Grand Prix show jumpers Duncan McFarlane and Helen McNaught had been thinking of moving to New Zealand for some time. But the sale of Duncan's main mount, Mr. Whoopy, to Saer Coulter in January, and the retirement of Helen's longtime mount, Caballo, last fall, made now seem as good a time as any.
They'll finish out the hunter/jumper circuit at Thermal, return home to their Outwoods Farm base in the East Bay Area's Castro Valley and continue contesting the Northern California scene with their clients and young and sales horses while making the final preparations for a move that will likely happen in late summer.
The move takes Duncan back to his native New Zealand, which he left for the States in 1980. Helen hails from England originally, but moved around Europe before settling in the States in 2000. After several years as professional and personal partners, they wed at a small ceremony at HITS Thermal last year and will embark on this new chapter together. A Mr. Whoopy baby will tag along, as will Caballo, who'll enjoy an outdoorsy, green grass lifestyle that suits both Duncan and Helen's preferences for how horses should live.
Unfortunately, the high cost of horse keeping and developing young horses has contributed to Helen and Duncan's pending departure. Duncan's adamant that he's not complaining, but notes that, the way things are going in U.S. show jumping, it's increasingly tough to make it as a professional rider and horse trainer. "I'm not bitching," he emphasizes. "But times are changing. What we have here is a lot of very good professionals teaching very wealthy juniors and amateurs."
Developing and campaigning young horses in New Zealand is still a relatively affordable endeavor, Duncan explains. Land is cheaper and more plentiful and most shows are run by volunteers and staged with a low-key, community feel. Competitions are family-oriented affairs and the season doesn't run all year, providing horses and people a nice break.
With semen easily importable from anywhere in the world, breeding youngsters is just as easy in New Zealand as it is here, and putting show miles on them is cheap.
Of course, if Helen and Duncan develop another Mr. Whoopy, with his international potential, they'll incur big travel bills to prepare him for the highest-level international competition, but that part is true for Stateside horses, too.
It seems, too, that Duncan and Helen are ready to step onto a slower track and they hope some of their friends and clients will be in similar frames of mind, at least as vacationers. "It's probably like the U.S. was in the 1950s," says Duncan of the New Zealand lifestyle. "It's very laid back, beautiful and not much pollution." They'll base themselves on 10 acres in the middle of the North Island, near the huge Taupo Lake. They hope to develop some business with people who want to combine their equestrian interests with holidays that will include fishing, boating and other non-horsey activities.
Duncan first worked for fellow kiwis Butch and Lu Thomas when he came to America. Partnerships with Richard Sands, then his former wife, Gry McFarlane, in Windfall Farms, were among the outlets for his considerable horsemanship gifts as a rider, trainer and coach. The 12-year-old Hanoverian stallion Mr. Whoopy, by Contendro, is Duncan's current claim to fame. He began working with Mr. Whoopy when the horse was 5 and rode him to consistent top 1.6M placings in recent years. Their most successful stretch began with a second place finish in the first HITS $1 million class in New York in 2011 and continued through a third in last year's Thermal $1 million class. Since then, Duncan and the ever-exuberant stallion accrued enough World Cup points to sit fourth overall in the West Coast league as of the end of last year.
While he and Helen were sad to have Mr. Whoopy go, they were happy he'd have a terrific new home with at the Coulters' Copernicus Stables in Petaluma.
Helen's resume is even longer than Duncan's. Competing successfully in her native England and in Ireland, Germany and elsewhere, before moving to the United States in 2000, she earned a name for developing young horses and getting the best out of horses of varying abilities and temperaments.