For me and many others, it was a very sad end to 2016. The equestrian community was united in grief with the loss of showing supremo Roger Stack, shortly after 18-year-old showjumper Ella Popely was killed in a car crash.
I first came to know the larger-than-life character Roger when I moved to Forest Green 30 years ago, and he became like a second father to me with his help and forthright approach to life.
As Roger and his wife Bridget scaled back their business and The Billy Stud expanded, I started renting their property and went on to purchase it when Bridget died in 2010.
Roger helped manage the farm and became a big part of The Billy Stud, being honest and encouraging about where the stud was going and what we bred.
What set him apart was his wicked sense of humour, which could sometimes go to the point of crudeness, but Roger could always get away with it. If I had customers at the yard, Roger would unfailingly propose to all the pretty ones before they left.
He will be remembered for his partnership with the legendary cob Grandstand, winning at Horse of the Year Show an incredible five times. But Roger touched the lives of many people across all spheres of equestrianism, where he was regarded with the utmost respect — not least all of my staff over the past 15 years, who appreciated his wit and forthright advice.
Eventer Andrew Nicholson was based with Roger when he moved from New Zealand and the racing community valued his expertise in Faradic muscular treatment. He was also an integral part of the family at Hickstead, where he officiated for many years.
Shock and tragedy
So it was with great shock and sadness that I found Roger having passed away on Christmas Eve, sitting peacefully at home in front of the fire, the way he would have wanted to go, having lived his 78 years to the full.
Just three days earlier, I’d attended the funeral of Ella Popely, who so unfairly only lived for 18 years. Having been friends with her family for so long, this is the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced. Ella was a talented rider with such zest for life and so much to look forward to. You never expect such tragedy so close to home and, although it’s one we have to accept, we’ll never get over it.
The loss of Roger and Ella certainly puts stressing about knocking down a fence into perspective. It also makes you think about the important things in life — family, friends, our equestrian community — we don’t have them for ever.