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‘Ugly wee horse’ becomes a winner

Larina Dolman had a showjumping season out of the box. Riding Kiwi Lansing, she won the Equestrian Sports NZ National Pro-Amateur Series, on the way gaining the titles of North Island, New Zealand national and Horse of the Year pro-amateur champion. Yet less than five years ago she gave up riding competitively, returning only in January last year. John Gillies caught up with Larina and her mother Ange to learn more.

Talk about “nobody's child” . . . it was easy to see why he had been overlooked. This undersized oddity was hardly a paragon of horseflesh.

It was an impression backed up by all those who had looked at the laid-back four-year-old, then looked away.

But two Gisborne visitors to Hawke's Bay's Fernhill Stud saw something they liked.

Larina Dolman and her mother Ange wanted a horse that was “safe and easy to have around”. It was to be 14-year-old Larina's first hack, and they had asked the breeders at Fernhill if they had any nice young first horses.

“They picked out a few, but none of them seemed to suit us,” Larina, now 22, said this week.

“They said they had one out the back but he might be too small and he was nothing special. We tried him and really liked him.”

The little gelding was called Kiwi Lansing, a show name that he and Larina have brought to prominence in New Zealand equestrian circles. But at their Makaraka home, Kiwi Lansing, now 12, answers to the name Reggie. Ange came up with the new name, taken from a forlorn-looking movie or TV character, the details of whom she can't recall.

“He was just this little wee horse who was so ugly,” Ange said. “Lots of people looked at him and no one wanted him.”

Larina Dolman has just completed an outstanding equestrian season that finished early because of cancellations caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Most of it has been on 15.2-hands-high Kiwi Lansing, although she has also competed successfully on horses belonging to others in events that Reggie doesn't do.

“I'm getting their horses out competing, and it's keeping me fit,” Larina said.

In particular, she has done well on Fraser Tombleson's horse Eye See Ruby in the six-year-old series.

But it is with Kiwi Lansing that Larina has had most success.This season they won 13 out of 14 starts. Riding Kiwi Lansing, Larina was the North Island, New Zealand national and Horse of the Year pro am champion. With success like that, it was no surprise she won the Equestrian Sports New Zealand National Pro-Amateur Series. When competition stopped for the season, she had 146 points — 79 more than the second-placed rider.

She did well on the local scene, too, winning the Gisborne showjumping series. Larina's success this season caps a remarkable comeback to the sport after a three-year break that ended only 14 months ago.

Born and raised in Gisborne, Larina has been riding horses since she was five. She competed on ponies to Pony Grand Prix level, and then got her first horse — Kiwi Lansing — with whom she competed in showjumping classes for five-, six- and seven-year-old horses.

When Kiwi Lansing was seven and Larina was 17, they won the jumping series and the Horse of the Year class for seven-year-old horses.

That winter, Larina travelled to the United Kingdom to work for international event riders Tim and Jonelle Price for four months.

After Larina came home, she gave up competing. Her horses were kept busy, though, as younger sister Sinead took on the rides with notable success.

“I just felt like I needed a break. I needed time to be a teenager and go to work.”

In January 2019, three years after Larina had stopped riding at shows, she started again. She competed at two more that season, and come the start of the 2019/20 season in October, she was there with both of her horses, Kiwi Lansing and Floriant.

Early successes showed her she was competitive in the Pro-Amateur Series — a class with jumps between 1.2 and 1.3 metres high for riders 22 years old and over — and she travelled around the North Island accumulating points. Normally her mother Ange went with her, but for the trip to the New Zealand nationals in Christchurch, Larina was to meet up with another rider, Katie Hercock, at Otane in Central Hawke's Bay, and catch a ride the rest of the way.

Just south of Putorino her vehicle broke down and she was stranded on the side of the road with her horse float. Enter family friend Guy Dever, whose daughter Sofie passed on a message from Ange (in Gisborne). He travelled from his farm – on the coast near Putorino – to give Larina and her float a lift to Otane, just in time for the ferry connection to be made.

