Hambleton District Show: Meet the woman who single-handedly organises one of the north's biggest equestrian events

Twenty-eight years ago a couple of ladies in North Yorkshire began a horse show that is now regarded as the largest in the north of England and returns next month for the first time in three years.

Horsewoman Margaret Dawson has been at the helm of Hambleton District Show throughout and started it with her good friend Moira Peckitt and the able assistance of Moira’s husband Tony Knowles on his land at The Barugh in Carlton Husthwaite, where it remained for 21 years before moving to its current residence at Sutton Park, courtesy of the Sheffield family.

Margaret said she had come up with the initial idea when her local hunt, the York & Ainsty North, was short of funds.

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“I said I’d run one ‘do’ with half of the proceeds for them and the other half to charity. Twenty-eight years later I’m still running it with about eight of us involved in putting it on and with an army of willing volunteers, sponsors and judges. All the funds raised today go to charity and our two main charities are Yorkshire Air Ambulance and Yorkshire Cancer Research.

Margaret Dawson has organised the Hambleton District Show since the early 1990s

“We don’t have a committee as I’ve always found that everyone sits and says nothing then has a lot to say afterwards. I have meetings on the telephone and it runs very well. There has to be a fountainhead and everything comes through me. I delegate to others.”

Margaret was awarded the British Empire Medal in 2016 for her organisation of the Hambleton District Show, that she has always done without payment, and her raising of funds for charity. Margaret said she’d originally thought it was a wind-up when she’d first heard.

“Once I realised it was for real it was very nice. I have always kept it as a horse show and nothing else. The show is very well respected and we have hardly any commercialisation.

“It’s just horses and ponies and we have over 200 classes. We have raised over £70,000 just for Yorkshire Cancer Research as well as tens of thousands for other charities.

She finds committees a 'waste of time'

“In our first year the show was spread over 12-14 acres but by the time we moved we were taking up 50 acres. The show just kept on growing. Now we run it over two days at Sutton Park where we take up 30 acres of parkland and have the horses on the Saturday and ponies on the Sunday.”

Margaret said Hambleton District Show has always been about being largely affiliated with all of the major horse and pony societies, but that this year she has introduced unaffiliated classes.

“Our affiliated classes have always been well supported and Hambleton District Show is recognised as being one of the top horse shows in the country. Winners here can qualify for such as the Royal International Horse Show for working hunters and qualify further towards the Horse of the Year Show by taking a place in the semi-final qualifier at the Stoneleigh Horse Show in September.

“There are also two classes at four and five-year-olds to qualify for the Dubarry Burghley Young Event Horse where the winners get to compete at the Burghley finals. It’s one of the most integral parts of Burghley Horse Trials.

“We are taken very seriously and we attract major names too. Top ridden hunter showmen and showwomen have been coming from right across the UK since we started. This year we are doing some unaffiliated classes to encourage new people into showing that don’t want a lot of expense. I just like to encourage the next generation of horse people to come along and take part.”

Margaret said she is looking forward to this year’s show having been stymied for the past two years.

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“We had to cancel the show, like everyone else in 2020 because of Covid restrictions, but last year’s show was off because it was so wet.

“We are back now and we are looking forward to getting going again. We’ve only had four shows at Sutton Park in what would normally have been our first seven years here and we are hoping to re-establish ourselves as a spectator attraction.

“We didn’t lose any entries through the move from Carlton Husthwaite but we had built up a following from the general public that we are looking to increase at Sutton Park.

“There is such a lot of work that goes into the show and we have a number of us who shoulder the responsibility including our secretary Helen Wilson who handles all the entries. I take a month off after the show, but then come the end of June I start planning again for the next year. There’s something to do every day.

“We need a lot of help from volunteers and we get a lot of help, but we are also always short of help. It’s something I’m on with in trying to find new helpers. I’ve also got somebody who has said that they will take it over when I eventually pack up, but I’m hoping that’s not going to be necessary any time soon.”