Anyone of a certain vintage will have dreamed of beating the legendary Harvey Smith in a jump-off. But for one pony-mad nine-year-old that ambition became a reality.
In 1981, young Naomi Bedford from East Grinstead, West Sussex, wrote in to a popular children’s TV programme to ask if she and her 9hh Shetland pony Dormouse could jump round a proper showjumping course (“like we see on television”) – but with the bottom poles high enough for the diminutive pair to go underneath.
The BBC contacted the organisers of Olympia Horse Show and the great Raymond Brooks-Ward stepped in to make Naomi’s wish come true.
In December, Naomi and Dormouse were invited into London and on the Friday afternoon in between performances the pair went head-to-head with the great Harvey Smith riding his top horse Sanyo Technology for a highly entertaining jump-off in the main arena.
“It was just awesome,” Naomi tells H&H. “They had this amazing set of jumps that Harvey jumped over and I went underneath.
“I opened and went through a gate, then they had put a little door in a puissance wall which I went through — and shut behind me, as all good Pony Club girls are taught to do! Then Harvey and Sanyo Technology went round and jumped over them all.”
There were six fences in total – also including a four foot rail over an offset brush, which Dormouse deftly slalomed through while Naomi carefully ducked her head under the blue and white pole, to much laughter.
The distinctive voice of Raymond Brooks-Ward introduced the pair in the TV programme: “She’s only nine years old but she’s going to tackle the great Harvey Smith over showjumps in the big international arena. They’ve walked the course and now they’re under starters orders. Harvey’s horse is about six foot higher than Dormouse.”
After both riders had crossed the finish line, Naomi was declared the winner: “A day to remember for this wonderful girl when she competed against Harvey Smith,” concluded Raymond.
But one of the stand-out moments for Naomi came in the evening when they organised a presentation for her in front of all the crowds.
“I rode in on Dormouse next to Harvey and Sanyo Technology under the big spotlight and that was amazing,” says Naomi, who was presented with a trophy, rosettes and toys, as well as lots of memorabilia from Harvey himself, including this T-shirt (pictured below).
Naomi was also thrilled to go behind the scenes at this world famous horse show.
“I saw all the famous showjumpers wandering round the stables,” says Naomi. “They put us up in a nearby hotel where I remember getting in the lift holding Dormouse’s felt saddle and I had all these top riders looking at me!
“The most exciting thing though was having Father Christmas’s ponies stabled next to Dormouse, ready for the finale where he used to chuck sweets out to the crowds then exit at 100mph, scattering everyone in the collecting ring. Every time he saw me, Father Christmas stuffed my pockets full of sweets!”
However, the day hadn’t started quite so well for nine-year-old Naomi as the TV crew decided to open the programme with footage of Harvey and Naomi “arriving” at Olympia, so they filmed the two of them emerging from the legendary rider’s horsebox.
“It was one of these beautiful old fashioned wooden lorries and his horse just trotted out of it,” recalls Naomi. “But it wasn’t so easy for Dormouse – first of all, to get her in the horsebox, Harvey’s sons had to actually pick her up because she couldn’t get up the steep step. They then put one of Harvey’s rugs on little Dormouse and lifted me on to Dormouse and expected me to ride down the steep ramp.”
In the process, Naomi very elegantly slid all the way down Dormouse’s neck – luckily landing very gracefully on her feet at the bottom.
“Dormouse was just the most amazing pony and she took the whole day in her stride,” says Naomi, who rode the Shetland pony into the BBC studio a couple of months later to finish filming the programme.
Naomi’s adventure made it to the pages of Horse & Hound at the time – and of course the episode was broadcast to the nation in 1982.
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Sadly she didn’t follow her hero’s footsteps into the showjumping world, but carried on riding and later enjoyed eventing and hunting until suffering a brain injury in 2015.
“It was such an amazing day, but meeting Harvey Smith was a real highlight – he was such a good sport and so were his sons, Steven and Robert,” she says.
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