Highlights of the year on Kiwi Lansing were the North Island Jumping Championships in Auckland, the New Zealand National Jumping Championships in Christchurch and the Horse of the Year Show in Hawke's Bay. Larina won the Pro-Amateur Series class at all three shows.

Superstitions around competing

Like many sportspeople, she has superstitions around competing. Her mother says Larina got into the habit of wearing the same helmet, jodhpurs, jacket and shirt for all her pro am starts this season, and had Kiwi Lansing plaited. The only time he wasn't plaited this season was the only time they didn't win (they were third).

Larina had a scare when, on the way to the Horse of the Year Show, the gear locker on the truck opened and her helmet fell out. That meant she had to buy a new helmet on the first day of the show. When her first ride didn't quite go to plan, she was a little worried. She needn't have been . . . she ended the show with the Horse of the Year title for her class.

Kiwi Lansing gets a break for the next two months before coming back into light work to prepare for next season.

Larina is planning to sell Floriant so she can buy a young horse to bring up through the grades . . . she enjoys working with young horses and seeing them progress. She also has the ride on Eye See Ruby for the seven-year-old season.

Larina returned to competitive riding with renewed enthusiasm, but she had a bit of ground to make up. Former Olympian eventer Andrew Scott has been her coach since just before she got Kiwi Lansing, and on his six-weekly visits to Gisborne from Feilding he helped Larina regain her competitive edge.

Longer-term, Larina hopes to produce young horses and sell them.

“I never seem to sell them, though,” she said. “They always end up staying.”

The eldest of three, Larina has plenty of parental backing. Her father, commercial crayfisherman Murray (Mudguard) Dolman, is happy for his daughters that they have been successful and made some great friends through showjumping, but he leaves the travelling support largely to Ange. She, too, was a rider, but not competitively. Jack, youngest of the three siblings, does not ride competitively either. Sinead was riding until a month ago, but has started dairy milking on a farm in the Manawatu and hasn't the time for horse-riding.

Even with family support, competing on the equestrian circuit is expensive. During the season, Larina works for PGG Wrightson as a crop monitor two days a week. In winter, she grabs as much work as she can to save for the next season. Sponsorship would help.

Ange said: “When Larina came back to riding, I made a rule. I would run the truck; she would have to pay for everything for the horses. She has to run them, shoe them, vet them, feed them, pay for the show entries . . . it's all her.”

Asked to describe Kiwi Lansing/Reggie, Larina said: “He's a cool horse to have around, really easy, nothing fazes him. He loves his job. After the season he gets turned out for the winter. Most horses can compete till they're 20. I'm sure he'll tell us when he doesn't want to do it any more.”

And his nature?

“He thinks he is a human. If he could, he would be inside, on the couch with us. It's hard during winter because he hates it . . . he's in a paddock right outside our deck. He can look in and see us watching TV.”

Larina says one of Reggie's strengths is that he is naturally a “forward” horse. That means he goes faster than many of the other horses in competition.

“He never has any problems with time faults. In jump-offs, we don't have to go stupidly fast.”

A lot of well-bred horses on the New Zealand showjumping scene are warmbloods, which has nothing to do with the temperature of their blood.

“Hot-blooded” and “cold-blooded” are groupings of horses, loosely based on temperatment. Arabian and Thoroughbred horses are usually classed as hot-blooded because of their agility, speed and spirit; cold-blooded horses include the draught breeds such as Shires and Clydesdales, bred for size, strength and calm temperament.

Warmbloods are a combination of hot-blooded and cold-blooded lines, bred to be calmer than a Thoroughbred and more athletic than a Clydesdale. They are popular in European showjumping, in particular, and in New Zealand.

Reggie's father was a warmblood; his mother was a Thoroughbred. So he has a good temperament, with added pace. But, for now, he's having a rest.

Up and over: Larina Dolman rides Kiwi Lansing and wins the Pro Am Rider of the Year, Land Rover Horse of the Year 2020 at the A&P Showgrounds in Hastings. Picture by KAMPIC/Kerry Marshall