‘An inspiration to many’: tributes paid to Olympic dressage rider and trainer

  • Tributes have been paid to Olympic dressage rider and leading trainer Sarah Whitmore, who “played a big part in many lives in the equestrian world”, who died peacefully on 27 March, aged 89.

    Sarah was born at Hilders Farm, Edenbridge, Kent, on 9 August 1931 and remained on the farm her entire life. She grew up in a hunting family, walking hound and beagle puppies for the Old Surrey and Burstow Hunt with her brother Roger. Her father Searle Whitmore owned the Edenbridge Tannery and when hunting commitments permitted, she worked at the tannery, sorting the hides for the Northampton shoe trade.

    She developed a love of riding with her pony Smokey and as a young girl would often go hunting with the Southdown and Eridge. Later she started her career as a three-day eventer with Mannekin – a reserve horse at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics – but after breaking her back in the water at Burghley she turned her attention to dressage, where she “excelled”.

    Sarah mentored and shaped young riders, starting with her nieces Biz Womersley and Kate Brookes-Smith who competed at Pony Club events on some of her top horses. She taught international riders including the late Olympic dressage rider Laura Fry, Clive Halsall, Paul Hayler, Vicky Thompson, Julie Hugo, and many more who worked for her at her farm.

    Sarah was trained by her resident teacher, Franz Rochowansky “Rocky”, formerly chief rider at the Spanish Riding School, Vienna. In 1976 she represented Britain at the Montreal Olympics on Junker alongside Diana Mason and Jennie Loriston-Clarke. Sarah achieved 22nd place individually and the team came eighth.

    A spokesman for British Dressage (BD) said Laura Fry’s years at Hilders Farm were a “pivotal time” for the rider.

    “She became a working pupil for Sarah in 1986 and a year later bought the chestnut gelding Quarryman, from Belgium, with whom she achieved success at the very top of the game,” he said.

    “In 1991, Laura and Quarryman were selected for the European Championships where the team finished tenth, and they won the national grand prix title that same year. They were selected for Barcelona Olympic Games in 1992 where the British team placed seventh, and a year later, helped make British dressage history as part of the silver medal-winning team at the 1993 European Championships in Lipica, Slovenia.”

    Sarah was also an international dressage judge and a member of the International Dressage Trainers Club, continuing to teach into her 80s. She was known as a “spirited character” who was never afraid to say what she thought and was an inspiration to many.

    “From her own Olympic debut to the success of Laura Fry and the many young riders she mentored, she played such a big part in so many people’s lives in the equestrian world,” said David Hunt, president of the International Dressage Trainers Club, FEI supervisory judge, and former BD chairman.

    “Her friendship and honest, outspoken voice will be sadly missed.”

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    The BD spokesman said the board and staff offer their “sincerest condolences” to Sarah’s family and friends.

    “She will be greatly missed and warmly remembered by so many within the sport,” he said.

    A private funeral will be held, and a memorial service arranged at a later date. Donations in Sarah’s memory can be made to Hospice in the Weald.

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