David Stubbs: Paying tribute to his contribution to SA equestrianism
I had very fortunate opportunities to spend some time with David Stubbs thanks to Di Pieterse of the Equestrian Qualifications Authority of South Africa and Frances Cheboub of the SA Warmblood Horse Society. At almost 90 years young, David is a true gentleman and his passion for equestrianism is very evident in the way he talks of the sport and the people involved. As one of the younger generation, I had no idea how pivotal both David and his wife Charlotte were in shaping the sport and the horses in southern Africa. In Ernst Holtz’s words, “His versatility as a horseman is unrivalled in our country. There is no equestrian development in which he was not involved, both in the sport and breeding of sporthorses.” What follows is an honest attempt at paying tribute to his vast contribution.
David was born in East Griqua into a polo playing family and upon matriculation in the mid 1940s turned down the opportunity to work on his family’s farm in exchange for making his way to Johannesburg to find a job and try his hand at show jumping. He was hired by a dairy farmer who also dealt in horses.
David was, like his father, a natural horseman and from humble beginnings (David recounts arriving at his first show only to find that his short jacket, or what he termed his “bum-freezer”, was out of kilter with the new longer jackets with a tail slit, and in horror immediately took a pair of scissors and cut a slit into his jacket up to his shoulder blades!), he became an accomplished rider awarded his Springbok colours for show jumping in 1962 and competing in the country’s premier eventing competitions, and was considered as one of the best polo players in his generation.
Aboard Willie Waterloo, David became the first International showjumper competing in the UK on a South African bred horse travelling by sea to jump at White City and other famous venues. He won major classes, including the British National Championship. David recalls that Willie Waterloo was a farm horse that stood around 15.1 hands high and which was acquired by David’s dairy farm boss as the bargaining chip on the price of some cattle that the horse had led from Mr Willie Adams’ Waterloo farm.
Ernst attests to David’s riding successes “On my first trips to the Rand Easter Show, David won A grade classes on the small Anglo-Arab Fingo against some of the best southern African show jumping riders and horses. He would also event at top level and would have won the SA Championship on Mairi Clifford’s Bayard, if he had not lost his way in the show jumping leg seconds before the end. He would also lend his horses to visiting International riders at the time when that was the only such event was possible.”
Fittingly, David met Charlotte through riding. Charlotte herself was an accomplished rider, particularly in show jumping. Originally from Cape Town, Charlotte sent her horses up to David to the Rand Show and that they could travel together to the Pietermaritzburg show. Six weeks after meeting, David proposed to Charlotte! He recalls the two of them competing in the half section event (two riders competing at the same time over two identical courses that come together at the end) at the Durban Centenary Show shortly after he had proposed to her, and as they jumped over the last fence together, he turned to look at her and called out “I meant what I said!”
Together with Charlotte he was instrumental in creating the SA Warmblood Horse Society and played a major role in importing some of the best breeding stock at that time thereby contributing to the establishment of SA bred sporthorses at the highest level. Although warmbloods were being imported into Namibia from the 1930s, horses within South Africa were mainly thoroughbreds and farm horses. Both David and Charlotte felt that the introduction of warmbloods was desperately needed in South Africa. In the 1960s, Charlotte, backed by Sydney Press (Edcon founder), went overseas to select and import the first warmbloods into South Africa. Charlotte also encouraged Gerrie du Toit (Alzu Stud) to breed warmbloods into thoroughbred mares and he bought the Swedish imported stallion that Charlotte had sourced called Drabant from Press; and his lineage can be seen in competition horses today. Gerrie also become the leader importer of warmbloods into the country at the time, along with the likes of Ernie Davenport. The SA Warmblood Horse Society was formed and Charlotte, Gerrie and Ernie, together with Theo le Ross, met with breeders across the country to educate them on warmbloods.
Charlotte and David also drew up the inspection plan for warmblood licensing and David headed the National Inspection Panel for many years, as well as being an inspector for the Namibian Warmblood Horse Society. David felt very strongly on correctness of limbs for licensing, particularly given the variable and difficult surfaces the southern African horses had to compete on, in comparison to international venues.
Frances Cheboub was lucky to have the opportunity to travel with David Stubbs, Gerrie du Toit and at times Ernst Holtz on SA Warmblood Inspection trips in the late 1990’s. Says Frances, “David was exceptional not only in his horse knowledge, in our society’s case, conformation and talent potential; but in how he dealt with people. Along with his integrity and a gregarious nature David Stubbs was respected and loved.” Frances recalls that “David would often tip grooms if he felt that they had shown care and dedication in presenting the horses.” Furthermore, “He found a charming way to deliver bad news on the result of their horses, to owners. We had member’s country wide wanting to speak to him or put up the inspectors if they travelled in their areas. In the evenings David would regale his hosts with hilarious horse stories.”
David very proudly states that Charlotte revolutionized riding in South Africa by bringing “educated riding” to South Africa, including introducing what he fondly calls the “lavatory seat” or what we know as the forward or light seat. Whilst at Dudgeon’s Stables in Ireland, Charlotte had been privileged to be exposed to Major Siva Kulesza, a 1936 Polish Olympic competitor, who had very modern ideas on riding and which influenced Charlotte likewise and which she brought back with her to SA. A BHS Instructor, Charlotte’s main focus was on education, and in 1971 she implemented Equitation as a discipline in South Africa as well as founding the SANEF National Instructors’ Plan in 1976 to formalize and standardize styles of riding and instruction across the country. David remembers the resistance that Charlotte encountered at the time but that she persevered to success as she was a strong woman who truly believed in what she was doing. Forty years later, the plan now called the SA National Instructors’ Plan and steered under Equestrian Qualifications Authority of Southern Africa (EQASA) conducts in excess of 600 assessments each year.
David and Charlotte were also judges in literally all different disciplines both in Continental and British types of riding.
David was also involved in the creation of the Transvaal Horse Showing Association, which later became the Transvaal Horse Society. He recalls that prior to SANEF (now SAEF) being formed, shows were run by the agricultural societies. He also remembers riding his first dressage test at Major George Iwanowsky’s riding school, which was a BHS dressage test as SA did not have any affiliated tests, and where anyone could judge the test – the judge stood at X and got out of the way as you approached X for your halt!
Finally, David was also involved in the Highveld Horse Care Unit, remembering the need for greater exposure to the flight of the railway horses in townships, which he tackled through taking people into the townships to witness the issues.
David felt that he was heavily influenced by May Foxcroft’s love and respect for horses above all else and considered her the heroine of the show jumping world. He believes that Aunty May left a wonderful legacy in this regard. He also felt that Charlotte had a major influence on him and he learnt so much from her.
Ernst sums David’s character up beautifully; “Despite all these attributes he has all his life been one of the most modest and humble horsemen I have met in my lifetime, always ready to assist others, something I will remember best when I arrived in this country some sixty years ago. Together with Charlotte he contributed to Equestrianism in a way that he became a legend in his lifetime. He was and still is one of nature’s true gentlemen, loved and admired by all.”