This article first appeared in Equestrian Life magazine.
BY ROGER FITZHARDINGE
THE ONLY EQUINE bloodline in Maurice Bruce's ancestry came from his father, a bookmaker. Maurice was born in Sydney in 1946 to his salt-of-the-earth mother who had married the bookie. At the age of six, Maurie was packed off to be a boarder at St Joseph's where he received a sports scholarship, excelling in rugby, athletics and cricket. He matriculated and went to Sydney University and studied medicine, but his father died towards the end of his course and he decided pharmacy was his passion; he completed pharmacy and moved to Nowra where he worked for Soul Pattinson and was given a partnership there.
During his uni days he had played first grade rugby for Gordon and was a very skilled and successful halfback player and was selected at the age of 18 for the Wallaby squad to go to South Africa. He remembers being knocked out so many times it became part and parcel of his weekly life. On moving to Nowra he captained Shoalhaven and represented Illawarra. He had met his wife, Jane, at a rugby match and they never looked back, marrying and starting their life in Nowra and having three children, Evi, Anna and James. Horses were certainly not in any way a part of their life until the girls became interested because their friends rode. So the rot began and Jane bought a horse and ponies for the girls and started riding and getting instruction at the local riding school with a Mrs McPhee. At this time, Maurie was 35 and had never touched a horse. Not to be left out, he started to ride as well and took it all very seriously. Both daughters competed successfully in eventing and won at NSW State Championships and at junior level. Believe it or not, after simply two years of riding, Maurie successfully competed a horse, Cabonarta (Banana), whom he purchased from Simon Kale, in an advanced eventing competition. Three years later, Maurie won on Banana at the Kooralbyn 3DE that was a selection trial for the Seoul Olympics. He was asked to compete again at Worrigee 3DE but unfortunately the horse bowed a tendon.
Maurie and Jane bought 93 acres in Berry where their Neversfelde Stud is still today. They were great friends and instructed by Simon Kale and bought two mares as foals – Samoneinin and Freuda – from Walter and Connie Sauer when they had Austrak Stud. Maurie had moved from the Nowra pharmacy and started his own at Culburra. With their association with Simon Kale, they began to breed some horses using Kassiber. The first they bred was Kensington (Kassiber x Glo Ladyxx) who was to be an eventer but turned out to be an Australian World Cup dressage representative with Maurie at Grand Prix. There was Samoneinen, who was broken in and by the age of six was Grand Prix. Maurie made the most of every horse he rode, to say the least. Kenso was selected to represent at the World Cup in 1994 and remained in Germany to compete at WEG at The Hague that year. Overseas he and Jane went again with Sammy and Kenso and the Australian team to compete at the European Championships in Luxembourg like lambs to the slaughter. They competed in Belgium and Holland but Sammy broke down riding through the forest in Rotterdam before the competition and Kensington competed at Luxembourg in Sam's place. He was to be sold, but was not so rideable for the wealthy American clients who were so keen on him. He was renowned for getting a little strong and is the only horse that Maurie has ridden that actually could bolt at the walk. Despite this, Maurie and Kenso struck up a great partnership and, initially with help from Ann Honor, they made it to go overseas three times, including to Las Vegas for the World Cup final.
Then there was Kudu, who Jane and Maurie bred and produced to Grand Prix. Maurie admits there was too much pressure put on her to get to the Sydney Olympics. She did not cope and the centreline in passage at the end of the grand prix tests was just too much and she became difficult on the centreline forever in passage. Maurie was second at the nationals with her in the Kur and was simply the most successful and multi national champion at small tour and was still placing at national titles at the age of 21! The list simply did not stop there. Next was Feuer by Flemming x Freuda, who also became a very successful Grand Prix horse with many wins before being sold to Japanese buyers and being ridden with Kelly Lane at Ulla Salzgeber's stables in Germany. There was also Whistler, who was an amazing young horse, and then an embryo foal by Weltmeyer out of Kudu, Weltsong, who also was in the final three at Dressage with he Stars – as was Whistler – and went on to be a state small tour champion.
It was on April 23, 2007, that Maurie's equestrian career came to a close. He was riding a young Rotspon gelding, that he and Jane had bred, at a local Shoalhaven competition when the horse slipped and fell on Maurie and knocked him out. He was flown by helicopter to St Vincent's and put in an induced coma for over a week, eventually being diagnosed with a severe to very severe diffuse brain injury. This left Maurie unable to sit, stand or walk and it was a massive rehabilitation program for him. Of course, Jane took it in her stride, and with Maurie's total obsession to fully recover, they worked as a team to that end. Maurie has made an amazing and remarkable recovery, being left only with minor ataxia (balance deficit), some vision problems, depression, vertigo and fatigue. As if this would stop Maurie Bruce … NEVER!
That Maurie does not ride horses any more is only because his brother, a doctor, and the specialists have advised him not to because of the risk of further concussion. Maurie goes to a gym three times a week, rides his pushbike for miles at great speeds, and plays golf three or four times a week. Before his accident, his handicap was five; it went out to 23 post-accident and is now back to 11 and closing! He takes a keen interest in the few horses they are still breeding at Neversfelde Stud and helps Jane train their horses to Grand Prix. He spends hours on the mowers keeping the property looking superb and helps with the slashing, fencing and general maintenance. He is as fit as a fiddle and travels overseas with the family on holidays and takes a keen interest in his four grandsons. Jane is still riding and competing and helping to produce great horses. The one of the moment is the talented gelding Dresden, ridden by Alycia Targa, a skilled rider that Maurie and Jane have encouraged and helped.
Maurie's innate ability to produce horses to the highest level blew everyone away. His late start to the sport did not stop his whirlwind of success at the highest end of it. It is amazing that he simply put his foot in the stirrup and took the equestrian sport by storm. It was no one-horse fluke. Every horse he rode he took to international status and most of them he and Jane bred; it’s not as if there were five good ones and then 500 failures! Every horse was made from the beginning and made well. Maurie is a very talented and disciplined man and his family and his wonderful wife just take each day as it comes and make the most of it. There is no looking back and there are no regrets. Maurie is a true CHAMPION.
Through Maurice's career, he rode in a PH Grande and until this day, Jane and Maurice still have their PH Custom Made Bridle hanging in their tack room!