The ‘ultimate showman’ and gentleman: Robert Oliver dies aged 80

  • TRIBUTES have flooded in for the “ultimate showman” Robert Oliver, who has died at the age of 80.

    In his seven-decade career, Robert won and was champion in every category of horse class at Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) and the Royal International Horse Show (RIHS) numerous times, and his animals have stood supreme multiple times at both shows.

    Born in Herefordshire to non-horsey parents, his uncle, farrier William John Watts, encouraged Robert to ride, and he started showing on ponies for the Eckleys at Cusop Stud.

    He spent five years as a farm student, going on to work for Ernest Evans, who had showjumpers and pointers, and Derek Crossman, during which time he was in charge of a range of horses from racehorses to hunters. He had a passion for hunting; starting aged eight and hunting with seven different packs. He field-mastered for the South Herefordshire, and the Ledbury for five seasons, after which he was joint-master for seven more seasons.

    Robert’s first HOYS winners were Major Helme’s small hunter Lord Sorceror, and middleweight Gay Moss, who came from David Somerset. Robert credited these two horses as “putting him on the map”.

    Robert Oliver judging .

    In total, he won 29 HOYS section championships, 23 RIHS championships and six supremes at both HOYS and the RIHS. His last ride in the ring at HOYS was in 2010, on Loughkeen Dancing Lord, who stood reserve.

    Robert’s wife Claire said she had been “deeply comforted by the numerous cards and messages received in the last couple of days”.

    She added: “Robert had influenced and touched so many lives as well as being an adoring husband. He was a wonderful, warm-hearted and real gentleman and in all respect charm personified.”

    Daughter Sophie said: “I will cherish my memories of Daddy. He taught me to laugh, he taught me to ride. His wicked sense of humour was infectious. He passed to me his love for hunting and knew the sport intimately, he was fearless across country and his time as master was a purple patch for the Ledbury. He was more than my father, he was my best friend.”

    British Show Horse Association chairman Nigel Hollings said Robert was his inspiration.

    “He was a hero to me,” he said. “He was the ultimate showman; whether he was on a 15.3hh hack or a 17hh heavyweight, he always rode in the most beautiful, elegant way; he would adapt to each horse and show any type to perfection. Every horse went beautifully for him.”

    Mr Hollings said Robert always had time for young people, sharing advice and tips on horses and judging.

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    “He was so kind, so warm,” he said. “Despite the fact he’d won all these things, he always had time for you. He was British Show Pony Society [BSPS] president for years, and all the young people looked up to him. He had a quiet manner, but he had a commanding presence; he walked into a room I suppose in the same way he rode into the ring. He was an inspiration to so many people.

    “He’ll be missed, but he’ll never be forgotten.”

    The BSPS described Robert as “a gentleman whose wealth of knowledge, loyalty and support for the BSPS over many years has been amazing”.

    A spokesman added: “He has been without question one of the greatest showmen and producers of our time. As a society we have been so privileged to have been part of his life and words cannot express how much we will miss him.”

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