Life lessons: Champion show rider Robert Oliver *H&H Plus*

  • Robert Oliver is a show rider and producer. He has won numerous titles during a career spanning more than 50 years, including five supremes at Horse of the Year Show (HOYS), where he also landed the hunter championship nine times and stood cob champion 12 times.

    We had the hunter Kings Warrior as a four-year-old and he was a gentleman from day one — a total legend who was so sound and never missed a show. Not one judge ever had a bad ride on him throughout his showing career. In 1994, he won his first of three hunter championships, two supreme titles and the middleweight hunter of the year at HOYS, a title he won five years running.

    He never got ring crafty, cut corners or hotted up in his gallop. He was the kindest horse I’ve ever had and the one we all wish we had now. He never put his ears back and was always pleased to greet anyone.


    Of all my horses, he was the nicest to hack out and loved going to see my farming neighbours who were always astonished to see him jumping out of the farmyard over a gate or set of rails. They couldn’t believe he was a champion show horse.

    The best piece of horse management advice I was given was never to leave horses short of hay, and to take care of feet and shoeing. The old adage “no foot, no horse” is as important now as ever.

    Over the years, I’ve found that simple mistakes are easy to make. I’ll always remember arriving at Royal Windsor one year, only to find that my horse wasn’t entered. Therefore, the one thing I always check now on arrival is to ensure the animal is correctly entered in its class. I also personally check that the correct tack is on board.

    The last thing I try to remember before I go into the arena is that the tail bandage is removed and that I’m wearing the correct number, both of which have caused me unnecessary embarrassment in the past.

    The late Bill Bryan was my riding icon. He was a great showman for whom I rode many horses in my teens. Bill could break in a four-year-old, ride it in the show ring and it would go on and win a point-to point the following season. I showed a horse called Bassnet for him at the Royal Show who then went on to race and was favourite for the Grand National.

    Oh, to have known…

    I wish I’d known when I was 16 that I should have taken to a life of National Hunt racing. This is a discipline I’m passionate about and something I follow.

    My parents taught me to be polite. “Manners maketh man” was my school motto and I have always tried to continue good manners in the show ring.

    The training tip I live by is never to school or lunge horses on hard ground — once jarred up, they’re never the same again. I’m a firm believer of hacking and hunting our show horses on a regular basis, as this keeps them in a good frame of mind. Feeding show animals is also an art; to have them looking like a lion but behaving like a lamb can be a tricky task.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 23 January 2020