Merv Bennett – Quiet Achiever

Merv Bennett – Quiet Achiever

Equestrian Memories Australia

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25 October 2017 ·

Merv Bennett – Quiet Achiever

Featured Image: Merv Bennett and Regal Reign in action cross country – Montreal Olympics 1976

Foreword (WPH)

Having just posted a panegyric to Laurie Morgan I decided to also balance it up with this tribute to legendary but unheralded Merv Bennett. It helps that I know his son John through the RAS of NSW.

Merv Bennett of Worrigee, Nowra (NSW), became one of Australia’s top level equestrian combinations. With his thoroughbred horse Regal Reign, he represented Australia in the Three Day Event at the 1976 Montreal Olympics (bronze), 1980 Fontainebleau alternative Olympics (bronze), 1982 Luhmuhlen World Championships and 1984 Los Angeles Olympics (fifth). One horse. Three Olympics. Amazing man!

He’s had a lower profile than some of our Olympians but is nevertheless highly regarded in the equestrian world and especially in his own district of Shoalhaven. In fact, after Montreal, Regal Reign was to be sold in Canada. However, his hometown of Nowra rallied and raised money to fly him home.

Like most eventers in his day, Merv chose thoroughbreds to ride – there wasn’t really any crossbred options in those days. Once competing against the rest of the world in three-day eventing, the thoroughbreds proved their worth as tough, fast horses, and the Europeans on their heavy warmbloods took notice. In these years, the Australian horses were usually young – often six-year-olds – which showed the talent of our riders, to do so well on relatively inexperienced horses.

Regal Reign was foaled in 1969, and after a short racing career he began life as an equestrian horse with Ian McDonald before being sold to Merv Bennett.

Not really known for brilliant dressage tests, Merv’s talent and courage cross country would often move himself and his team well up the rankings. It says a lot about Merv’s talent and horsemanship that Regal Reign stayed sound and performed so well at international level, including three Olympics, over many years. (* One was the alternative Olympics, 1980 when Australia did not send any equestrian teams to Moscow.)

The 1976 bronze medal team was Bill Roycroft and ‘Version’, Wayne Roycroft and ‘Laurenson’, Mervyn Bennett and ‘Regal Reign’ and Denis Pigott and ‘Hillstead’. Merv placed 12th individually. The whole team were received as heroes upon their return to Australia. The Australian Olympic team collectively won just one silver medal and four bronze medals in Montreal, so the eventing team’s victory was a significant achievement.

This 1976 Montreal bronze medal winning eventing team was inducted into the Equestrian Hall of Fame in 2013.

In 1980 the Australian eventing team scored bronze again, at the Alternative Olympics at Fontainbleau, France, where most of the top equestrian nations chose to compete rather than Moscow. Here the team was Merv Bennett and Regal Realm, Wayne Roycroft and Clouseau, Philippa Glennan and Rangefinder and Andrew Hoy and Davey.

Merv wasn’t just a one-horse success story. His horses always had the prefix ‘Regal’. Regal Realm was sold to the UK’s Lucinda Green. In 1982, Lucinda and Regal Realm represented Britain at the Eventing World Championships in Luhmühlen, where they won the individual gold medal, and were part of the gold medal winning team. Thanks to comments below from the likes of Colleen Brooke, herself an international showjumper, we are reminded that at Los Angeles in 1984 Merv supplied three horses for the eventing team – two went over as reserves.

Merv retired from international competition in 1987. He moved into training racehorses and became even more involved in his community and equestrian administration.

Merv Bennett’s accolades and interests include:

  • Order of Australia Medal (OAM) for service to equestrian sports as a competitor, coach and event coordinator.
  • Australian Sports Medal in 2000
  • Olympic selector, Equestrian Federation of Australia, 1987-1993.
  • Gold Badge of Honour, Federation Equestre Internationale, 2004.
  • Level III Coaches Accreditation 1981.
  • Internationally accredited as a technical delegate and Course Builder for 3 Day Eventing, 1984
  • Established ‘Worrigee Equestrian Common’ dedicated equestrian sporting grounds on his property 1990; built ‘Worrigee House’ Reception and Function Centre, 1991.
  • Chief Horse Steward, Nowra Show Society Committee, 1980-2002; and Ringmaster since 2002.
  • Founded Worrigee Horse Trials Association, 1982.
  • Patron, Shoalhaven Pony Club and Zone 28 Pony Club Association.
  • Inducted into Shoalhaven Sporting Hall of Fame, Elite Athlete Category, 2005.
  • Shoalhaven Businessperson of the Year, 1992.