One of New Zealand’s highest ranked FEI course designers is calling time on a very rewarding career. The Glistening Waters and ESNZ Series Finals Show will be Gerrit Beker’s last big event.
The retired Tauranga civil engineer is quick to add he will still be available as a technical delegate and for mentoring the next generation of course designers. He feels now is the time to pack up his measuring stick. He is bowing out at FEI international Level 3, the second highest level you can go and says it has been an absolute privilege to be involved.
He is most grateful for the support he has had from wife Jenny as it has involved being away from home often during the season.
Gerrit, who has been on the ESNZ Jumping Technical Committee since around 2000 and is currently the only FEI Course Director in New Zealand, has built everything from grass roots to World Cup courses on both sides of the Tasman as well as in Spain and Singapore, and assisted in The Netherlands. He figures there have probably been more than 3500 courses built over the 30-odd years he has been building.
“I always had in my mind that I would retire before I turned 70 – which is in July. It is very physically and mentally demanding and I feel I am not improving anymore,” he says. “I hope I have helped people bring on horses and that the tracks helped them improve,” says Gerrit. “I have always believed it is important to build challenging but fair tracks with questions that are appropriate to the level of the class. That doesn’t mean everyone always agrees though!”
He loves nothing more than seeing a horse and rider come out of the ring confident and happy. “I hope I have made a difference – that is why one does it in the end.”
His first taste of course designing came when he was living in The Netherlands working with an international rider who was also a course designer. When the family moved to New Zealand in 1987 he saw that there was a need at the local Pony Club where his two sons were riding. “I felt I could offer something that no other parents (at the Pony Club) had had any experience with,” said Gerrit. “It really did come quite naturally to me.”
It helped that he had some solid support from the late David Graham and Gordon Cameron who he says both had a huge influence on his progression through the ranks. By 1999 he was building the number one ring at Tauranga and things just grew from there.
He has always aimed to have a good rapport with the riders so that they feel confident to talk to him about the tracks.
Over the years Gerrit has had a lot of encouragement and feedback from the likes of Jeff McVean, John Cottle, and Merran Hain among others. “Especially when you are starting your career, that sort of feedback is very helpful.”
He gained his FEI Level 3 qualification at Aachen in Germany in 2005. In 2008 he was awarded a Prime Minister’s Scholarship to further his knowledge, enabling him to be an assistant course designer in The Netherlands at three major shows. “It was most enjoyable and educational.” He has also assisted alongside some of the world’s leading course designers, including Leopoldo Palacios, Peter Holmes, Frank Rothenberger, Rob Jansen, Werner Deeg, Linda Allen and John Vallance, as well as at the CSIO 5* Nations Cup in Rotterdam with Louis Konickx, who is the technical delegate for the Tokyo Olympics. Gerrit attended the FEI World Equestrian Games in Caen, Normandy, in 2014 as an official observer and was included as a member of the jumping course design team.
Around 2010 Gerrit was added to the list of FEI Course Directors for FEI Levels 1 and 2 Course Designers, meaning he can assist and run educational courses at those levels.
“I have really enjoyed my time as a course designer,” says Gerrit. “It has been both challenging and interesting. I have enjoyed working with colleague course designers, other officials and organisers and being around the riders.” It was this camaraderie that kept him motivated.
He feels New Zealand is making some good traction with a new generation of course designers. “This will help spread the load. There are programmes through the FEI which offer a lot of international education. We currently have some good FEI Level 3 course designers and others who are more than ready to move up to Level 3. Unfortunately for them upgrading has been delayed due to the COVID restrictions.
One of the biggest stimulators for Gerrit has been the continued learning that comes with designing. “There is no way you can say or feel ‘I know it all now’. It always surprises me how much one continues to learn.”
Gerrit is a rider from way back, competing in dressage and eventing as well as Showjumping, placing third in a national one-day championship in The Netherlands. “I showjumped to 1.3m level but soon realised I was better at building than riding.”
He immigrated to Africa in 1975, meeting Jenny, a returning South African, while on the boat to Cape Town. After four years in South Africa they moved to Malawi, in Central East Africa, where Gerrit was involved in the sugar cane industry. Both boys were born during the six years spent in Malawi. They then moved back to The Netherlands but Gerrit couldn’t settle after a decade away, so two years later they packed up their lives and headed Down Under.
It didn’t take long for Gerrit to be employed by engineering and consultancy firm Beca who he worked for in the Bay of Plenty for 29 years, retiring in 2016.
He is now looking forward to spending more time with family and friends and doing other things he loves like cycling, walking, reading and travelling. He and Jenny have one grandchild in The Netherlands and three near Morrinsville, who live on a goat dairy farm, where he loves to lend a hand.
By Diana Dobson
14 April 2021