Long-time Hickstead Show Director John Farmer OBE has retired after 38 years in the role at the All England Jumping Course.
Easily spotted in his trademark panama hat, Farmer has been responsible for choreographing the action in the International Arena for many years, making sure classes run to schedule and prizegivings go to plan.
“I’ve got thousands of special memories from Hickstead, and I’ve enjoyed every minute,” said Farmer, who lives nearby in West Sussex. “I’ve always been a showjumping lover, and this role has meant I’ve got to know some of the finest riders in the world.”
Farmer first came to the show as a visitor, before being asked to step in as a showing steward in 1972. He had a baptism of fire during his first year stewarding the Working Hunter class, after Hickstead owner Douglas Bunn installed a Cornishman wall in the arena, which had the competitors up in arms. “As it turned out, Douglas was the first rider to go in, and he flew over it,” Farmer recalls.
In 1975, Farmer was asked to take on the role of Show Director, masterminding proceedings in the famous International Arena. “I’ve always loved the showbiz atmosphere of it all – it’s a form of theatre,” he said.
In 1996, Douglas Bunn nominated him for an OBE, which meant Farmer and his family went to Buckingham Palace to receive the award from The Queen.
Asked to pinpoint the highlights of his long career, Farmer says that the FEI Nations Cup competitions – where the top showjumping teams in the world come to Hickstead – have always been a favourite.
He also recalls choreographing the European Championships when they were held at Hickstead in 1999, when Farmer managed to secure the booking of operatic tenor Russell Watson. The singer took part in the opening ceremony at Hickstead just a few months after his breakthrough performance at the UEFA Champions League Final.
“John brought great flair to the role of Show Director,” says Hickstead Director Lizzie Bunn. Whenever he was interviewed for radio or presided over the draw for the Nations Cup, he spoke with passion and a genuine love of Hickstead. We will miss him enormously.”
The Bunn family has asked equestrian commentator Steven Wilde to take over as Show Director from this season. The first international show of the year will be the British Jumping Derby Meeting (26-29 June) followed by the Longines Royal International Horse Show (29 July – 3 August).
The two national fixtures will follow, with the Hurst College National Schools & Pony Club Championships held on the 7 August and the All England Jumping Championships from the 4 – 7 September.