Maurice Beatson may have been counting down to his 200th Grand Prix win but what drives him is far more straight forward.
“I just love what I do,” says the Dannevirke farmer. “You don’t think about the other things but just focus on the jumps in front of you when you are in that ring.” Since that magic milestone in October, he’s added another and now sits on 201 Grand Prix wins.
It all started in 1982 with Nationwide at Carterton and began an epic career few in New Zealand would be able to emulate. The Hawke’s Bay combo also won back-to-back Olympic Cups in 1983 and 1984. “I had only had the horse six months and had bought him off Ozzie Hansen. Nationwide was a great horse and that Grand Prix win at Carterton has become a special milestone in itself now but it wasn’t so much at the time.”
Maurice writes down every result on every horse in a now bulging folder. He’s not really sure how it all started but it is now a treasure trove of information.
“It has been really interesting looking back and seeing what some horses have done. There aren’t really any surprises through – most show you what they can do early in life, especially when you are the one bringing them through. Some can be disappointing though.”
He’s had 19 horses who have won Grand Prix and is quick to say he has no favourites . . . but quickly starts listing some of them. “There have been a lot of good ones,” he muses. “Getting to 200 Grand Prix wins would be equal to the best of my achievements and I don’t think it can be beaten because most people haven’t had such a long career at top level with a lot of horsepower. That’s what you need – a lot of good horsepower and to stay at it for a long time.”
His home-bred My Gollywog was his most successful money winner. The 2013 Olympic Cup winner had an impressive career, first competing as a five-year-old and bowing out gracefully at 19 to take care of the young ones in the paddock at home. “He was quite extraordinary,” says Maurice. “He was tough and had a real good jump in him.”
His most successful seasons meant up to 12 Grand Prix wins, with 10 many times. “I guess I was lucky to always have a horse who was capable of jumping Grand Prix and often two or three at once.” He has bred most of his own horses and brings them through the grades.
“Winning is fun,” he says. “It is a lot of fun, and particularly the big classes . . . and it is the people who make the sport. I love the jumping and the people.”
His biggest money year was in 2008 thanks to a bolstered prize purse in the Olympic Cup, but not every year is a winner – 2018 was one of his worst ever with just two Grand Prix victories. “It’s just one of those things. Horses are a great leveller – you can win the big class one day and finish last the next,” he says.
“With 200 Grand Prix wins, I have probably ticked all the boxes I need to now but I would love to win another Olympic Cup. I think I have a couple here who are capable of winning it too . . . that’s certainly the best one to win here in New Zealand by a long way.”
It’s a trophy he has claimed five times – the last was with My Gollywog in 2013 and previous to that in 1991 with Minalinka, 1986 with Jefferson Junior and then 1983 and 1984 with Nationwide. Maurice is an Olympian, riding at Seoul in 1988 with Jefferson Junior; he’s represented New Zealand at the World Cup final, at the World Equestrian Games in 1994 at The Hague with My Irish Embassy and again in 2010 at Kentucky with Apollo Van Evendael. He can also lay claim to all of New Zealand’s top showjumping trophies in a career than spans decades.
He looks back over an equally impressive list of horses who have done so well for him. Jefferson Junior was one who he competed aboard for 10 years but had his career cut short by a paddock accident. The Gisborne-bred horse was bred by Jimmy McIldowie and started by Mick Gardner. Duty Free was another stellar competitor who loved to win. Others include Home Guard, Eskimo, Jackaroo, Centrico, Many Wishes, Primo Ventura, Kiwi Relic, Jedi Warrior, Zibbibo and Goldilocks, and more recently Mandalay Cove and Gold Locks.
“No horse is the same,” he says. Maurice rides five or six horses each day and he and partner Sally Clark generally have nine in the truck for a big show – Maurice will compete seven of those. They are big believers in plenty of flat work and love to hunt in the winter months. Over the years he has trained with the likes of American George Morris and Swiss Beat Mandli.
“Chasing the 200 mark hasn’t changed how I approach a class at all,” says Maurice.
But the big question now is how much longer he will compete at top level. “I’m still driven to win so will keep going for a bit longer. I’ve got some horses there and you’ve got to keep busy . . . and besides, I just love it.”
By Diana Dobson
18th December 2019