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‘She leaves a legacy of kindness’: farewell to dressage rider and Pony Membership stalwart

  • THE former district commissioner of the Wylye Valley branch of the Pony Club, who also competed up to prix st georges (PSG) level in dressage, died on 20 August after a short illness, aged 78.

    Born in Kingswood, Julia (née May) grew up in the nearby Bristol suburb of Hanham and although her parents, Jo and Arnold, weren’t remotely horsey, she discovered a love of riding through her sister, Teala, who asked the local farmer if she could exercise his ponies.

    All things equine became Julia’s passion for the rest of her life, whether ownership  – she owned six horses in all – through supporting up-and-coming riders,  judging, or watching racing, with her penchant for National Hunt.

    She married Philip Down and had two daughters, Liz and Charlotte, who took up the reins too. It was via this route that Julia became involved in the Wylye Valley branch of the Pony Club, and, during her tenure as district commissioner between 1999 and 2000, she would encourage all riders to reach their full potential. She would also always make sure there was a pony available for whoever wanted to ride. She was often described as “tough but fair”, and many riders of today talk fondly of their Wylye Valley Pony Club days.

    Julia became an active member of the Bath and West Riding Club and was also treasurer for 40 years. Additionally, her dressage adventures aboard a horse called Unavailable included competing at PSG level. Unavailable was a part-thoroughbred chestnut mare who came to Julia via Sue Jarman after the mare had not succeeded in her first career of showjumping.

    For over 20 years, Julia was also a sought-after West Country showjumping judge. She loved being a part of high-profile fixtures, such as the Badminton grassroots championships, the Royal Bath and West Show and Gatcombe Horse Trials, as well as numerous local events.

    These roles were often fitted in around her 17-year work stint for the Tote, for which she was a betting operator at racecourses mainly in the south-west, but also at fixtures like the Grand National and Royal Ascot.

    Julia is survived by her daughters, Charlotte and Liz, who said: “Mum leaves a legacy of kindness, supportiveness and service to the equine world, as well as a multitude of friendships. She will be missed immensely by all who knew her.”

    Julie Harding

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