Eventer: Debbie Saffell
In 1974, Debbie Saffell qualified for Wembley for the first time – and took the junior show jumper of the year title on Rookwood Cedric.
“No one expected me to win,” she recalls of her first victory, where the fancied names she beat included Robert Smith. “It was fantastic to get there and every girl’s dream to win: I remember my dad buying everyone champagne!”
Rookwood Cedric helped finance Debbie’s eventing career.
“He was sold and my mother bought me an advanced event horse and grade B show jumper called Double Brandy.”
On that horse she won silver medals in the British junior team at the European Championships two years running. Then, aged 19, she bought a palamino stallion at Cambridge Market for £400. That was Jacaranda, who took her to the top of eventing and was a favourite, because of his striking colour and diminutive size – he was barely 15hh.
“The man who sold him to me said he’d taken him to the market because he had two better ones at home,” Debbie says. “I often wonder if he remembers that!”
Course designer: Alan Oliver
Alan Oliver first rode at HOYS in 1949, when it was held at Haringey. By the time it moved to Wembley 10 years later, Alan and horses like Red Admiral, Red Star, Sweep and Pitz Palu were household names.
Show jumping had a much higher profile at that time and Alan, Harvey Smith, David Broome and Pat Smythe were familiar names to everyone.
“I always rode horses, never ponies,” recalls Alan. “I started when I was nine, we were farmers and we just rode.
“In the early days, the stables at HOYS were miles from the arena and you got filthy because the warm up was on ashes. But it was the show you wanted to qualify for.
“In those days, you would ride five or six horses in one class. I rode six in the show jumper of the year and was placed first to sixth, which you couldn’t do now.”
Gradually, Alan started course-building as well as riding, eventually becoming a course designer at HOYS – where the fact that he had spent so many years at the sharp end allowed him to build food relationships with the riders as well as courses they appreciated,.
“I don’t think Birmingham could have the ‘Wembley Magic’ because it’s so much bigger,” says Alan, who travelled the world course-building and it still much in demand. He says today’s courses are much more technical, “but Pitz Palu would still win, and Red Admiral was as good as any!”
Rally driver: Pat Moss
Pat Carlsson (nee Moss) found a double fame through horsepower, first through show jumping and later as a top class British woman rally driver. Her legendary brother Stirling also show jumped as a child.
It was Stirling’s pony, the 14hh Brandy, who first took Pat to HOYS in 1949; later, she was one of our leading lady show jumpers with horses like Danny Boy and Geronimo.
“Danny Boy was bred by Ted Williams, who was a true romany,” she says. “Danny Boy’s mother used to pull a cart and he would trot along tied to the shaft.”
Pat, who jumped with the British team for 15 years, remembers HOYS in its early days for its small ring and lack of parking.
“But it still had an atmosphere and it was still the special show for all of us,” she says.
Although Stirling gave up riding as soon as soon as he was old enough to drive, Pat’s passion for rallying came suddenly and unexpectedly at a later stage.
“Stirling’s manager, Ken Gregory, was competing in a small rally and asked me to navigate,” she says. “I was hooked!”
Pat became a rallying legend, and in 1963 married another driver, Erik Carlsson. A year later, she gave up show jumping, but the links are still there – Pat’s daughter, Susie Rawding, now competes in top-level BSJA events.
“It’s changed so much. It’s so professional now,” says Pat. “There’s no way people like us could show jump now, unless you’re lucky enough to find yourself a horse of a lifetime.”