Showjumping Olympian, and royal equestrian trainer Bruce Goodin’s simple system, focuses on horsemanship methods and seeing the bigger picture. For Goodin, it’s his mental strength rather than physical strength, that has proved to be the secret of his success.
By Maria Graae. Photos by Erik Kunndahl & Malene Nilssen
After more than a decade in Sweden, the New Zealander Bruce Goodin is now based with the two international show organisers Glen and Kartni Nielsen at Riders Cup, Denmark.
– One of the reasons I moved to Scandinavia was that I wanted a lifestyle with similar ethical qualities to New Zealand, he says, referencing to the beautiful Danish nature.
The son of eventing and jumping legend David Goodin grew up on a dairy farm in the small village of Te Kauwhata in New Zealand’s Waikato region.
– I think people in New Zealand are interested in people, it’s the attitude that people believe in people, almost like an innocence because we’re so remote.”
As we settle by his dark wooden dining table, we’re a long way from New Zealand, but the core values of openness and interest in other people, and the New Zealanders approaches to horse training, is something that has very much stayed close to the New Zealanders heart.
“It’s about personal development, not a quick fix. It’s about things being right for the horse, not for the riders ego. “
The big picture
Describing his philosophy Goodin says; – Always see a big picture of what you’re trying to get to. I see myself as a tradesman: I have a lot of tools of how to get there, even some go-to tools, but I don’t use the same for every horse.” Goodin says with his unmistakable, and charming, Kiwi accent.
Being a four-times Olympic contender, surprisingly Goodin did not enjoy much success as a junior. – We mostly did Agricultural shows, and my posture was not the best. Going to bigger show’s with my Dad would mean staying out of school for a day or more, but my parents were never too keen about that,” he say’s with a warm smile.
“To me, riding is like meditating, of course not all the time, but for a big part of it. That’s why I don’t care for music when riding, I just literally don’t hear it.”
But Goodin soon made up for lost time, when he went on to win one of the biggest equestrian events in the Southern Hemisphere: The New Zealand Horse of the Year title, in 1988. By 20 he had become the leading rider in his country, going on to finish second at the prestigious Spruce Meadows event in Canada in 1991.
His first encounter with the highest international sport came in 1987, when he visited the US, working for 3 months as a groom, learning from Joe Fargis, legend and the 1984 Olympic show jumping double-gold medalist as well as gold medalist Conrad Homfeld. – I never got to ride the whole time I was there, only the last week they gave me one horse, he tells. But the lack of time spend in the saddle didn’t matter. Goodin had just one request, which was whenever Fargis would school a horse, Goodin would get to sit on the fence, observing. One sentence particular continues to inspire Goodin: – Joe said this thing to me that stuck in my mind: “It’s not the jump you’re improving, it’s the way you get the horse to the jump, that you improve, and that in return improves the horses jump.”
Bruce continues: – Every horse has a certain jump so you improve the way you get the horse to the jump, Goodin says, firmly closing his fists in front of him. – That’s the whole point of the flatwork and the canter, the shape of the horse, the tension or the relaxation required.
“I can´t say I’m doing things like Hempfling, but he has inspired me and is the best horseman I’ve ever met. He can create a connection with a horse, like I’ve never seen anyone do.”
During the New Zealand winters that followed, Bruce travelled to Europe to gain inspiration and experience, eventually moving to Holland to work for renowned trainer and horse-dealer Jan Tops, before setting up European Sport Horses in Belgium with friends from New Zealand.
– We stumbled across the US hunter market and soon had a successful business, he explains. The year before his move to Sweden, in 2000, Gooding attended his second Olympic Games in Sydney and qualified for the final – riding Linaro, a stunning grey Holsteiner co-owned by Norway’s Princess Märtha Louise, who watched the pair from the stands of Horsley Park’s Olympic equestrian centre.
