John Whitaker: What a legacy Douglas Bunn has left *H&H Plus*


  • H&H’s showjumping columnist on good times at “bigger and better” Calgary, and Hickstead

    I can’t believe Hickstead is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year – what a legacy Douglas Bunn has left. I thought the venue was unbelievable the first time I went, which was in 1970 when I was 15 years old, although it wasn’t my most successful show.

    I had qualified for the junior Foxhunter final and we were hoping to arrive there in plenty of time to get acclimatised and let the pony settle in, and maybe find a small class to jump first. But it took us three days to get to Hickstead and we arrived an hour before the championship started. The truck broke down, everything went wrong and it was a disastrous journey from start to finish.

    The main ring is pretty daunting for a green pony and a green rider and when I eventually rode in on my little coloured pony, whose name was Crazy Horse, he saw the lake and its waterfall in the middle of the ring and stopped dead in his tracks and spun round. Just then, the hooter went and I didn’t have time to get him settled and relaxed. I think I finished with seven faults which wasn’t a disaster, but we put the pony back on the truck and set off all the way home again.

    But one of my proudest moments came when Ryan’s Son and I represented Great Britain on the Nations Cup team in 1977 along with Derek Ricketts, Caroline Bradley and Tony Newbery, and we won.

    It’s always been a fantastic showground, one of the best in the world, and the Bunn family continue to do a fantastic job — they are always looking for ways to keep improving the facilities. We’re extremely lucky to have it in our country.

    Putting things into perspective

    Another such venue celebrating its anniversary this year – the 45th – is Spruce Meadows in Calgary, Canada. Like Hickstead, it is still getting bigger and better thanks to the Southern family’s continued investment and love of the sport.

    When the venue opened in 1975, it was a massive game changer for showjumping, offering serious prize money even in those early years.

    To generate a bit of publicity, owner Ron Southern used to take all the riders into the town of Calgary and we were paraded around on big wagons with all the different teams in carts. It was a real carnival and a great way to advertise the show – he did a lot to promote it, also offering free transport for the locals. As soon as he got the public in, the sponsors were queuing up as a result.

    Putting up massive prize money attracted the attention of the media – and everyone else. It made all the riders want to go. And I used to get to Calgary quicker than I got to Hickstead!

    My mother and father always used to love going to Spruce Meadows – they liked the country anyway, but the fact that everyone spoke English was a big plus for them too. But the first time I won the grand prix there, my father said to me: “You’ve just won more money in two minutes than I have made in all my life.” That put things into perspective.

    Have practice jump, will travel

    It looks as though shows are starting up again this week and hopefully it should be doable now with online entries, drawn starting orders and all the restrictions in place.

    We just have to take our own sandwiches, flask of coffee – and practice jump. Yes, in my very, very early days, people used to take their own practice fence – even if it was just two bales of straw with a pole on it – and put it up next to the truck. Doing so now would certainly solve a lot of social distancing anguish in the collecting ring.

    Let’s make it work

    Nick Skelton made some good points in his comment recently about restructuring the sport. We have a strong infrastructure, some excellent show centres and some very good riders at all levels in this country, but we do need more young horse classes and we should definitely keep amateur classes. Surely we should be able to make it work?

    Ref Horse & Hound; 18 June 2020