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IT WAS 10.47am on Tuesday, February 3, 1931, when 6-year-old Helen “Tiny” Groome for the first time headed horseback for boarding school with her family in Hawke’s Bay.
“It was on the other side of Clive from Argyll so we couldn’t get back home because they had wooden bridges in those days,” explains now 91-year-old Tiny White of a day when the historic earthquake claimed 258 lives and changed the Bay landscape forever as she headed for Queenswood School (now Taikura Rudolph Steiner School).
Her livestock farming parents, the late Marjorie and Ernest Groome (nee Macniven), with “dog and all”, sought shelter at another farm before taking shortcuts through other neighbouring properties on horseback the next day to snake their way back to their farmstead near Te Aute College.
But as cliched as it may come across for White, who went on to become a horsewoman representing New Zealand in dressage as well as a judge in Ireland, Australia and Blenheim Palace, England; building an affinity with animals has always been second nature.
“We rode to school on ponies half an hour on limestone but it seemed like it took us five minutes to return because we were always in a hurry to get back home,” says the great-grandmother with a laugh from her retirement village home in Havelock North.
“Whether it was wet, hailing or sunshine, we took our saddlebags with lunch on our shoulders,” says the youngest of two other siblings, emphasising a few hands full of chaff was a must to feed her mount during lunch breaks at school.
That rapport with animals, especially horses, became part of a family tradition.
Daughter Judith “Tinks” Pottinger, born in Waipawa, went on to become an accomplished horsewoman in her own right.
The 59-year-old, who with husband Andy is selling their farm Anerley Station in Tinui (along the east coast of Wairarapa), claimed team bronze at the 2008 Seoul Olympics with the likes of Sir Mark Todd, Andrew Bennie and Margaret Knighton.
Riding horse Volunteer, she finished fifth in the individual three-day event.
But from today White’s granddaughter and Tinks’ daughter, Amanda Pottinger, will be on Just Kidding, an “inexperienced” 9-year-old thoroughbred gelding she’s ridden for four years at the New Zealand Eventing Championship at Arran Station in Takapau.
She has been visiting Arran Station from the age of six and in her first year at the country’s most elite three-star level last year, Amanda didn’t finish and had to retire her mount, Achilles II, “because he ate grass and got staggers”.
The 24-year-old operations analyst from BEL Group, a dairying conglomerate based in Waipukurau, is competing in the premier RedSnap’r CIC three-star event in a quest to lift the Forest Gate Trophy, first competed for in 1957 although not at Arran Station.
Her mother etched her name on the silverware in 1982 on Bulls owner Mary Wilson’s horse, Two by Two, at the previous venue, Sherwood; a property belonging to Larry White off SH50.
Tinks, who is here this weekend to watch Amanda and be her groom as well as be a guinea-pig rider for dressage judges with Rio Olympics-bound Clark Johnstone, reflects: “It was huge. My sister, Ginny MacLeod [nee Virginia White], was second and Mark Todd third.”
For the record Tiny White, who won seven consecutive dressage crowns and represented the country in the same discipline in Australia, still drives to Arran Station and other Bay venues to watch Amanda compete.
“Oh God, I have to drive or else I’ll be grounded,” says the equestrian matriarch who is proud not just of the generations of female riders in the family but also son Neil White, an Otane farmer at Ludlow who was once voted HB Farmer of the Year.
She will be inducted into the Central Hawke’s Bay hall of fame next month for her equine accomplishments.
Tiny has been frequenting the showgrounds in Hastings the past few days to attend the Hawke’s Bay A and P Show which is staging equestrian and where daughter Ginny also is a judge.
Just as they have trodden a clear path in horse riding, the four generations of women have all graduated from Woodford House.
Tinks, “in some ways”, harbours a tinge of regret in not getting on the Olympic podium in the individual class.
She gave thought to basing herself in England a little too late although cost was always a hurdle but perhaps she could have approached things a little differently.
“Some major sponsors flew me to England and a whole new world opened up. It’s all about timing,” says the woman who returned from Seoul to have her first child, James, now 26 and into motocross, nine months later.
The enormity of eventing doesn’t escape Tinks’ thought processes.
“It’s the training of another athlete [horse] who can at any given day think very differently from you so you learn about different personalities.”
Her parents always gave her explicit support in an environment she took for granted growing up with animals around her.
“It’s like rearing a child so you learn from their personalities,” says Tinks, pointing out her parents had established a pony club at their farm.
The former Olympian, who stepped down as national eventing performance leader several years ago, is an advocate of taking a step back especially when family members emerge as talent.
“In more cases than not, family members become too passionate because they are your children.
“You take a step back as a mother and appreciate she [the child] has her own ability and that she has to find her own path,” she said.
Photo caption – “FAMILY TIES: Tinks Pottinger (left), with daughter Amanda, mother Tiny White, and sister Ginny MacLeod in Havelock North before going to the National Eventing Championship this weekend.”