Where the horse work happens

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Margaret Millward agreed to help with the show’s equestrian classes – temporarily – in the 1990s. She’s still there and does most of the organising, reports Rachael Rowe

Margaret Millward with event horse Garfield Big Idea – she has worked with him since he was four

‘They said: “Can you just help out for a year or two?” That was back in the 1990s, and I’m still here!” British Eventing coach Margaret Millward is vice-chairman of the horse committee and a familiar face in the equestrian ring at Gillingham and Shaftesbury Show. But behind the scenes she organises the schedule, decides the classes for the horse section and helps the stewards.
Margaret agrees that majority of the work goes on behind the scenes, unseen by the public, ensuring the equestrian events run smoothly each year: ‘We work on the principle that we are an “agricultural show with horses” and not a horse show.’

Margaret in 1991 when she first got involved in G&S show with daughter Phillippa competing in the leading rein class

What’s in, what’s out
I’m curious about how much planning is needed for an event like the Gillingham and Shaftesbury Show. Margaret explains: ‘When we first started out I was handing out rosettes from a brown paper bag. There were no proper jumps. It was total chaos! We have worked hard to improve things. Our planning for the following year starts as soon as the show is over – we look at what was supported and any issues that we experienced. For example, this year, we have taken out some of the classes that had low support. However, people liked the large ring last year, so we have kept that in.
“We have built up a really good band of stewards. Some have been with us for years. We all work well together. We’re always trying to get younger people involved, to build the team.”
So what is it that makes Gillingham and Shaftesbury Show special? Margaret is clear in her answer: “The people – from every section. The camaraderie of the whole team really makes it. If I didn’t do this, I would really miss it.”

Who let the bull out?
Margaret says one of her funniest show memories was when a bull got loose and ran around the ground. ‘It ran amok around the stands and rings.
Fortunately, no one was hurt,’ says Margaret, ‘And today, health and safety would certainly have an issue with it. My children were with me and they thought it was just hilarious!’
Another year, Margaret got Radio DJ and local resident Johnny Walker and his wife Tiggy to be guest judges. ‘We had a fancy dress class which we all enjoyed, it was a bit of fun. Johnny and Tiggy were great and judged the class for us (to be honest Tiggy did most of it!).’

Skill classes
I wondered if shows like the Gillingham and Shaftesbury inspire riders of the future? Margaret is not sure they do.
‘The horse shows are very different now. We encourage local people to come, but it is different from what it was. We have a lot more skills-based classes. It can be difficult to get competitors to come, as we are more about activities than pure showjumping. We do get native breeds and hunters, but not that many show horses.
Like I said, we are primarily an agricultural show.’
It is people like Margaret who make the Gillingham and Shaftesbury Show happen, working in the wings to organise classes, find judges and ensure everything is in place for the big day – support is vital for events to continue.
As you watch the equestrian classes at Gillingham and Shaftesbury Show, spare a thought for the work behind the scenes that makes the day a positive experience for everyone.

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