Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Franz Mairinger (1915–1978)

by R. I. Cashman

This article was published:

Franz Mairinger (1915-1978), equestrian, was born on 11 December 1915 in Vienna, son of Franz Kurth Mairinger, locksmith, and his wife Theresia, née Zemlicka. When his father died in 1935, young Franz abandoned his plans to study engineering and enlisted in the Austrian cavalry. He was stationed for two years in Hanover where he received a thorough training in steeplechasing, jumping and cross-country riding. At an international horse show in Hanover in June 1939 his horsemanship so impressed the director of the Spanish Riding School of Vienna that he was offered (and accepted) a position there. In 1942 Mairinger was promoted instructor. He had married Ernestine Wilhelmine Pracan in Vienna on 24 August 1940; they lost most of their possessions during World War II.

To save the fare to emigrate, Mairinger gave private riding-lessons (from 1951) in Switzerland. Sponsored by R. M. Williams, he arrived in Adelaide in 1952 and worked successively on Williams's sheep-farm, as a labourer in Elder, Smith & Co. Ltd's wool store, and in the upholstery factory of A. J. Higgins, who owned thoroughbred show horses. Soon Mairinger was buying and training horses for Higgins and winning prizes at the Royal Adelaide Show. Higgins lent him the money to bring out his wife and two children in 1953; the family was be naturalized in 1959.

In 1954 Mairinger was appointed coach of the Equestrian Federation of Australia (founded 1952). He prepared the first Australian equestrian team to compete in the Olympic Games (Stockholm, 1956). The team finished fourth. In 1957 he became permanent instructor of the E.F.A., operating from Samuel Hordern's Retford Park, Bowral, New South Wales. Under Mairinger's coaching, the Australian team dominated the Badminton Horse Trials in England in 1960 and provided his greatest triumph at the Olympic Games in Rome that year: in the three-day event the Australians won the team gold medal, Laurie Morgan the individual gold, and Neale Lavis the individual silver. Mairinger coached the Australian equestrian team at six Olympics and was training a seventh team at the time of his death. The team gained bronze medals in Mexico City in 1968 and at Montreal, Canada, in 1976.

Mairinger was a gentle man, with a keen sense of humour, who enjoyed photography and playing chess. A perfectionist and a tough disciplinarian, he had the ability to blend European skill and technique with the raw talent of Australian riders, and to train them in show-jumping, to grand prix level in dressage, and for three-day events. In 1965 he coached apprentices for the Australian Jockey Club; in 1967 he opened an indoor riding-school at Bowral for the E.F.A. to provide for all types of show-riding. Morgan thought there 'has not been, and there is never likely to be, any person in Australia who could psychoanalyse a horse better than Franz'. Lavis regarded Mairinger as a philosopher who 'knew men as well as horses'.

Survived by his wife, son and daughter, Mairinger died of cancer on 10 May 1978 at Bowral and was buried with Catholic rites in the local cemetery. His book, Horses are Made to be Horses (Adelaide, 1983), was edited by his wife Erna with the assistance of Kay Irving.

Select Bibliography

  • R. and M. Howell, Aussie Gold (Brisb, 1988)
  • Hoofs and Horns, Jan 1979, p 8
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 1 Feb 1957, 26 Oct 1967
  • Sun (Sydney), 28 June, 20 July 1965
  • Bulletin, 21 Oct 1967
  • 'This is Your Life: Franz Mairinger', ATN-7 television, 31 Mar 1977 (video, transcript and research notes held at National Film and Sound Archive).

Citation details

R. I. Cashman, 'Mairinger, Franz (1915–1978)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 24 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


11 December, 1915
Vienna, Austria


10 May, 1978 (aged 62)
Bowral, New South Wales, Australia

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