Vale Ron McEwan
After being involved with horses for 75 years, Ron McEwan passed away in Invercargill earlier this week after battling Parkinsons disease and dementia for the last few years. Ron was due to celebrate his 89th birthday next week.
His love of horses started by riding ponies as a boy when staying at his cousin's farm near Winton. At age 13 he started riding gallopers in trackwork before school and at the weekends at Ascot Park for the late Roy Humphries. This often involved riding one and leading two from Newfield to Ascot Park (5 kms) in the dark - traffic wasn’t really a problem back then but there was always dogs lurking about for the horses to shy at.
When he was apprenticeship age Roy went to Ron's parents with the apprenticeship papers but they refused to sign them much to Ron's disappointment. This sent him down a different path working at Mount Linton station mustering on horse back where he met his wife May. Ron and May were married for 65 years when May passed away in 2022.
After working at another farm and then becoming a business partner in May's father's Service Station in Invercargill the land and horses were beckoning again. In 1970 a property (104 acres) was purchased at Branxholme - this is where May and Ron lived for 50 years.
At this stage Ron was working in the farm machinery business working his way up to branch manager at Southland Farmers Machinery in Invercargill. Ron worked horses around his work commitments. In the late 1980s Ron worked at the Makarewa Freezing works as this allowed more time for working horses, it was also a very social place with the likes of Murray Brown and co always having a joke and a laugh. His first race horse Branxholme Lord was purchased in the early 1970’s off the late Harry Cox. He was by Lord Butler which Harry part owned and stood in Winton.
During his solo training career from 1980 to 2001 Ron trained 54 winners. He had a lot of success early in his career buying weanlings by Admiral Halsey from Grant Sim at North Makarewa. Ron was a great conditioner of horses and they always performed accordingly with many being sold after qualifying or one start at the races.
Buyers kept coming back for more as horses developed by Ron always went on and performed well overseas. Those that were kept at Branxholme went on to win multiple races. The best horses during this period were Landlord (5 wins), On Duty (4 wins), Clint Holmes (4 wins including one in Cup week 2001, a fourth at Addington on Cup Day and a win on Show Day), Ar Bee Tee (3 wins), Men’s Club (3 wins) and Halford Atom (also bred by Ron, 3 wins).
Ron often drove his horses himself early in their careers but always said “there’s no point me being out there when the likes of Tony Herlihy could be sitting in the grandstand”.
A lot of Ron's training successes came from his involvement with the late Ossie Thorp from Balclutha and the progeny from his mare Ellen’s Glory. And also with the Branxholme Syndicate which comprised of son Wayne and his business partners (Stuart, Ronnie & Peter McDougall) at Ryal Bush Transport.
Wayne purchased the mare Self Control (Tony Bucks-Browngate Mere) at Gordon Davidson's dispersal sale in 1987. This is where the Branxholme Syndicate and RB McEwan success started with Self Control. Out of 14 foals bred 11 qualified and/or raced. Her best would be No Control (pictured above - by Marked Man II) who won 6 races in NZ (one for Ron and five for Steven Reid in Auckland) before being exported to the US where he went 1.50.4 (in 1996).
In 2002 Ron's daughter Julie joined him in a training partnership which continued until 2019. During this period they trained 23 winners including Navarna Holmes (3 wins), Dream Softly (3 wins), Man In Black (2 wins), Sharvid Vance (2 wins), The Gangster (2 wins), Cullens Girl (2 wins) and Don’t Die Working (2 wins). This was an enjoyable period for them both and May's legendary scones were the highlight each morning tea-time.
Ron was known as a true gentleman who always liked to have a yarn with his peers at the races. He was always keen to foster the younger generation coming through and often gave Junior Drivers opportunities on his better horses. He also casually employed a number of young people over the years most of whom are still in the industry today. Sadly Ron's younger brother Gary also passed away recently. Gary also trained and drove for many years latterly at Wyndham.
Ron is survived by his son Wayne McEwan (a breeder, owner, trainer based in Te Anau), daughter Dianne Todd (a breeder and owner based in Invercargill) and daughter Julie (also an Invercargill breeder, owner and Club and Finance Manager at Southern Harness Racing).
A service is being held to celebrate Ron's life at the Ascot Park Racecourse on Saturday the 7th of October at 2 pm.