Jack Hammerton recalls how he was just 18 when he was thrown off a big stallion from a great height.
It may have dimmed Jack’s enthusiasm for actually riding horses. But now, nearly 60 years on, he still has a passion for showjumping, and has recently been honoured for his services to the sport.
Jack, who lives near Porchfield, received a prestigious award from the British Showjumping Association. He was honoured with a lifetime achievement award for his services as a long standing chef d’équipe, and was presented with it at a recent Home Pony International.
He said: “I was delighted to receive the award. At least it showed someone has been looking at what I have been doing over the years. I felt very privileged because it was the first time I have known an award of this kind being handed out in all the time I have been associated with showjumping.”
Jack joined the British Showjumping Association [BSJA] in 1958 with his late wife Josie. He said: “Before we were married she had a horse of her own, and was very much into horses. I quite liked riding but after I was thrown I wasn’t quite so enthusiastic. I did get back on a few times, but I always made sure it was only on a pony, and we stayed at walking pace!”
Jack and Josie, who lived at Pudsey in Yorkshire at the time, decided not only to go to showjumping events together, but also become course builders and eventually judges. He explained: “My wife was very keen and it was an opportunity for us to do something together. All our spare time and holiday time was taken up with show-jumping. That was all we did and we both enjoyed it immensely. You could say that I have given 52 years of my spare time to it, and that’s quite a lot of spare time!
“Course builders learn from other course builders – that is really the only way to get it right. There is also a manual, giving for example suggested distances between jumps and turning circles, but was always best to listen and learn, nothing more than that.”
During his equestrian career, Jack has judged in South Africa, and both judged and course built in Australia. He said: “I built in Australia purely in an emergency because there had been bereavement in a family, so the course builder was unavailable, and I was asked to step in. I was just told to use the same techniques that I used in this country, and it worked well.”
Jack and his wife moved from Yorkshire to Wales in 1969, and he became the BSJA area representative for what was then the County of Flintshire in North Wales from 1970 until they moved to the Island to retire in 1994. He was also a member of the National Executive Committee of the Association for 18 years from 1976. And it was in the same year that his lifetime hobby took another turn with the introduction of the Home Pony International series for junior riders.
He said: “It formed originally because there was a showjumping club in South Wales and they started an unaffiliated competition with a Scottish club. From there they decided to become affiliated, and England became involved, so I acted as chef d’equipe for the Wales team.
“We travelled to County Cork to compete, and I became friends of the family who owned the show ground there, and as a result Ireland also became involved in the mid-1980s. That was when it became known as the Home Pony International, and the first official event was held up in Scotland.
“I acted as chef d’equipe for the Wales team from 1976 until I came to the Island. The young riders were aged from nine to 16, and when we went to Ireland I was always told I could take as many as I wanted, because they were always so well behaved.”
Some of the first judging Jack ever did involved the famous showjumping Whitaker brothers, Michael and John, and he was also good friends with the Broome family, parents of David Broome, the famous Welsh show jumper who was voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year in 1960.
“My wife and I were very fortunate because we made some wonderful friends through our involvement with showjumping,” said Jack, who before he retired combined his equestrian duties with his employment in the food industry, including being a cheese maker for the Co-operative Society in North Wales.
“We came to the Island because my younger daughter and granddaughter were living here, and we always liked to visit. We came in 1995, and unfortunately my wife died just eight months later.”
He has continued to judge and build courses since coming to live on the Island, and has maintained a remarkable association with the Cheshire County Show and the Anglesey County Show. He will be judging at both again this year – his 43rd successive year at Anglesey and 42nd successive year at the Cheshire Show, a truly remarkable record.
Jack is already looking forward to next year’s Olympics Games, and believes Britain have an excellent chance of winning medals in the equestrian events. He said: “It would be nice to see some of the riders I have watched grow up, and have maybe helped along the way, come to the fore.
“Most of them still keep in touch. I once said to Robert Smith, the son of Harvey Smith, that he had known me long enough to call me Jack. He said he did not dare, because he did once in his father’s earshot – and got a clip behind the ear for doing so.”