‘I jumped round obstacle courses pretending to be John Whitaker’: hands up if you identify with Holly Smith’s pony-mad childhood?

  • Anyone who enjoyed a pony-mad childhood probably has fond memories of soaring over makeshift fences – either with or without a horse – pretending to be your childhood hero, and, it turns out, our Olympic riders are no exception.

    As leading British showjumper Holly Smith reveals to H&H showjumping editor Jennifer Donald on this week’s episode of The Horse & Hound Podcast, she spent many happy days building obstacle courses and watching videos of her heroes on repeat.

    “I followed all these riders like John Whitaker,” she says. “My mum always laughs now because I used to have the ‘Thrills And Spills’ video, the ‘Milton – Simply The Best’ video, then some Ginny Leng training videos – it was just videos back then!

    “My mum used to work nights as a midwife so I would ride my ponies all day then watch these videos over and over and over again. Then I’d build an obstacle course and jump it in the style of the horses on the Thrills And Spills video – that’s what my holidays between the ages of five and 15 consisted of!

    “But joking aside, just being able to watch people like that and have the opportunity to practise on my own, riding and copying them, was brilliant – I used to try to get my ponies to go like the horses in the videos. Everybody has their own style don’t they? So I just used to play around doing that all day. But I was lucky to be able to do that – just hours and hours of practice after watching the best riders on TV.”

    In “real life” Holly took part in all Pony Club activities, hunter trials, eventing, hunting – “a bit of everything”.

    “My mum and I used to buy ponies and break them in and when I was around 13 we had a few that jumped well enough to take the British Showjumping seriously, so for a few years we did that before I started doing my GCSEs,” says Holly.

    “I had a pony qualified for the Foxhunter final but that was as far as I took it – I never jumped above 1.20m, I never did any of the JA classes or anything like that. Then for the next few years I focussed on my education and playing other sports as well, such as county hockey and I like playing netball, just any sports really.”

    Holly’s showjumping career didn’t develop until she purchased a young Dougie Douglas – who turned out to be a life-changing acquisition and became a world class showjumper.

    “I was 21 or 22 when I got Dougie Douglas. He turned up just at the right time really,” says Holly.

    • Hear more from Holly Smith as she talks about what she’s learned about producing world class horses and how it felt to compete in the legendary Golden Button Challenge on episode 99 of The Horse & Hound Podcast – listen here or search “The Horse & Hound Podcast” in your favourite podcast app.

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