Graham Fletcher: Farewell to a champion

  • Our sport lost a champion when Michael Mac died, aged 52 [news, 5 June].

    It was just under a year ago that my wife Tina and I attended Macky’s wedding to his long-time partner Emma.

    Macky had already confounded his doctors to be there, as he’d been battling cancer for a few years. So I can’t have been the only one arriving at his wedding in trepidation that this was going to be a sombre occasion.

    On a lovely sun-drenched afternoon, in a wonderfully decorated marquee, the champagne flowed as his pals from over the years gathered.

    During the reception, pictures were projected on to a big screen. There was Dunglenn and other ponies Macky rode to become the most prolific winner there’s ever been in that division. Persian Star, on whom he won a European young riders gold medal, was also pictured. Then came Tauna Dora, a mare who had been a top horse of mine who went to Macky in the twilight of her career — but they still won some amazing classes.

    And so, as we enjoyed the memories, our attention turned to the top table, where Macky prepared to make a speech . You can tell a great deal about a person from their kids’ reactions, and on that afternoon Sienna, Jack, Westley and Jenna’s devotion was plain to see. We all braced ourselves…

    “I know what you’re all thinking,” said Macky, his straight face pale and gaunt from the disease, “a beautiful looking girl like Emma… isn’t she lucky to be getting me.”

    In what was the best and funniest groom’s speech I’ve ever heard, he made us laugh again with a story from when he first started taking Emma out. Aware that she was a good bit younger than him, he tentatively invited her round for coffee.

    “Coffee?” he recalled. “She was up those stairs to the bedroom faster than Seb Coe…”

    Yes, it was vintage Macky. Robert Smith told me later that he left the groom at 3am, still in full Elvis mode, shirt undone, medallion flashing.

    What a man!

    A strict training regime…

    Rob had been Macky’s close friend since they met as 10-year-olds at Southport Flower Show. In those days, Macky’s granddad used to buy him ponies to ride. So the lads decided to pester him for a mini-motorbike. By the second day, Granddad appeared with a powerful 500cc machine.

    “The hardest job was to reach the pedals,” recalled Rob.

    Years later, when Macky and Rob lived close to one another, they decided it was time to lose some weight and visited a local country club with a gym. They got changed but found the gym was heaving with people, so decided to go for the other option and have one in the bar.

    One or two more people pitched up and 5hr later, they left the country club absolutely “full on”. Next morning, as Rob woke up with a savage headache, the phone rang. It was Macky: “I don’t know about you, but I can’t stand much more of this training…”

    Loved the sport

    Macky could have kept competing. But he made the hard decision to go into the insurance business as a safer option to provide financially for his family. His love for the sport never dimmed, however.

    He was always the best travelling companion. As Rob recalled, whenever he rang Macky and asked him if he wanted to go to a show, his first response would always be: “No, I’m too busy.”

    But you could guarantee that within 2hr, he’d ring back and say that everything was organised. Whether it was Spain or Las Vegas: “I’m coming,” he would say.

    Unlike many other riders who grow cynical and bitter about the sport when they stop riding, Macky wanted to use his experience for its benefit. And that’s what made him so special. Rising through the British Showjumping (and before that the BSJA) executive, he became its youngest chairman at 43.

    He worked tirelessly to promote our sport. Always there for international shows and selection trials, he was also a big believer in our national circuit as a means to give new blood — horses and riders — a chance.

    Even when he was severely ill, Macky came back to ride at the Scope Festival last year. It was a show he co-ran, and the applause following his round was deafening. What courage and fighting spirit to do that. He never had self pity, could laugh at himself and had time for everybody.

    Macky, you were the bravest of us all. God bless you, my friend.

    This column was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (12 June, 2014)