As a child, I was horse mad. I lived and breathed horses and riding. I knew all about their care, their tack and their ailments. My greatest wish was for a horse of my own. Growing up on an inner city council estate, I was regularly brought back down to earth with the pronouncement that you can’t keep a horse in a green house. However, I was indulged to the point of having riding lessons during my early teenage years. The school I went to was very good. It instilled a full education on horsemanship and horse care. None of this turning up to have your tacked pony brought out for you, Oh no, we had to catch them or get them up, brush them down, check their hooves and tack them up ourselves. No mean feat for 12 year olds dealing with the most savvy, sly and workshy school ponies ever. But we loved it.
My heroes at the time were the british show jumpers David Broome and Nick Skelton. Harvey Smith was flying high at the time too but was frowned upon by my family for his bullish attitude, rude gestures and, what we perceived to be, rough handling of his horses. He was also not forgiven for always being on the programme at our local show, where each year there was a Tannoy announcement saying he’d broken down enroute (and then we’d arrive home to see him busy jumping at Hickstead). The poor man was probably oblivious to his eagerly anticipated arrival at a local county show in Nottingham!
I was always fascinated by the military outfits and no hard hats of the Irish team at international events. Such glamour! So, I was both intrigued and delighted to be given an opportunity to read and review a book of the story of William (Billy) Ringrose and the growth of Irish success at showjumping on the international circuit from its beginnings to recent times.
The book, simply titled, Billy Ringrose, a memoir of my father is written and self published by his third son, Fergal. The history is built from interviews with Billy and his wife Joan, along with insights from colleagues and friends and from research in the archives held by the Army Equitation School and from press coverage at the time. Billy comes across as a reserved, self-effacing man, who saw the great triumphs of his career as just doing his job. They were spectacular wins. In 1961, he was presented with the Grand Prix de Monaco by Princess Grace and the Grand Prix de Roma by Queen Elizabeth II. He is the only man to have won the Aga Khan Cupas a rider, as the Irish Chef D’Equipe and then as President of the RDS. What could be said to be most amazing is that Billy had never had a riding lesson before he joined the Army!
This is also a history of the development of the Army Equitation School. It was realised that Ireland needed a way to advertise its equine bloodstock trade internationally and the best way was to compete and win showjumping events at international level. Cadets were recruited based on athleticism in other sports, rather than coming up via the ranks of pony club and local shows like in Britain, where the team wasn’t army based, and for a while all cadets made their way through the school in an effort to identify those with the correct combination of fearlessness and skills. At the same time the supply of horses was limited and variable depending on political goodwill, so the Irish army spent a lot of time competing with inferior horses to other nations such as the Germans who dominated the sport. The Irish had a different tactic in selection and training of riders. Which gradually paid off.
Billy was an inspiration to younger riders. He is well regarded by his colleagues. It was interesting to read of politics at work and his sideways move to a department he knew nothing about and how others were promoted without doing the necessary training depending rather on who they knew. Nothing much changes! Billy did get returned to the post of CO of the equitation school. On retirement from this position he went on the horse purchase board and the RDS horse show committee before being elected President of the RDS.
This is Irish Author Fergal Ringrose’s (@fergalwilliam) first book. After gaining a BA from
Dublin City University and an MA from California State University both in Communication Studies he has worked as an editor and journalist in Business publishing for the television broadcast production sector.
This is a very detailed account of a full and interesting career. Interesting, not only from the point of Billy’s personal achievements but also the advances and success achieved by the Army equitation school, during Billy’s tenure.
It is a book which would appeal to those interested in Irish history, as well as those with an interest in equestrian matters. The photographs are a lovely addition and the press reports give a real sense of the time. This is at times, a very moving and personal account of the life of a man who should really be more famous here and abroad. He’d probably be surprised to hear me say that as he appears to be modest to the point of denial! I would love to hear an abridged version of this memoir on audiobook, maybe with some of the actual voices. It would also make an ideal project for RTE Radio’s Documentary on One around Dublin Horse Show time.
Reviewed by: Georgina Murphy