Matthew married Emma McHardy in 1998, and have two sons and one daughter. Having sold their farm, Beechwood Hills, [they] now live in Havelock North.

We have built a house in Havelock, in 1996 and now after sixty-three years at Forest Gate, time for the next generation to farm there.

Okay. Now Peter, one or two things I’d like to mention here. Hall of Fame? I understand you or the family were inducted into the … what Hall of Fame? Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand?

Yes, Jim. This was the Hall of Fame for the Horse of the Year, and I was very fortunate to win the Olympic Cup twice … the first ever winner in 1953 on a horse called Starlight, and again in 1957 on a horse called Rum. But really we were inducted as a family. It was thanks to my parents that we were first inductees into this Hall of Fame.

Right, well that’s a great honour. And you’re keeping good health?

Yes Jim. Yes I’m very fortunate, yes.

After all that riding and everything that you’ve done, with hips and legs and what-have-you?

Well like a horse I’ve learnt to become ambidextrous. And I can remember in my latter farming years, always in a rush at shearing time and I’d throw my right leg over a gate or a rail which I’d done over a horse for many years, and said “well you’ve got two – why not throw your left one over first?” And today I’ve still got both my hips and my knees – I’m very fortunate Jim. Well I think one of the great things whenever you’re lifting is to bend your knees, Jim, and don’t use your back like a staple. So I’ve been very fortunate.

I think you’ve handled this very well Peter, but you were always a man for getting everything done properly.

Now you were telling me, just on the side, about the farmland … was it one of your relations that bought the land that went up to Gisborne as well? Big acreage?

No. There are two Holden families in Hawke’s Bay and the Springvale Holdens – they came to New Zealand in 1857. And I’ve been trying with the help of George Foulds to link the two families together because we come from Yorkshire and the Springvale Holdens come from Lancashire. But to date no avail, Jim, we haven’t been able to. No – definitely the Holden family of Springvale who have land in Makotuku and also in Gisborne. So we’re only based in Central Hawke’s Bay, Jim.

We are probably getting off the subject of the Peter Holden that I’m interviewing at the moment, so we’ll leave it at that. So on behalf of the Hawke’s Bay Knowledge Bank Peter, I thank you very much for your talk.

Thank you, Jim, for the opportunity.

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Interviewer:  Jim Newbigin


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