Stuart Hollings: An equestrian finishing school *H&H VIP*

  • Opinion

    “There is no business like show business” — to quote Irving Berlin — whether treading the boards or in the show ring. I recall my first 2006 column, beginning with the headline, “What have you been doing this winter?” after Pat Dorman, who will be judging at Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) in October, had won on ITV’s Celebrity Look-a-Like programme — as Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.

    Fast forward 12 years and Pat’s granddaughters Isabella and Indiana Kirby, 12 and nine respectively, who successfully compete at shows, appeared at the Shaftesbury Theatre in the West End musical The Lazy Ace in November.

    Their father is well-known racehorse trainer Philip Kirby and mother Philippa (née Porley), an accomplished show rider and equestrian artist who has previously won at HOYS, the Royal International Horse Show (RIHS) and Olympia.

    “Competing at the top events and coping with the pressure has definitely helped our girls with their confidence on the stage and has inspired them to perform,’’ explained Philippa.

    It seems like only yesterday that Sophie Rowland and Colne Heiress won the mini show pony title under me at HOYS in 1998, before taking the supreme pony accolade. Sophie, together with Emily Burnett (Belle Voci), recently wowed viewers of ITV’s The Voice UK.

    And then last month, I went to see this year’s RIHS coloured horse judge, Josie Jefferson, on stage in the pantomime Mother Goose, where she played to her strengths as the good fairy Angelica.

    Deserved accolades

    Davina Whiteman was invited to collect her well-deserved Equestrian Personality Award (Showing Life, 22 February) at a recent British Show Pony Society Council meeting. My brother Nigel and I spent three invaluable years (1972-1974) training and showing with Davina.

    Thankfully, it wasn’t a case of lesson upon lesson, going round in ever-decreasing circles like clockwork soldiers. You could say that it was akin to attending an equestrian finishing school — particularly in winter — at both Gaddesby and Clipsham.

    We were introduced to hunting with the Belvoir and Cottesmore, which was a great experience. Days out on the East Anglian point-to-point circuit were pleasurable, especially as my pocket money was frequently topped up courtesy of Paul Rackham’s winning machine called Lake District. When dabbling in showjumping, we soon discovered that we just weren’t quick enough against the clock with our working hunter ponies — although I did compete in showjumping and dressage in Germany on my pony in 1973.

    It comes as no surprise, therefore, that two of her former and much speedier pupils — Judy Bradwell, who piloted Creden Lucky Charm to the 1964 HOYS show pony title, and Jane (nee Thelwell) Soutar, who triumphed on Favorita three years later, both produced by Davina — went on to win Burghley Horse Trials.

    Nigel made headlines in 1972 when becoming the first boy to lift the Wembley show pony honours on Snailwell Charles. He may not have triumphed at Burghley afterwards — no surprise there — but he did receive a gold Blue Peter badge instead for his landmark victory.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 29 March 2018