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‘She taught us so much’: equestrian world pays tribute to late showing legend, Davina Whiteman

Tributes have been paid to a legend of the showing world, Davina Whiteman, who died on 10 December aged 78.

She played a pivotal role in launching, mentoring and supporting the careers of many leading equestrians across a multitude of disciplines and enjoyed top-flight success as a rider, producer, judge and trainer in her own right.

Mrs Whiteman was also a driving force behind Ponies (UK), founded by her mother Joan Lee-Smith, serving on the board since its formation 31 years ago and as chairman between 1995 and 2017.

The association is among the many to pay tribute to Mrs Whiteman.

“To those who knew Davina either in a personal or professional capacity she was fondly referred to as Mrs Ponies UK and rightly so,” said a tribute from the Ponies (UK) board.

“Following on in her mother’s footsteps, Davina guided the association in leading many showing innovations always with training and welfare at the heart of everything she did.

“The association has a very loyal following and that is hugely in part to her tireless dedication.

“As many know she was a hard taskmaster and she has left a large legacy, one the current board is working incredibly hard to continue to adhere to.”

Jane Wallace, 1988 Burghley winner and 1989 European eventing individual silver medallist (also at Burghley), credits her success as a rider to the guidance she received from Mrs Whiteman as a child.

“I was with her for nine years between the age of seven and 16 and had the chance to ride some of the best ponies in the country,” said Mrs Wallace, who started riding for Mrs Whiteman in 1962 and was there alongside a number of others who went on to compete at the very top.

“It was a very special era, where a lot of emphasis was put on correct way of riding and the correct way of going. The Allerton Equestrian Centre had a very high standard of training, so we didn’t just learn to potter around on show ponies, we were taught to ride. Certainly the success I had later in life, I attribute to Davina.

“She was a tough taskmaster, but as long as you tried your best, that was all she asked.

“Her father had such a good eye for ponies and often bought at sales. I would do a lot of the backing and breaking and it taught me such a lot in how to keep very still, keep your balance, which is the foundation for all riding.”

Nigel and Stuart Hollings spent three “invaluable” years based with Mrs Whiteman as children.

“Not only did she teach us both how to ride and show our lovely ponies but she taught us so much about life, sportsmanship, appreciation of our animals but above all respect to others and our elders,” said Nigel.

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Stuart added: “Looking back, our time with Davina was so inspirational and influential.

“Apart from introducing us to showing at the highest level, she also opened up our eyes to other equestrian disciplines, including hunting, racing, showjumping, dressage and eventing.”

Leading judge, trainer and lifelong friend Caroline Nelson added: “I was privileged to spend considerable time with Davina from right back in the 1960s – as a show rider, as an unpaid groom, as a friend and in due course, as a Ponies (UK) ring steward. Davina’s talent, professionalism and work ethic helped shape my career and my life is enriched for having known her.”

Her funeral will take place at noon on Thursday, 9 January 2020, at Peterborough Crematorium. Due to limited space, there will be a memorial celebration of her life service, which all are invited. This will be held at approx 2pm, venue to be announced.

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