Riders celebrate 40th anniversary

A local riding club that was formed after a conversation in a pub, and held a pleasure ride from the foot of the Long Man of Wilmington as its first event, has celebrated its 40th anniversary.

Hailsham Equestrian Club riders went on to win national events at the Horse of the Year Show and Royal International Horse show and the club saw one of its former junior members, Gemma Tattersall, become an international event rider and represented Great Britain at the Rio Olympic Games in 2016.

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A total of 150 past and present members and guests celebrated the milestone anniversary on July 8 at a black tie ball at Eastbourne’s five-star Grand Hotel.

They were greeted by chairman Stephen Townsend at a champagne reception before the gala dinner, that included a display of photos taken over the years and highlights of the club’s history.

The club started after local horse riders Val Knott and the late Ted Smith met one winter’s evening at Eastbourne’s former Drive Hotel and discussed their disenchantment about what other riding clubs in the area were offering at the time.

They decided to form a new “dynamic” club catering for riders of all abilities with social events that could be enjoyed by their families and friends.

Starting with a handful of members, the club is affiliated to the national British Riding Clubs organisation and membership now stands at 70.

Val said, “The first ever event was a downland pleasure ride from the foot of the Long Man of Wilmington.

“A wide variety of events soon followed and the first dinner was held at the Drive Hotel and one of the first guest speakers was the great character and legendary show jumper of his day, George Hobbs.

“Ted made us a set of show jumps and local farmers and landowners generously provided us with their fields for innumerable successful horse shows, gymkhanas, dressage competitions, hunter trials and one day events at many different locations within a 10 mile radius of Hailsham.

“An exciting highlight in 1982 was winning the Horse & Hound Riding Clubs Quadrille of the year finals at the Horse of The Year Show at its original home at Wembley. Perfect for the heart of London was the club’s cockney theme, the Pearly Kings and Queens, and thousands of pearl buttons were used to create the elaborate costumes for the horses and their riders.”

Val remains one of the club founder members and other long-standing representatives include chairman Stephen Townsend, ably assisted by treasurer Malcolm Lawson, who have both served for a total of 29 and 26 years respectively. And without whom the club would not be as successful as it is today.

After their long terms of office they will both be stepping down after the club AGM in November.

Stephen said, “Each year we have a black tie ball and this year’s event, our first at the Grand Hotel, was a fitting way to celebrate our milestone.”

“Over the years there has been good healthy competition with club teams and individuals, junior and senior members representing Hailsham in a variety of disciplines, such as show jumping, dressage, and horse trials with considerable success.

“A brief overview shows the club winning the team show jumping at Royal International Horse Show, Hickstead, both in 1997 and again in 2004, the National Indoor Show Jumping Championships at Stoneleigh in 1997 and dual wins at team show jumping at the London & South East Championships in 2005 and as recently as 2016.”

“We are delighted the HEC continues to be a happy and thriving club and look forward to its continuing success.”

Photos courtesy Andy Butler.