Simon Reynolds on the showman who kick-started his zest for the sport
BY the time this column goes to print I will have completed my first show of 2021. I’m keeping to the guidelines of “stay local” as the show is only half an hour away from my front door, though I will be heading out under very strange circumstances; due to restrictions I will not have done my usual show preparation.
I really hope that people aren’t too eager to run before they can walk. It’s still very early in the season and looking at the calendar there will be an influx of shows, especially in June, when people will start the inevitable scrabble for Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) qualifications.
The prospect of shows is wonderful, but let it not be at the expense of a horse’s welfare. In some ways it feels like a long time since our last outing, however it also seems that shows have sprung up all of a sudden.
At the moment, it’s not uncommon to have the release of a schedule and the opening of entries on the same day, followed by an entry time limit and restriction of class numbers.
Unless you are a Facebook fanatic you could very easily miss show announcements as organisers take to social media spaces for communications. It’s very stressful to have to speed read a schedule, decide which classes don’t clash and then discuss with your owners before frantically entering, hoping you’ve not missed the deadline.
A TRUE SHOWMAN
I WAS extremely saddened to learn of the death of showman Robert Oliver. It’s such a great loss to showing.
I first met Robert and his then-wife Ali at a show in Malvern in 1988. I was 18 years old and studying at Hartpury College, as well as doing an apprenticeship at a hunting and dealing yard. We had gone to the show for a day out and I was introduced to Robert.
As I hailed from a showjumping and hunting background, I had never taken any interest in showing. However, watching Robert compete that day had an impact on me and was to be a pivotal moment in my career.
I noticed how his horses were immaculately turned out and how much attention to detail had gone into the picture. He confirmed the importance of a horse’s way of going and his command and presence in the show ring was something else. He was a true showman and a gentleman. I will never forget how he made time to speak to me and was without arrogance.
A few years later we met again, but this time I was also producing show horses for Lord and Lady Kirkham. Robert was generous with his time, knowledge, and advice. He said what he thought, but he had a way of giving constructive criticism that also evoked confidence.
There are not many of the “old school” horsemen left now, and I think that is very sad. Those golden days of showing really were the best. I always got on well with Robert, and I can honestly say we never had a cross word. He was always the consummate professional.
Robert was a staunch supporter of the Irish Draught breed, being vice president and president of the breed society for many years. He had a formidable record in the ring and his final win at HOYS in the heavyweight hunter class aboard the chestnut Irish Draught Loughkeen Dancing Lord was very fitting.
I became the Irish Draught Horse Society (IDHS (GB)) vice president just over two years ago. I – as well as the president John Newborough, chairman Sue Benson and all of the IDHS (GB) committee and members – owe Robert a huge debt of gratitude for his support, promotion and knowledge of the breed.
Our condolences go out to Robert’s wife Claire, his daughter Sophie, and all his family. Thank you, Robert, the likes of you will never be replaced or forgotten.
This exclusive column is also available to read in this Thursday’s H&H magazine (15 April, 2021)
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