Nick Skelton’s long-term groom Mark Beever on unruly manes, swearing in front of Princess Anne and having a demi-perm to look like John Francome, as told to Jennifer Donald
None of my family was horsey but I’ve always loved racing and I learned to ride aged 10 at Dulwich Riding School alongside Dane Rawlins. We used to have competitions for condition and turnout in Hyde Park with all the other riding schools from the area. Riding in the ring has never interested me, I’ve just always liked looking after the horses.
When I left school, I worked for Dulwich Riding School before going to stunt rider Greg Powell, who has done stunts for the Bond films as well as jousting and he enjoyed hunting.
My first job in showjumping was working for international rider Sally Mapleson. She sent two horses to Nick Skelton – Rhapsody and Airborne – and I went with the horses. She said I wouldn’t last more than a couple of months with Nick, but 35 years later I’m still here…
Nick had just left the Edgars when I started and had great horses such as Apollo and St James. One of the first things I learnt was that Nick liked his horses to be tied up to eat their oats, then their hay, while you mucked out. When you’d finished sweeping up you’d go along and untie them all and close the doors.
Nick likes things very tidy, but it’s a great place to work. I’m currently looking after a five-year-old stallion for US rider Lindsay Maxwell and I still have Big Star (pictured) when he’s at home from his stud duties and help with general yard jobs. I had to isolate for nearly 15 weeks during the first lockdown last year as I’m diabetic – I ended up painting my whole house!
Nobody is perfect and once or twice I’ve overslept or been late for a class and Nick will say, “Bloody hell, where you been?” I am very laid-back and always like a cup of tea before I start a job – I think for that reason, plus years of experience, I make the job look easy but it is hard. I’ve got attached to some fantastic horses over the years and seeing them do well is so rewarding.
It only takes about 10 minutes to get a horse ready for Nick to ride. He’s only strict about the manes being dampened down with a brush – he just doesn’t like them sticking up. If I forget, he’ll get going with the brush and do it himself. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t brushed the shavings out of the tail, it’s only the mane he’s concerned about.
Everyone’s favourite horse was the amazing Dollar Girl, who didn’t have a bad bone in her body. Nick got her just six weeks before the Barcelona Olympics and it was a disaster. I was standing next to Princess Anne, talking to myself as always, saying, “Come on, Dolly,” and when she stopped at the last fence I said, “Oh f****** hell, what’s happened here?” I immediately realised and apologised, but she just laughed.
When I went in for the medal ceremony in Rio, I thought about kissing the sand because you see Novak Djokovic eating the grass when he wins Wimbledon. But then I thought, “Don’t be so stupid” – it’s funny what goes through your head in these situations. I do wish I’d taken a jar of sand from the venue though. I used to get choked up every time the national anthem played for Nick, but I actually cried in Rio.
As I had to be up early the next morning I didn’t join the party in the Olympic village. I went to a bar for one beer and everyone cheered when I walked in. Even now, when I hack out on the lanes, people will stop their cars and ask for selfies with Big Star.
I’ve always admired Ludger Beerbaum and jockey John Francome. When I first started at Nick’s, I wanted hair like John Francome’s so I actually had a demi-wave to make it curly! Not many people know that – until now… But John was an amazing jockey and, like Nick’s son Harry, a lot of that stems from doing showjumping first and becoming proper horsemen.
Ref: 28 January 2021
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