MARGARET JANE (MAGGIE)
Maggie Briggs was born at Otakeho, South Taranaki* on the 17 April 1892 to Robert Ephraim and Linda Elsie Briggs nee Stevens. Maggie’s father was drowned in a boating
accident on the 29 November 1896 off Ohawe Beach
(see Clara Crowhurst),
and in 1898 her mother married an Inaha (Manaia)
farmer John Robertson. Maggie’s
childhood was spent near the top of Yorke’s Hill,
near the old Riverdale Dairy Factory on South Road.
Mitchell, a noted Clydesdale breeder and sportsman of “Burnbank”,
Mitchell Road, Manaia had a little pony Czarina for
whom he wanted a rider worthy of the mount.
He watched the children riding to school, and chose six year old Maggie
Briggs. Before she was allowed to ride Czarina in competition she had to be tutored in the art of
riding and this job was given to J D’s son Alex Mitchell, himself one of the
finest show ring riders in New Zealand.
Under his tuition, Maggie began to learn the rights and wrongs of show
ring riding. Fortunately, she had a innate love of horses and she enjoyed every minute of the
time she was asked to give practice.
Maggie was one of the first to ride astride.
Eventually after two years of tuition,
Maggie made her debut at the Egmont A & P Show,
Hawera in 1902, when mounted on Czarina, she won
eleven first prizes. In addition,
competing on another mount she took third place in the women’s jumping
event. Maggie was quickly dubbed the
“Maid from Manaia”. For six years Maggie
and Czarina were unbeatable, and when Maggie became
too old for the children’s events, the pony was retired from the ring with more
than 100 first prizes to her credit.
For Maggie’s twelfth birthday she was given
another horse, Rawhiti, by Gus Sole of Bell Block. On this horse, Maggie began
beating the finest women riders in New Zealand as well as winning at open hunting, wire jumping and other
equestrian events. Later she proved
herself outstanding in Australian competitions, making her first appearance at
the Sydney Royal Easter Show in 1923. Invited
by American millionaire Guy Woodin to visit Los Angeles, she
ended up riding Rudolf Valentino’s Arabian stallion making her “one of the most
envied women in Hollywood”. Maggie found America
disappointing as show ring riding was almost unknown there and she suffered a
hip injury which incapacitated her for some years. In her recovery period she began writing and
publishing poetry under the pseudonym “Pakeha”.
Maggie returned to New Zealand in 1948, and her interest in show-jumping never waned. She donated almost all her trophies as prizes
to encourage others. Maggie Briggs died
on the 5
November 1961 at Otaki,
New Zealand’s first international equestrian.
* Some sources say she was born at Otahuhu (Auckland) but her birth entry has been sited as Otakeho,
The Book of New Zealand Women
Legends in their
Lifetime by Wally Ingram