British Dressage mourns ‘the loss of a talisman’: Linda Whetstone dies aged 79

  • Tributes have been paid to British Dressage (BD) chairman Linda Whetstone, who died suddenly on 15 December aged 79.

    Born in 1942, in Binfield, Berkshire, Mrs Whetstone always had a love of horses, but it was not until her early 30s that she was able to start riding “more seriously”, originally with the East Grinstead riding club at unaffiliated level, and later affiliated – leading her to take over the club as organiser of their affiliated dressage shows. This led to her involvement with the British Horse Society Dressage Group, which later became BD.

    Providing opportunities for herself and others to learn more about horses and their training was always high on her to-do list. From the late 1980s, she helped bring European judges to train UK judges at Ardingly, West Sussex, while she took respected trainers such as Kyra Kyrklund, Klaus Balkenhol, Gisela Holstein and Maria Gunther on tours around the UK so many people had chance to learn from these leading figures.

    “Linda’s vision, drive and foresight has without question helped elevate Great Britain, as a nation, to the forefront of the sport,” said a BD spokesman.

    A cornerstone of BD since its formation in 1998, Mrs Whetstone was the first rules and fixtures director, during which time she helped set up the national championships at Stoneleigh Park in the first year of BD’s existence. Shortly after she oversaw the creation of the Area Festival series, and introduced the “intensely controversial at the time” division between restricted and open, as well as helping bring together various elements of what is now the winter championships.

    Under her directorship, BD regions were created, regional development officers were introduced, and the wild-card system was set up.

    “This most influential period of time also included the introduction of the downgrading of horses, brought in scoring in percentages so people could easily compare their performances, and saw changes to the rules to allow para riders to take part in able-bodied classes,” said the spokesman.

    “Linda was always committed to, and passionate about, making dressage for everyone and accessible to all – and this was fundamental to building and shaping the sport as we know it today.”

    Mrs Whetstone was involved in the restructuring of British Equestrian (BEF) in the 2000s and was then the first chairman of the BEF council for four years, playing an instrumental role in bringing together member bodies across the sector to work together and promote equestrianism.

    She was a list one judge and later served a term as a judges director, and was a member of the senior selection panel for eight years covering the London and Rio Olympic Games, two World Equestrian Games, and four European Championships. She became BD chairman in 2018.

    More recently Mrs Whetstone played a central role in developing the new examination and assessment system for BD judges.

    “Her contribution to the judges’ education project cannot be overstated. Without Linda’s personal energy and input, implementation of the new development framework for our officials would not have been possible, particularly as this has been delivered against the backdrop of the pandemic,” said the spokesman.

    Mrs Whetstone was the daughter of Sir Anthony Fisher, the co-founder of the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA). She had a background in economics and from 2016 was chairman of the Atlas Network, a support network for 485 partner organisations in 93 countries whose missions are to identify and resolve barriers to opportunity and prosperity. She also served as a member of the IEA and the Islam and Liberty Network boards, and had been chairman of the Board of Free Social Networks since 2000. She was also a board member of the Mont Perelin Society, appointed president in 2020, and was chairman of the International Policy Network.

    “The fruits of her labour can be felt all over the world. From Turkey to the United Kingdom to Kenya; thanks to Linda Whetstone’s efforts, people live in greater freedom. Her legacy internationally is quite remarkable,” said the spokesman.

    BD chief executive Jason Brautigam said Mrs Whetstone had an “incredibly keen intellect” and remained “sharp as ever” in her ability to assimilate and dissect complex matters, breaking them down into clear and concise form to build consensus and “identify the way forward”.

    “This cannot be underestimated; she was a force to be reckoned with in her professional life and brought this into her personal passion for dressage, for which we should all be immensely grateful,” he said.

    “Linda was highly motivated, driven and focused, yet was always humble, modest, approachable, extraordinarily kind and extremely generous with her time. Always very supportive of others in the dressage community, full of positivity and encouragement, she has helped countless individuals and was an inspiration to everyone she met. She was one of a kind and will be sorely missed by everybody within our sport, as well as the wider international political and economic community where she was so influential.”

    Mr Brautigam added those at BD “still feel numb” from the news of Mrs Whetstone’s death and said it will take time to come to terms with her passing.

    “I will personally feel a huge loss as Linda has been a great supporter and mentor to me during my time with BD,” he said. “Equally, I know that there will be large numbers mourning the loss of such a talisman in our sport, as she touched so many of us, over the past six decades. We will be working on plans to honour Linda and celebrate her achievements which have reached every member of the dressage community.”

    The spokesman said all at BD offer their sincerest condolences to Mrs Whetstone’s husband Francis, the couple’s three children and their great grand-children.

    A memorial service will be held in due course, and BD members can send tributes and memories about Linda to ceo@britishdressage.co.uk, which will be used to commemorate her “immense contribution to the sport”.

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