Level 3 FEI Eventing Course Designers are a rare breed globally, but especially in New Zealand, so it is sad that the list will be shortened by the retirement of Robbie Maclean, recently of Taupo, but now back in Wanganui, after 40 years in the sport.

However Robbie is quick to point out that he is still working, the NZPCA “champs” course at Cromwell, which will now be jumped next year due to the Covid-19 postponement, his most recent project.


Robbie first became involved as a volunteer helping Ian Rowan build the Central Districts cross-country course on the McKelvie property at Whale Rd. He was then asked to help at the SHB course, Sherwood, and at the Taupo three-day event, both courses designed by George Beatson.


Beth Fife then asked him to build at The Crossing, so he morphed into a professional course builder, equipping his truck with the gear he needed to make the job easier. In no time he was away from home eleven months of the year, learning a lot about the design of cross-country courses along the way.


Robbie researched course design, and decided he wanted to get overseas experience, so rang Philip Herbert, the renowned course builder at Burghley, to ask if he could help him. He was made welcome, and learnt a lot, particularly the way they looked at a piece of land and built to suit it.


He made two trips to Burghley, as well as a few of the smaller events, and while the basic techniques were the same, they were required to work to a very high standard, requiring resources of time and money, which course builders here don’t have.


Robbie said, “I can’t remember when I first became a Course Designer on paper,” adding, “Things were very vague in those early days.” He and Andrew Bowles attended an FEI Seminar at Werribee in the mid 80s, and went on to the FEI list after that.


Not only has he designed and/or built on most of the cross-country courses in the country, for the last four years Robbie has spent 6 months of the year in Thailand developing courses for four events staged each year by Thai Polo & Equestrian. He has mentored their officials, helping bring them up to international standard, and they are now hoping to qualify riders for Tokyo.


Now 70 years old, Robbie says, “I’ve had a very interesting life, lots of fun, a lot of hard work, all very satisfying, but now is the time to hobble away! I am looking forward to just being in my own garden with Vicki.”


Thank you, Robbie, for helping make the sport here what it is today.


By Virginia Caro