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‘Pavarotti would wave his handkerchief at It’s Otto’ — Geoff Billington remembers the good old days

Geoff Billington is one of Britain’s most successful showjumpers. Here he takes us on an entertaining trip down memory lane and reveals the childhood obsession he had with his idol, Harvey Smith.

“Watching showjumping when I was about nine years old on television, the ones who were always in the jump-off were Harvey Smith on Harvester and O’Malley, and David Broome on Mister Softee, so they were the ones that stuck out in my mind,” remembers Geoff, while speaking to H&H showjumping editor Jennifer Donald in this week’s episode of the Horse & Hound Podcast.

“It’s funny, I was so obsessed, I used to get my dad to drive over to Yorkshire and drive past the bottom of Harvey’s drive — nobody knows this — but we’d drive past and say there’s his farm up there on the hill. Then we’d drive back home to Lancashire!

“I ended up jumping against Harvey and David, jumping on teams with them, becoming good friends. It’s funny how life goes round.”

Geoff talks fondly about his great horse It’s Otto, and reveals that among his many fans was Italian opera singer Luciano Pavarotti.

“Modena was a good show in Italy run by Pavarotti,” says Geoff. “We used to go and sit with Pavarotti after we jumped. He loved my horse, It’s Otto, and he used to sit in the stands, and when you went in the ring you’d salute him and Pavarotti would wave a white handkerchief — not at me, at the horse. Then he’d come round the stables afterwards, patting the horse and feeding him titbits. Those were good memories.”

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Looking back over Geoff’s many achievements in the saddle, he picks out winning the Foxhunter final in 1986 and being picked for the Olympics as just some of his highlights, but explains how much riding for his country has meant to him:

“It was a massive honour to ride on my first British team in 1974 — every time you ride on a British team, it’s a massive honour, like playing football for your country,” says Geoff. “So that’s always been a big thing in my heart. Jumping for your country is everything. I jumped on teams with great people — I jumped with my idols, Harvey Smith and David Broome; my best friends John and Michael [Whitaker], Nick [Skelton] and Robert Smith. We had some great times.”

To hear more of Geoff’s exclusive interview, listen to episode 26 of The Horse & Houd podcast or search “The Horse & Hound Podcast” in your favourite podcast app

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