Big Star’s groom honoured by the Whitaker family in surprise presentation

Nick Skelton’s groom of 35 years, Mark Beever, has been honoured for a lifetime devoted to his horses by receiving the prestigious Ryan’s Son Trophy.

The award is given annually at Olympia by Clare and John Whitaker to recognise a contributor who has delivered greatly to the sport of showjumping and past recipients include David Broome, Bob Ellis and Nick Skelton himself.

But Mark, who still looks after Big Star and was part of the team in Rio when Nick won Olympic gold, says the whole award came as a complete surprise.

“Nick — who I discovered later knew about it a week before Olympia — texted me late on Thursday night saying I should come down to the show with his son Harry, who was jumping in the jockeys’ competition on Friday,” says Mark. “He said Pat Hales had invited me to their box for the evening.”

Mark arrived in London with his daughter Chloe but when he asked Nick which box to go to, Nick apologised and said he’d got the days mixed up.

“But Nick said ‘Why don’t you stay anyway?’” Mark said. “I had a feeling something was going on, but the awards at Olympia are usually presented to big names and young riders, so I kept wondering what it could be.”

Mark’s daughter Chloe, who was also in on the secret, had been instructed to keep him “hovering around the entrance to the arena” when Olympia steward Seb Garner approached him.

“He said: ‘You’ve been coming here for so many years but you’ve never even walked the course in the main ring before so why don’t you come in and we’ll have a look at the jumps’,” Mark said.

“Now, I’ve seen a lot of showjumps in my time, so I wasn’t really that fussed, but I went along with it. He gradually led me further down the arena but I couldn’t really see or hear anything — there may have been a spotlight on me and I think they were announcing something — so the first I knew of it was when I suddenly I saw Clare Whitaker standing there with a huge trophy!”

Clare then presented the beautiful bronze of John riding Ryan’s Son to Mark, with Nick also in attendance.

“I feel so honoured to receive it — the list of past winners is full of big names and then there’s me, the groom, at the end of it!” says Mark. “And Nick’s name is on it too, so we’re equal now!

“But it’s all down to Clare and John Whitaker so I can’t thank them enough.”

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Mark still looks after Big Star every day when he’s at home.

“He gets turned out every day in the sand paddock because it’s been so wet this winter, and hacks out with the racehorses if they’re going up the roads. He’s fit and well!” added Mark, who will shortly travel to Spain for the Sunshine Tour with dozens of horses from the Ardencote Farm stables — including a four-year-old by the great stallion himself, whom Charlie Jones is producing.

The full list of Ryan’s Son Trophy recipients is as follows:


2019 Mark Beever
2018 Tim Stockdale (posthumous)
2017 Nina Barbour
2016 Beverley & Gary Widdowson
2015 Stephen Hadley
2014 Les Harris
2013 Alan Fazakerley
2012 Will Connell
2011 Frank Grunnell
2010 Alan Jones
2009 Liz Edgar
2008 Jacky Wood
2007 Bob Ellis
2006 David Broome MBE
2005 Tom Hudson
2004 Ann Martin
2003 Jo Turi
2002 Jon Doney
2001 Nick Skelton
2000 Ronnie Massarella OBE
1999 Douglas Bunn
1998 Mrs Sheila Bates
1997 Mr Michael Bates
1996 Geoff Osborne
1995 Miss JB (Tinka) Taylor
1994 Caradon Everest
1993 Lady Harris
1992 Sylvia Barnes
1991 Sam Highnett CBE FRCVS
1990 David Broome OBE
1989 Col Phillip Drew OBE TD
1988 Ronnie Massarella OBE


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