Graham Fletcher: Farewell to one of showjumping’s greats *H&H VIP*

  • By the time you read this, I will have been among the many others at Ronnie Massarella’s funeral on Tuesday [3 Nov], paying respects to one of the greatest men to grace the sport of showjumping.

    Everyone has their own memories of him. For me, it was being on his British teams at three Olympic Games and countless Nations Cups. It’s impossible to overstate just how popular and loved this charismatic man was, in every corner of the globe. It was unbelievable.

    As chef d’equipe, Ronnie’s never-say-die attitude won Nations Cups and championships when they looked to be lost. He was a fighter to the last, yet a man who always found a church to attend mass before a big team competition began.

    Ronnie’s management was superb. I think he learnt a lot about motivation when he managed a football team in his native Doncaster. Indeed, it was a sport he always enjoyed following.

    I remember once riding for him on a British team in Lisbon, Portugal. While the show was on, Benfica – then the giants of Portuguese football – were playing a top European match against a British club at their home ground near our showground.

    Michael Mac was also on the team and the three of us decided it would be really entertaining to watch. Unfortunately, the 65,000 seater stadium was packed full.

    “Ronnie,” I said, “you know our British team kit…” Yes, you’ve guessed it… Dressed in our smart British team blazers and ties, Ronnie led the way as we swept into the officials’ entrance. I hope Ronnie and Macky are having a laugh about it right now. God bless them both.

    Countryside Live — and kicking

    Tina and I were at the Yorkshire showground last weekend judging the Show Jumping Talent competition during the Countryside Live event.

    When you’ve done something for a few years, there’s always a fear it will run out of steam. But I’ve never seen as a big crowd watching the final as there was this year.

    It is run over two days and is open to anyone aged 10 and over. The aim is to find those riders who best listen, learn and put themselves out to follow our advice and improve. The eventual winner of a hotly contested final was 20-year-old Tabby Bentley, who collected £300 and a weekend’s training with us.

    No place like Rome

    While in Harrogate, I always enjoy a chat with friends from Yorkshire. This time an old farmer friend was telling me how, after he’d watched Show Jumping Talent, he was off to buy his wife a birthday present from one of the stalls.

    So I digressed slightly to tell him a story from many decades ago about a Yorkshire rider called Chris Jackson who’d been picked for his first international show in Rome. Since the show involved eight competing days, plus travelling, it meant being away from home for three weeks.

    Now Chris was the caring sort of Yorkshireman that are about as hard to find as hen’s teeth. Nevertheless, he decided that what with being absent for so long, he should buy his wife a present.

    I saw him a few days after he’d returned home and asked him what his wife thought of this unexpected and generous gesture. “Well,” he said. “She was in such a good mood that I thought that it would be wasted. So I saved it and gave it to her on her birthday.” Only in Yorkshire…

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 5 November 2015