‘I was like a sponge’ — show producer Jo Bates on her dressage career and the mentor who set her on a path to glory

  • Before she came became one of the county’s leading showing producers, Jo Bates found favour — and results — between the white boards. 

    “I started my riding career on a little dun lead rein pony,” says Jo, when she chatted to H&H’s showing editor Alex Robinson on episode 44 of The Horse & Hound podcast. 

    “We had great fun with her. Dad used to lead me; he would be all dressed in his tweed and trilby hat. He would make me do round the world at the end of every show, not just one way but both, so I had that down to a tee.”

    After competing on show ponies during her childhood, Jo then forayed into the dressage arena for sometime. She became one of the top young riders in the country and was crowned junior dressage champion in 1978, aboard Scotch Royale.

    “He was a 15hh bay gelding who we bought from the Countess of March,” continues Jo, who was introduced to the versatile horse by legendary horsewoman Jennie Loriston-Clarke, who Jo has known since she was 10 years old. 

    “I used to go and stay with Jennie during the holidays and that’s how I got so into the dressage. I would just sit and watch her. I was like a sponge — I’d just soak it all up. 

    “Scotch Royale was a great horse to learn on. He was amazing; he took me to two European championships. He knew all the moves and he was very, very patient with me.

    “We didn’t have a manège back then, just a field with one post-and-rail fence, so I would go backwards and forwards practicing my half passes and changes. Scotch Royale’s party trick was passage. He must have been so bored with me practicing all the time, but he really did teach me everything.”

    The Europeans was an amazing experience for Jo and her mentor, Jennie, was a massive supporter of her during this time:

    “Jennie is an awesome lady,” Jo continues. “I have the utmost admiration for her. I always told my parents that if anything happened to them I want to be adopted by Jennie. No task was ever too small for her. She is very inspirational and I couldn’t say anything more highly about her.”

    Prior to his dressage successes, Scotch Royale was a star of the show ring, landing the inaugural side-saddle rider of the year accolade for 14-year-old Jo in 1976. The pair returned the following year to re-claim the title. At the time, the final was held at Hickstead.

    “I had no idea of the magnitude of riding in the big arena at Hickstead,” says Jo, when reflecting on this early win. “I had no idea it was so sought after. That was my first go in there, and I still have the sashes in my tack room.”

    To hear more about Jo’s past horses — including 2002 RIHS supreme champion Broadstone Dee — and many more listen here to episode 44 of The Horse & Hound podcast or search “The Horse & Hound Podcast” in your favourite podcast app.

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