The life of Alan Hampton NZOM and ESNZ Hall of Fame inductee
By Annette Scott
Ashburton equestrian stalwart Alan Hampton’s dedication to the sport spans more than 40 years during which time he has been involved with almost every facet of the sport.
His untiring dedication to the sport was honoured in 2010 when he received the insignia of an Office of the New Zealand Order of Merit.
In 2015 he was awarded the Pilmer Plate, ESNZ’s Volunteer Lifetime Award, awarded to a volunteer or technical official who throughout their career has exemplified the highest ideals of good sportsmanship through commitment, dedication and the pursuit of excellence in the service of Equestrian Sport NZ (ESNZ).
Alan’s dedication as a volunteer in the sport was honoured again this month with his induction into the ESNZ Hall of Fame at the annual conference and awards ceremony in Christchurch.
The unassuming equestrian legend while humbled, but honoured, said he could not have pursued his passion and done what he has for the sport without the support of his family and good friends.
“They really were the most wonderful years and the family were great support to me and so were a lot of very good friends.”
At 91 years of age, Alan continues to follow the sport closely, “I’m just not active these days.”
Recalling his childhood, Alan suggests he was always going to have horses in his blood.
“My father arrived in NZ from Northern Ireland in 1909. He never drove a vehicle in his life, always drove horses. He could do anything with a horse.”
He spent six years in World War One with a NZ horse called Liberty bred by the Orbells in Timaru.
“He represented the Canterbury Mounted Rifles in Egypt against all nations and he won it on his Liberty.
“It was only natural that I would have horses.”
As a child Alan rode a horse to school at Southbridge, near Rakaia.
He went on to ride, “only round the ring jumping in those days” until he was in his 20’s.
Then the family shifted farms to Methven.
“We sold 20 horses and ponies at the annual Kirwee sale and I said I would never have another horse.”
That was for 15 years while he concentrated on playing rugby and golf, until family came along.
“My father said you better get the kids a pony and it all flared up again and I never left for 35 years.”
In 1970 Alan took on his first appointment, representing the Canterbury area on the National Council. By 1975 he was serving on both the showjumping and horse trials committees, eventually leaving the horse trials in 1980 but continuing on the showjumping committee until 2002.
During his time in horse trials he became NZ’s first course designer to gain international accreditation, designing and building National Three Day and One Day Championship courses including Riccarton Racecourse, Riversdale near Ashburton, McLeans Island and the three-day course at Pukekohe.
The last course Alan designed was the National One Day Horse Trials Championships hosted by Ashburton at Surrey Hills in 1996.
He also designed many Springston Trophy and pony club courses while also officiating as a horse trials judge, technical delegate and horse trials selector from 1975-1981.
While well-regarded out on the field, perhaps Alan’s greatest legacy to the sport came through his commitment to a series of significant structural changes to the NZ Horse Society (NZHS), including showjumping’s establishment as a discipline and restructuring that led to the formation of the Equestrian Federation (NZEF).
In 1978 Alan was elected to the showjumping committee and following disillusionment between the committees in the early 1980s was duly appointed along with Pauline Webb and Ian Nimon to formulate the new structure allowing showjumping to be a discipline with complete autonomy to run Showjumping NZ which was approved in 1983 with Alan taking up the inaugural chair of the discipline, a position he stepped down from in 1988.
“Initially I said I would only do it for a year but I ended up there for five.”
After the 1988 Seoul Olympics he went on to chair the NZHS and it was during his tenure that in 1990 the NZHS was restructured to become the NZEF governed by an executive with all disciplines represented.
He was a showjumping selector from 1984 until 1990 including chair of selectors for a number of years.
Other roles in showjumping include convenor of the FEI World Cup from its inception to NZ in 1983 through until 1998; chair of the Pacific League during which time he was Chef d’ Equipe managing showjumping teams to Australia, Berlin for the World Cup Final and the Seoul Olympics where the NZ team finished 12th. He also represented NZ at FEI Jumping committee level.
“Possibly the highlight was the Seoul Olympics in 1988 but the World Cup Final in Berlin was also a wonderful experience.”
Along with Peter Morris, Alan became the first full international showjumping judge officiating in that capacity in NZ and Australia many times.
With 30 years of service on the NZEF National Rules Committee, much of that as chair, Alan knew the rule book inside out.
He was responsible for the introduction of the medication programme for testing horses and was appointed by the FEI to the role of FEI Steward General for the Federation in NZ, a position he served for many years.
He was made an Honoury Life Member of the Federation in 1993.
Alan was responsible for the design and development of the South Island Equestrian Centre at McLean’s Island, of which he was chair for 21 years.
Frustrated with the lack of a dedicated centre he entered negotiations with the North Canterbury Catchment Board, now Environment Canterbury, in 1976 and almost four years later in December 1980, the then NZHS was granted the lease of 200 acres at McLeans Island where the NEC is today.
Nobody will ever know what it cost him in terms of cash, mileage, materials, time or physical effort as he threw himself into transforming the piece of unpromising scrubland into an equestrian focal point.