– Linaro was a horse that in lots of ways changed things for me. Having him jumping that first clear round of the Olympics, he sort of made me believe that I could be at the top level again, Bruce remembers. This came at a time when Goodin was at a point trying to figure out to continue, or if he should invest more time in the “business side” of things, with friends in Belgium. – I thought maybe I shouldn’t do top level anymore, but then I jumped that round and was first equal. Which made me realise that maybe I could still do this. But maybe most importantly: There was still a lot of enjoyment in doing it, ” he says with one of his frequent smiles.
At the second round in the Sidney Olympic Goodin lost his flow, or in his words, his connection with the horse. He found himself distracted by the pressure. And after the games, he attended a meditation retreat. – It’s all about breathing and staying in the moment. To me, riding is like meditating, of course not all the time, but for a big part of it. That’s why I don’t care for music when riding, I just literally don’t hear it.
“ I’ve tried to take the good parts from good riders or horsemen that I see doing well. You know: Why does it work well for them – and then copy those things; if it’s John Whitakers hands, and his ability to stay off (the horses front end) in front of the jump, or it’s Ludger Beerbum’s professionalism.”
Bruce’s training and approach to horses are shaped by his openness and desire to leave no stone unturned. – I want to be the best competitor that I can be, and I like to stay open to ideas that are going to help me get there in the best possible way. Jumping has always been my passion, but due to my father’s influence, I came from a background of dressage. Flatwork is still very much my go-to tool and an important factor in my everyday riding, he admits.
When Goodin had just finished working for Jan Tops in his early twenties, a friend demonstrated some horsemanship techniques, and thus sparking an interest in other methods of communicating with horses. An interest that very much remains to this day. – It was a big change and really opened my eyes to the fact that there were other ways to work with horses, and I was interested in seeing and understanding the horses better. It made it easier for me and the horse to rise to a higher level, and this is something that stayed with me.
The most radical change in Bruce’s approach to daily training came after he met horse trainer Klaus Ferdinand Hempfling, who is known for his holistic interaction with horses. – I can’t say I’m doing things like Hempfling, but he’ve inspired me and is the best horseman I’ve ever met. He can create a connection with a horse, like I’ve never seen anyone do, Goodin says. – It’s about personal development, not a quick fix and about things being right for the horse, not for the riders ego. Working with Klaus is building the horse up, to become bigger and more proud.
“It’s about staying in the moment. When you’re stressed or flustered, the right idea tends not to come to you. “
Through out the years, many different people have inspired Goodin to become the rider he is today. – I’ve tried to take the good parts from good riders or horsemen that I see doing well. You know: Why does it work well for them – and then copy those things; if it’s John Whitakers hands, and his ability to stay off the horses front end in front of the jump, or it’s Ludger Beerbum’s professionalism. Trying to pick up the best parts, is also looking at horsemen like Hemphling or Luca Moneta. Moneta is also a close friend of mine. Inspired by the ‘Parelli method’ and ethological principles, Moneta is renowned for being able to get the best from horses others have been unable to ride. He teaches riders and horses in natural horsemanship and showjumping to help the horse overcome and solve its own challenges. You could call him a natural horseman, Luca’s way of doing things are different, but he’s successful, he confirms.
Instead of asking what others are doing, Goodin is interested to discover why their approach is working.
– Why can a horseman get the horses to work happily and concentrated, jumping for them instead of under pressure? It’s a work in progress for me and one of my main motivating factors to ride: That there’s still so much to learn. It’s one of the things I love most about it, says Goodin before pausing. – What I learned in the last 10, and especially 5 years, is that more doors keep on opening, I keep discovering more things to learn and it’s truly exciting.
However having more and more knowledge and staying open to things are more easily said than done, so how does Goodin achieve this?
-It’s about staying in the moment. When you’re stressed or flustered, the right idea tends not to come to you. So stay open, when you’re riding, having an idea about where you want to go, to but not having a fixed idea on how you‘re going to do it. Have the bigger picture in mind and inspiration will come to you. Climbing to the top of the mountain with only sighting on the top, is not the best way to get there.