Valerie Clark, mother of showing producer Sam Darlington, and the “supreme champion mum”, has died aged 76 after a short illness.
Val, as she was always known, grew up in Fulham, London, and worked as a secretary; her only connection to the equestrian world was her father’s horse and cart. She met Mick Clark when both were teenagers and they had been together ever since.
Mick and Val had two children, Justin and Sam, and it was Sam who introduced Val to the horse world when she started having lessons aged six.
Sam rode at a local riding school and became hooked, so her parents bought her a pony; it was when someone spotted Sam riding at a local show, complimented her riding and suggested showing that the family’s lives changed.
“Between us, we learned to have a good eye for a pony,” Sam said. “We’d go and buy ponies in the rough and my dad would say ‘What do you two see in that?’ She had such a good eye, and it came from us both getting into it at the same time. She would be in charge of the feeding and getting the ponies looking right when I was younger.”
Val became highly involved in showing, a stalwart of ringsides across the country, and she served on British Show Pony Society area committees. She was also known for being unable to watch when Sam, and later Sam’s daughter Georgia, jumped in working hunter classes.
“She never saw either of us jump a round; she was renowned for hiding in the toilets when we jumped!” Sam said.
“Between me and Georgia we have had a number of Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) and Royal International (RIHS) wins but one of her favourite horses was Georgia’s current horse, her intermediate working hunter Jara. We’re so grateful she got to see their successes; a win at RIHS and HOYS and being part of the England working hunter pony team at the Scottish International last year. She was immensely proud.”
Val also mucked out and cared for ponies, and became a second mother to the many small jockeys who rode the ponies Sam produced.
“She loved beautiful ponies and horses but showing is like a big family and she was part of it,” Sam said. “She was so kind and caring, and would do anything she could for anyone.”
Val is survived by Mick, Sam, Justin and three grandchildren.
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