For the first two years no lease was charged to allow for development. In 10 days, Alan and his three sons single-handedly transformed the land from riverbed to pasture using their own tractors and a drill while a bulldozer was also hired.
In the three years following hundreds of volunteer hours went into the centre development.
“The people who came to help were a great help. One in particular was Rex Nelson from Geraldine, he would bring up what he called his A Team – all five of us would sleep in the office.
“There were great people involved who were a tremendous help.”
The NEC was officially opened on October 16, 1983.
The aptly named Hampton Oval is a true testament to his outstanding accomplishments and service to the National Equestrian Centre, which this year will celebrate 40 years of existence.
The National Jumping and Show Hunter Championship annual event has been the pinnacle show jumping event in the South Island for almost 30 years.
Established in 1994 Alan was the man behind the championships with the purpose being to provide a top South Island show jumping event at the time when the then NZ Horse Society decided that the Horse of the Year Show would no longer rotate between the North and South Islands.
“I started them because I could see the Horse of the Year Show wasn’t coming back to the South Island and the sport needed something.”
Alan developed the show’s unique three-day championship format based on the show jumping competition held at the World Equestrian Games and applied to ESNZ to have three national titles awarded at the show.
The national titles were to be the NZ Premier Championship, the NZ Grand Prix Championship and the NZ Pony Championship. The NZ Pony Championship is now synonymous with the Hampton trophy donated annually to the National Pony Champion.
Initially Alan was given permission to run the champs for three years. Held at McLeans Island they did not return a profit for the first three years, so he elected to run them as a private entity for the next four years.
The event was then picked up by the Ashburton Area that ran the competition successfully in Ashburton for the next three years until 2004, before handing over the reins to the South Island Showjumping Committee that continues to run the competition at the McLeans Island NEC.
Alan was a keen supporter of high-performance development and the future vision of the sport, particularly on the international scene, becoming involved in the syndication of horses on several occasions, in particular for Daniel Meech and Bruce Goodin, both of whom he continues to proudly follow on the international scene.
The other passion he developed was the building of showjumping equipment. Prompted by his trip to Germany to the FEI World Cup Final in Berlin in 1985, Alan started to lathe his own rails on his return home.
“When I saw the material they used I decided if we were going to improve the standard in NZ the jumps should be up to world standard.
“This was further enhanced when I met Olaf Petersen, the world renown courses designer at the Seoul Olympics in 1988, who later introduced me to the breakaway cup and keyhole strip that I went on to manufacture.”
Alan continued to design and produce jumping gear, with it popping up as new gear in arenas across the country for more than 30 years.
Alan is also a trustee of the Nimon Trust, a fund that allocates funds from time to time to young riders heading overseas to gain international experience and opportunities.
He was instrumental in establishing the trust following the death of his dear friend and colleague in the sport Ian Nimon.
“We were at the Horse of the Year in 1983, rooming together in a motel, I was in bed asleep when I got a knock on the door, it was the Police to inform me Ian had been killed in a car accident.
“It was tragic, it really was. I said to his wife Sue I wanted to do something to remember him.
“I said I would start a fund and I would guarantee it a $10,000 base to start.”
The fund was designated to young riders under 23 years of age for their development in international offshore participation in showjumping.
Riders formally apply to the trust for funding through the Jumping discipline and the trustees consider the application and level of funding, each on their individual merit and in consultation with the discipline.
“Over the years the fund has helped a lot of riders and it’s worked very well.” Alan said.
“We always kept the base fund of $10,000, more recently the base has gone out to $20,000 and at the moment we have available funds of about $13,000.”
The Nimon Trust Fund is run by three independent trustees, of which Alan has chaired from its inception in 1983 until now (2023). The two other inaugural trustees were well known showjumping identities Norman Matheson and Stuart Mitchell.
Norman Matheson has since been replaced by Harvey Wilson with Stuart Mitchell more recently stepping down and replaced by Oliver Edgecombe.
Alan has now also stepped aside with Merran Hain stepping into take his place as the chair, effective July 3, 2023, with trustees Harvey Wilson and Oliver Edgecombe taking the Nimon Trust forward from here.
Alan Hampton – ONZM
Responsible for the design and development of the South Island National Equestrian Centre (NEC) at McLean’s Island of which he served as chair for 21 years.
The Hampton Oval is a true testament to his outstanding accomplishments and service to the NEC.
Chair of NZ Showjumping and Chef d ’Equipe of the NZ Showjumping teams from 1985 to 1989, including the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games team.
President of the NZ Equestrian Federation (NZEF) from 1988 to 1991.
ESNZ Honorary Life Member.
Established the NZ National Jumping and Show Hunter Championship in 1994.
Awarded the insignia of an Officer of the NZ Order of Merit in 2010 for services to equestrian sport.
Awarded the Pilmer Plate in 2015, ESNZ’s Volunteer Lifetime Award – awarded to a volunteer or technical official who throughout their career, has exemplified the highest ideals of good sportsmanship through commitment, dedication and the pursuit of excellence in the service of ESNZ.
Established the Nimon Trust in 1983 serving as chair and trustee until 2023.
In all more than 40 years of voluntary time given to the sport.