The Village Gymkhana
A GREAT BRITISH TRADITION
For many years, the humble village gymkhana was a rider’s first taste of the competition world. Back then, they were a fairly common affair - you’d hack your pony to the field and local residents would come out to watch - but today, they’re few and far between. With help from committee members past and present, and those who were competing in the 60s and 70s, Sarah Hyde tells the story of a gymkhana that first ran during the Second World War and is still going strong to this day.
Kimpton Horse Show has been at the heart of community spirit in this Hertfordshire village for 74 years. It runs on the last Sunday in July and has raised thousands of pounds for worthwhile causes over the decades, following the vision of its founder ‘to raise money for causes benefitting the lives of local people’.
When the end of the Second World War was finally in sight in 1944, Kimpton resident Mr Charles Howard Harding realised that a village hall would be needed as a social centre to help boost morale and get local residents back on their feet. A public meeting agreed that money would be raised to fund the project, once a tablet had first been provided in the church to commemorate the dead of both World Wars.
The Kimpton Gymkhana was just one of the events held to help raise money for the project, and the first social event in the village for quite some time. It took place on 29 April 1944, four years before the famous Horse of the Year Show first ran, in Harringay, in 1949.
It was a freezing day with bitter snow showers, but nothing could deter the Great British spirit from shining through and the first show was a roaring success. Races included Posting the Letter, Bending and Musical Chairs, the children were dressed in baggy jodhpurs and the ponies had names like ‘Tuppence’, ‘Betsy’ and ‘Tinker’. People sat on top of their cars to watch and special guest, The Viscountess Hampden, presented the prizes. The cover of the first programme read ‘Kimpton Gymkhana in Aid of New Hall Funds’. You could buy a copy for 6d and if yours was printed with the lucky number chosen on the day, you’d win £1 - around £43 in today’s money!
The event wasn’t actually the first gymkhana the village had seen; there was also a Mounted Gymkhana held there as early as 1932, alongside ‘Swinging Boats, Coconut Shies and numerous other side shows’, but the Kimpton Gymkhana is what evolved into today’s show.
A balance sheet from 1945 shows the committee spent around £4 on advertising, £5 on the hire of jumps, and £4 on cups (around £160 - £170 on each today), among other costs. They raised their money through sponsorship as well as entry fees - and got plenty of local newspaper coverage, too. Every class at today’s show is still sponsored - in fact, one local business has sponsored the show for over 45 years!
Over time, the show got bigger and bigger. By the 50s, showing and show jumping were added to the schedule and in the 70s the show was affiliated to (the then) BSJA and the BSPS, and also held dressage classes. In the very early days they would set a long line of straw on fire and ponies and riders would canter at it - some brave souls jumped straight over, others swiftly put the brakes on. Needless to say, this event hasn’t happened for many, many years, though it’s worth noting that the class that draws the biggest crowds to the main show jumping ring today is the Chase Me Charlie - a traditional show jumping class with all the tension and excitement of the famous Puissance!
The show is still held by kind permission of the Harding family today and the solid silver Harding Perpetual Challenge Cup has been the most sought-after trophy on the showground since 1950. It’s engraved with; ‘In memory of Howard Harding Founder & Chairman of Kimpton Horse Show & Mounted Gymkhana 1944-1949’. Until around the end of the 70s the Cup was awarded to the child scoring the greatest number of points in the gymkhana races.
Today, it is awarded to the combination of horse and rider accumulating the greatest number of points across all classes throughout the show. While winners of other cups can take them away from the showground for the year, the Harding Cup stays in the safety of the committee, once the winner has plenty of opportunities for a photo! It’s been presented to the winner by every generation of the Harding family; from Charles Howard’s son Geoff - who attended the show from 1944 right up until 2016 before sadly passing away - his grandson Steve and now his great grandson Jake who presents it to this day.
Village shows can’t compete with the lovely surfaces and covered facilities at the big equestrian centres, but no doubt the beautiful backdrop of the church, the local wares on sale and, of course, the show’s charitable aims thankfully keep people turning out year after year. Villagers walk up to the same field to watch the action, as they have done for decades, and many will lend a hand where they can. Some of the show’s most loyal helpers are still contributing at least four decades later, with their grandchildren now starting to help too, while some committee members have given over 25 years of service. As long as there is community spirit and willing volunteers - long may village horse shows continue!
Find out more about Kimpton Horse Show on their website: