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The Flying Dutchman

BY JACQUELINE MCARTHUR & PHOTOGRAPHS SUPPLIED BY ART UYTENDAAL
 
One of 17 children from a talented equestrian dynasty, Art Uytendaal had to find his own way in the world. Equestrian Life asked the show jumping veteran, now in his 80s, to share some of his defining moments.
 
Art Uytendaal could jump. How the dashing Dutchman with a fierce competitive streak jumped his way to fame in Australian show arenas is a tale of good luck, big hurdles, and a perfectionist’s eye for excellence. 
 
Brilliant horsemanship was in his blood. Art’s grandfather and great-grandfather had provided riding instruction to the Dutch elite, taught cavalry riders bound for Indonesia and bred warhorses. His father and eldest brothers were excellent Show Jumpers, both professional and amateur contenders for Olympic level competition.
 
To renew his amateur status and regain his own Olympic eligibility, Art needed a two-year hiatus from the family business. A chance meeting with a Kiwi sheep farmer, an admirer of fine riding, set Art’s sights on the Antipodes. It was Rotterdam 1954 and the 23 year-old horseman was looking for an adventure. Fortunately for Australia’s Show Jumping scene, New Zealand’s Immigration Department decreed they did not require Show Jumpers, but the big country next door might. 
 
So, Art landed in Melbourne and set off on the immigrants’ working tour; potato picking in Victoria, fencing in South Australia then cane cutting and jackarooing in Queensland. Just weeks away from returning to Holland he met a Gippsland dairy farmer whose kids kept horses. 
 
Those same kids, under Art’s tutelage, went on to trounce the opposition at Royal Shows and Art had found his place in the world.
A thirteen-time Show Jumper of the Year, winner at the Australian Championships in 1961, 1962, and 1967 as well as several Victorian Show Jumping Championships, the Dutchman earned hundreds of ribbons at Royal and other agricultural shows and well, won just about everything there was to win. He was instrumental in designing the first indoor riding school in Australia at Kiddlewick Riding School in Hallam, Victoria. He was also the first rider in this country to be sponsored, firstly by Johnny Walker Whiskey in 1974 and closely followed by the Kevin Dennis Show Jumping Team, made up of well-known owners, David and Elizabeth Boyle’s horses.
Excluded from competing in the Australian Olympic team because he was a professional, Art turned his attention to breeding and training many gifted horses for Jumping and Eventing, including some of the country’s best-known equine athletes.   
 
01
Australian Show jumping Championships 1967
 
Now domiciling happily in an idyllic patch of Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula with his wife Kerry, Art is content to reflect on a successful career (but would still give his right arm to be 25 again). But, more on that later. 
 
He spoke with Equestrian Life, about a life well-lived and his deep admiration for Show Jumping talent in Australia, the country that welcomed him. But, not at first.  
 
“When I arrived in Australia there were some difficult times. At one of my first competitions, I stopped out twice and was told by a rider I couldn't ride and should go back to where I came from.  A week later at the next show, I beat him and all the other riders, which silenced them,” he says. 
 
It wasn’t the first or last time Art was told he couldn’t ride, but his fortunes changed after the 1956 Olympics. 
 
“The Equestrian section was held in Stockholm due to strict Australian quarantine regulations and when the riders returned they talked about Dressage and realised I rode in this style and practiced it with my horses,” he says. “Previously in riding classes I would not be called in, as all the riders had their legs in the forward position, but after 1956 I went on to win Champion Rider at Royal Shows. “
 
03
Art at the Melbourne Show 1964
 
Fifty seven years later, Art’s generosity toward his students and open encouragement of other elite Show Jumpers became the immigrant horseman’s signature traits.
 
“There are so many things that make a great Show Jumper - both orthodox and unorthodox,” Art says.  
 
“Guy Creighton had the most wonderful eye and judgment of stride, on any horse, many not educated in the Dressage way.  But, he stepped out on the horse I previously rode, Mr Dennis, at the Montreal Olympics coming 5th in the World.   “Kevin Bacon, with a style of his own, sometimes lifting high off the horse, had the same judgment and courage,” Art says. 
 
“This goes for many that rode during my time.  Peter Mullins was a genius and Vicki Roycroft, if she had a horse today equal to the best in the world, she could be number one.   I admire the way Chris Chugg, Rod Brown and George Sanna educate their horses and get the most out of them.
 
“I always said, if only I could have selected a team to go to Europe.  It would have been Kevin Bacon on Chichester, Geoff Evans on Cygnet Rambler, John Fahey on Bonvale and Sam Campbell on April Love.  Remember this was 1972.  They would have won so much if only it had happened,” he says.  
 
Ask Art his one great lesson for his students, and he returns to his own lessons as a young rider.  
 
“I would tell all aspiring riders to do their ground work. They have to understand that it is not a 'draw rein' that makes the horse work from behind.    
 
When I first came to Australia, they laughed at me with my legs straight down -people did not do Dressage then, but that is what I knew from Europe.  It has taken a long time for Australian riders to change.   
 
 “It is so good now to see that people are actually doing the right thing by their horses.  “It is no fluke that Vicki Roycroft, Colleen Brook, George Sanna and Rod Brown and later Chuggy are still going strong. They have always believed in their ground work,” Art says.
The admiration of top competitors was mutual. Vicki Roycroft said of Art recently: “He trained all of us, and I still regard him as one of our best trainers. He revolutionised the sport of Show Jumping in Australia.”
 
Lots of hard work, a hereditary competitive streak, some good luck and brilliant horses led to three major events, Art recalls, that defined his best moments as a Show Jumper.  “Jumping the Puissance record of 2.1 metres at Adelaide Royal, which stood for many, many years until the fences were changed to allow the wall to become the spread fence was a highlight. 
 
02
Art in front of the record  7'2" Puissance wall. Jumped with Chatter at the Adelaide Royal in 1969
 
“But one of the best times of my life was when my father made a visit to Australia in 1974 and I won the Prince of Wales Cup on Mr Dennis, beating Kevin Bacon on Chichester.  There were only two rounds and I beat Kevin by over two seconds.  My father nearly fell out of the grandstand, he was so proud,” he says.  “I did find it extremely hard not being eligible to compete at the Olympics because I was a professional. By selling my horse Johnny Walker Whisky to Belgium, and receiving what then would have been a record price for a Show Jumping horse in Australia, I set off to England, winning in England with those two very young horses, Tongala and Jamaica Inn II and beating all the top riders of the time was also one of the best times of my life.”
 
Despite the wins, a couple of setbacks made for some challenging times for the professional coach. “One of my biggest challenges was when I moved to Whittlesea in Victoria’s south. I was told by EFA officials that they were setting up the EFA’s Show Jumping Centre of Victoria at the show grounds and they would require me there as coach. I bought a property, but the centre did not eventuate. However, fortunately we ended up with the Victorian Show Jumping Stables there.”
 
“Then, when I was appointed to go to the Olympics in Los Angeles as the trainer and I disagreed with Laurie Connell (who wanted to take George Sanna off King Omega) I was promptly dumped, without a letter or telephone call from Equestrian Australia,” he says.
In December 1985, during a training session Art’s horse stumbled on landing over a small jump and Art's leg broke in seven places. The leg was set crookedly and was later re-broken and pinned again.
 
He continued to ride, even winning some major competitions, but gradually sought a less arduous pursuit. Show Jumping lost a serious contender, but pigeon racing gained an avid enthusiast.
 
He is sanguine about breeding advances in Show Jumping, but laments some changes to the sport and the challenge of big distances in a country lacking the concentration of top shows that Europe enjoys.  
 
“With the changes to Show Jumping over the last years, the fences have become lighter, on break away cups, but they are smaller.  Therefore, times have been tightened. I sometimes think times are too tight in the first round and the excitement of more horses in a jump-off has disappeared; so audiences are not as excited with it. 
 
“However, with the breeding of warmbloods in Australia today, I would give my right arm to be 25 again.”
 
This article first appeared in Equestrian Life magazine, for more pick up your copy today!
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