Ernst Holtz shares his history and passion for the sport
Born and brought up in the then South West Africa, I went to school during World War II and for a few years thereafter. Horse sport, which in those days was in German-speaking hands, only restarted around 1950. While still light enough, I work rode for a local racehorse trainer and now and then also got a ride in a race when the SA Professional Jockeys were in short supply or did not want to ride certain horses. That way I learnt a lot about fitness etc. which came in handy in later years when eventing was my hobby.
When local horse shows started again I was in the thick of it, riding my own and other people’s horses, as many as I could. In those days show jumping was king, but later eventing and hunts also restarted on farms outside Windhoek. Former German Cavalry Officers taught us a bit of dressage and also vaulting. In the mid-50s I spent two years in Germany and took riding lessons whenever I could afford them.
I also attended the Stockholm Olympics in 1956, which was an unforgettable experience as it was held there whilst the rest of Olympics took place in Melbourne, Australia. After my return to Windhoek I worked in our family business and travelled to South Africa where I rode at the Rand Easter Show, which in those days was by far the most prestigious event. I also rode at Pretoria, Pietermaritzburg and even in Maputo, then firmly in the hands of Portuguese Cavalry at their magnificent venue Centro Hipico.
I also competed in a few SA Major cross-country competitions then sponsored by Lufthansa Airlines, sometimes accompanied by other Southwesters where we took home some of the best prizes, which led to South West Africa being seen as major rivals to the locals. We were later joined by Rhodesians who also took major honours and who brought out visiting British Internationals to compete with us on some of our best horses. After settling in South Africa, needless to say on Namibian bred horses, I became the first ever Eventing Springbok which was awarded to me along with the late Greg Cleverdon.
After marrying in 1964, my wife and I moved to Johannesburg where I was soon drawn into equestrian administration and judging activities. The late Bill and Mairi Clifford, late Bob Charter as well as David and the late Charlotte Stubbs were all instrumental in this.
I served on THS and SANEF committees for decades, with many years as chairman and president of the latter. When FEI created a Group of African Countries, I became its first Chairman and served on the FEI Bureau for more than a decade. I also served on the International Dressage Technical body, replacing the late Dr Klimke when he sadly and very prematurely died.
I later became a Director of the Rand Show Organisation, during which time I received the SA National Sport Merit Award from the Prime Minister of SA and also held the title of Member of the Hall of Fame. Beyond this, I was voted onto the International Dressage Judges’ Panel and ultimately to its highest rung, namely to judge Olympics and World Champs, which I duly did.
During those years I was invited to many countries, attending and giving workshops. It was a great privilege to visit all corners of the world, including major horseshows. It was a great challenge to lead my fast growing company and still manage to fly out of Johannesburg on a Thursday night, judge somewhere in the world Friday to Sunday and get back to the office on Monday morning. My staff and family were immensely supportive throughout.
It was a great pleasure to share my experience and knowledge back home by way of personal involvement and the National Federation SANEF. I was also able to invite the richly talented riders to South Africa.
Looking back over the last 50 years I would say that equestrian sport has grown significantly since1965, when show jumping was well advanced but all other disciplines were still in their infancy. Dressage, for example, was at the level where sitting trot could not be performed on our thoroughblood horses but only on those “coldblooded German animals”!
Today, dressage and eventing and showjumping are all performed on locally bred and imported horses with lots of German and other “coldblood” in their veins.
For obvious reasons I became involved in the breeding of sport horses in our country, something that had already taken place in my homeland Namibia. I served on the SA Warmblood Society, became a Senior Inspector and was its President for a number of years.
I was privileged to be part of the development of many equestrian developments in our country and that I was able to contribute in so many different ways. I am especially grateful to have met many wonderfully committed people along the way and am still in contact with a number of them.
I still enjoy attending major events overseas, the most recent ones being the European Games and the FEI World Champs for young dressage horses and I judge at all levels of dressage from time to time. Most mornings I ride both my Namibian Warmblood horses either out in the country or in my own arena.
E J Holtz