Stuart Hollings: Paying tribute to the most influential person in my life *H&H Plus*


  • I, along with over 300 other people, travelled to the East of England Showground in January to pay my respects to an icon of the old order, Davina Whiteman, who sadly passed away a month earlier.

    One could argue that she was the most influential person in my life, steering me away from a possible legal career into the wacky world of showing.

    Apart from introducing my brother Nigel and I to this discipline at the highest level, she also opened our eyes to many other equestrian avenues — hunting, racing, showjumping, dressage and eventing.

    More importantly, Davina taught us so much about life, including sportsmanship, appreciation of our animals and particularly respect for our elders.

    As mentioned in Tricia Johnson’s letter, the gathering was like a school reunion with devotees swapping affectionate “Davina tales” and treasured memories.

    Someone reminded me of the time we played Scrabble with her during the Christmas holidays. The theme was famous ponies and Davina ultimately declared herself the winner with Gems Cygnet. However, my brave brother argued that the correct spelling was Gems Signet with five less points.

    Always known for having the last word, Davina retorted: “I should know dear, as I won Horse of the Year twice with his grand-dam [Pretty Polly].” And that was that.

    Losing the native spirit

    The topic of conversation over my Christmas lunch focused on the Heritage final at Olympia three days earlier, where my brother co-judged performance.

    Even though I watched from my first-floor ringside seat in contrast to being in the middle of the ring where it matters most, our observations were not far apart.

    Some competitors tried too hard to impress and their rides performed like dressage ponies rather than true natives. What a pity Welsh section C Lynuck The Showman blotted his copybook with fellow columnist Rebecca Penny. He entered the ring like a winner with a most impressive walk, something rarely seen these days.

    When I judged there in 2014, the first and second ponies featured in the top four with each judge. This time, one judge had the victor Dyffryngwy Sir Picasso in seventh spot and another placed runner-up Benbreac Of Croila only 15th.

    The final line-up did produce a stellar cast, though, proving that this unique and exciting four-judge system does really work. And interestingly, three stallions bowed out at the top afterwards — Benbreac (fourth-placed), top Dartmoor Shilstone Rocks North Westerly and my favourite, Welsh section B Cadlanvalley Buzby, who finished sixth.

    I rarely allow the 1981 Olympia winning rider Phil Judge — whom I’ve decided is Michael McIntyre’s stunt double — to have the final say. However, he hit the nail on the head at Davina’s celebration of life assembly when advocating that showing is like one big family, and by all means be competitive in the ring, but always remain friends outside.

    Coincidently, Harvey Smith echoed this same sentiment in the Broome vs Smith story published in H&H. Good advice indeed as we embark on yet another showing season.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 5 March 2020