Breeding sport horses on Ngahiwi Station in Gisborne.
Bruce Holden runs sheep and cattle and breeds and raises horses on Ngahiwi Station, near Gisborne. He says the property has a ratio of sheep to cattle of roughly 60:40. Horses take up what Bruce calls 10% of the business although clearly they are his passion.
Bruce grew up with horses. The family moved into the region in the 1880’s. His uncle Tom Holden was heavily involved with the animals and had a good blood line that goes back to what Bruce describes as the original bloodlines of Edward Murphy who imported a stallion called Kingston from Kentucky and Maestoso, a Lipizzaner that he imported from Austria back in the 1900’s.
Bruce believes the horses particularly suited the region. He says the American horses were very strong in front and the Lipizzaner was very strong behind.
Gisborne horses were bred as a result of the requirement for farmers to get around on the steep hills. He says the cattle shift very well from Gisborne and as a consequence a lot of farmers came to the district to farm cattle in the early days. Horses were and continue to be important on some of the bigger properties simply as a means of getting around safely and being able to muster.
Conserving the distinctive East Coast bloodlines is important to Bruce. Although buyers of youngstock from his property are increasingly seeking a mount for the show ring or recreational use rather than as a station hack, they are attracted to the hardiness and intelligence of the horses he breeds.
Bruce‘s motto is ‘survival of the fittest’ and he contends that when horses are run as a large herd on steep country, they not only become physically strong, but require intelligence to survive.
The success of the Ngahiwi horses today can also be attributed to Holden’s foundation stallion, Panikau who carried the blood of two legendary imported stallions brought in the 1900’s.
Bruce can list the pedigree of all the horses he owns. He’s very proud of them and the success they’ve had. His belief is that ancestry is important if he’s breeding for a type. He says the eye is really important in the horse – a big bold eye. He looks for the shoulder to make sure they are strong and that is key particularly in horses bred for jumping.
He says that there is a still a bit of Clydesdale which offers strength and harks back to the days when horses were primarily bred to be used on farms.
Bruce says he had a big clearance sale about 6 years ago. Although breeding the animals can be a passion and love, he says that after a while you have to think of the dollars and cents.
By the time of the sale, they had been breeding for a particular type using frozen semen. There were good horses on the property and Bruce says he was pleased to be able to move some of them on. “People came from all over the country to buy them.” He feels that the breeder often gets the short straw and that others tend to make more of a living from the animals.
The horse business at Ngahiwi kept a nucleus of good quality mares and continues to breed horses largely for the sport horse market. He says he is very happy with the bloodline they’ve developed. The farm sells horses as two and three year olds – unbroken but well handled.
The market these days is the sport horses - show jumpers, eventers and hunting horses, so his focus is on horses that are versatile.
He says that they don’t believe in pampering the horses. It does mean that when it comes to breaking the horses in, “they can be a bit strong willed but once they are broken in they’ll go anywhere.
In the future Bruce is hoping his son Tony will take over the business. He says the bloodlines will stay the same and will continue to have a role in agriculture and in sport. “These horses are bred to do something. They’re gutsy horses so they’re not suited to someone who is just starting out and not confident. They’re not a pet in a paddock.”
Bruce was looking to improve his line of horses as show jumpers and enquired about the ability to import frozen semen from proven sires. He heard about equine vet Dr Lee Morris, an Australian expert in horse fertility who had come to New Zealand and was starting to work in Cambridge. Bruce says Lee is amongst the top two or three equine vets in the world and New Zealand is very lucky to have her.
He took ten of his best mares to Lee and tried semen from different stallions.
Bruce says they started in 2010 and 2012. The success rate for insemination in those days was only 35 or 40% which was scarcely economical however in their first year with Lee doing the work, the in-foal rate was 100%. The following years of insemination were equally as good. “That just shows you we were so lucky to have her here,” Bruce says.