Our Best Riders

This page is about certain riders who I consider have special talent. It includes 2 riders that have helped train at Rata Mil, 3 that have owned and competed Rata Mill horses and 1 that never rode our horses.

Through the years around 20 young people have come from around the world to help. The majority of these were OK, some good and very few very good. Aside from 1 rider each of our best riders were exceptional in one particular facet.  I will here discuss these specific qualities.


                                        Shige Nishezuka

                                              Shige on Krugerand

A beautifully made horse who was ‘sticky’ (not going forward freely) to ride, making him very difficult to ride over jumps


If I had to choose one rider to train green horses to jump it would be Shigeji Nishizuka.  Fearless to the point of endangering himself Shige throughout his career takes great pride in training and jumping difficult horses. He also like to ride very strong minded horses that will jump no matter how high or technical the course may be.  He believes that most champion horses are in certain respects difficult. This is partially true, but not entirely. Apparently, great horses like Gem Twist needed to be just ridden forward in good rhythm. He would do the rest.

Being like an adopted brother I felt the liberty at times to caution Shige, ‘For goodness sake, stop taking on other’s failures, they take too much time that should be going into the good horses’ However, here is where Shige gets his satisfaction. One has to respect that.

Shige never wears a helmet during training. One day I asked him, ‘Why?’.

 He replied, ‘because it would be an admission   to myself that I am afraid’.


Some years ago Shige was looking over horses at Rata Mill. There were a group of about 12. Way up the back at the top of the hill a horse stood alone. ‘What’s that horse? Asked Shige

‘He’s crazy’. I replied, ‘I am going to shoot him’

“That’s the one I  want’ said Shige

‘You’r crazy too, he is not worth it”.


This guy was a beautiful looking 3 yr bay stallion.  When it came to gelding he had smashed clean out of the cattle yards. I was most certainly going to shoot him. But, Shige was smitten.  If I could geld him he would pay $1000. I should have trusted my instinct and said no. But the vestiges of a young man’s pride took over and I went ahead. This time I was ready when he came in the cattle race. I quickly put rails over him just foreword of the whither. When he tried to rear up and clamber out he went nowhere. Then bugger off out of there for half a day. A couple more times in the yards then ring the vet. 


‘I have a crazy horse that clients want gelded. Come. Feel your way. Any problems stop, I will shoot him’.  

I don’t know how we got through it but eventually 2 testicles lay on the ground.  Did this quieten him? No way. What I don’t like about these horses is that when they come in with a group they race around, bouncing off the rails, stirring everything else up.

I was about to leave for an offshore contract when Shige arrived with a team of 4 to prepare this horse for transport to Japan. After 4 days intensive work they finally got him on a truck. They have a hilarious video of this. At one point someone jumped on him to try to ride him on. He got dumped.  He (by now named “Raglan”) went to Auckland and was handled again for several weeks before the flight. I have no idea how much tranquiliser was pumped into him but through some miracle he arrived in Japan. Some week later Shige was riding him. Even then, Shige would only allow certain riders at the stable to ride him. These were riders that sat very quiet, like a mouse. Shige openly told me about training sessions when Raglan would dump him 4 or more times.

As is often the way by the time the big crash came Raglan was going rather nicely and jumping well. This may have been as long as 6 months after Raglan arrived in   Japan. For several months Shige lay in hospital. My gut feel was realised. I should have shot him.

Shige, being Shige muscled though and went back to riding Raglan along with many of his 30 horses.

Not so long ago, Shige had a freak accident while leading a horse that broke his leg. When it came to applying a cast Shige refused, ‘ If you put that on, I will cut it off’ The doctors relented.  Each day for weeks, at the edge of his arena, Shige would sit in the back of a station wagon giving directions to his staff as normal – waiting for his leg to heal. He is that kind of guy.  

Shige’s best quality is the way inspires jumping confidence in the horse. He is fearless. This rubs off in the horse.


                                            Carmel Nolan-Wright


Carmel on  her little pony mare Nicky (I think) on whom she took out several NZ titles. The same horse could do multiple flying changes


Carmel, a first cousin of mine, never rode Rata Mill horses. But, she is one with the x factor. Whatever the discipline Carmel would have been successful. As it happened she chose barrel racing and is now amongst the big time in the US. Like a good sheep dog trainer Carmel would get the best out of any horse. Right through her teenage years she lived on her horses.  I remember her in an open paddock sitting bareback on a horse, with no bridle doing rein-back. On the same horse she would ride 20 m doing  flying changes, just for fun. This was just a pony. She could ask her horse to rear, western style, at any time.  She had virtually no dressage training. Horses were everything to her family. She was probably put up before she could even walk.  She was NZ barrel racing champion on several occasions. 




                                                   Nicole Giger

                                   Nicole on her self-trained 8 yr Lusitano mare Bailarina


Nicole first came to Rata Mill some 20 years ago. She is far and away the best trainer on the flat to work at Rata Mill. She had met an aunt of mine, Marie Morgan, while they were both in Portugal studying classical dressage on Lusitano horses. Much of Nicole’s work was in-hand from the ground, which was a completely new approach for all of us. Her horses went soft and happy. Born in Switzerland she now spends much of her life in Portugal, through her love and dedication to the Lusitano breed. 


                                          Deanna Kalff 


I have chosen Dianna as one of the best, because she is the epitome of what keeps New Zealand punching above its weight in international arenas. As a teenager she took on one of the most difficult, nervous horses to come off Rata Mill: Titoki. Another such from the TB Sire Serpico,  he was exactly the type of character I do not like. Even after 2 months of riding I had to tip toe up to him or else he would shy away. One could not wave a hand while riding and most certainly not take off a coat. Within a few years Dianna was blitzing the 1.1 – 1.2 m classes in her province:  one year accumulating the second highest showjumping stakes in New Zealand. She was exactly the type of rider Titoki needed. Vivacious and positive, she would come home from school, pile on bareback and ride, almost every night. Oh, that all riders were like that. Titoki was out of purebred Clydesdale - proof again that halfbreds can jump. He was a short-coupled, round -actioned horse that could jump clean at speed. He died prematurely, near the height of his career. 


Hopefully I will get some pics of Deanna and Titoki in the near future