Friday 24 January 2020

Obituary: Sylvia Stanier

Dedicated horsewoman who coached Irish equestrian team at three Olympics

CHAMP: Sylvia Stanier was a stalwart for Irish Olympians
CHAMP: Sylvia Stanier was a stalwart for Irish Olympians

Sylvia Stanier, who has died aged 91, was a gifted and versatile horsewoman who helped train the Irish equestrian team for the Tokyo Olympic Games in 1964 and again in Mexico and Munich in 1968 and 1972.

Her numerous accomplishments included winning both the Side Saddle and Light Hunter Championships at the Dublin Horse Show as well the Irish Dressage Championship.

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She schooled the black mare Burmese for the Queen to ride at the annual Sovereign's Birthday Parade celebrated by Trooping the Colour. Sylvia rode Burmese at rehearsals for the parade.

Burmese was given to the Queen by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and Sylvia Stanier ensured that the mare successfully made the transition from being ridden astride to carrying a side-saddle. The horse was ridden by the Queen at Trooping the Colour for 18 consecutive years. In 1983 Sylvia was appointed a Lieutenant of the Royal Victorian Order for her services.

Sylvia Stanier won the ladies side-saddle championship in 1965 at the Dublin Horse Show on Bachelor Gay, a horse later ridden astride by the Duke of Edinburgh at Trooping the Colour.

Top-class dressage was among Sylvia's achievements in a lifetime of distinguished equestrianism.

Sylvia Mary Finola Stanier was born on May 9, 1928, in Gibraltar. Her father, Sir Alexander Stanier Bt, a captain in the Welsh Guards, was serving as military secretary to the governor there. Her mother was Dorothy nee Miller. Sylvia's uncle, Lt Col Sir John Miller, was crown equerry in charge of the Queen's horses from 1961 to 1987. She had an early grounding in equine matters: her parents hunted in Spain with the Royal Calpe Hounds, while her father won an amateur flat race in Gibraltar.

She made frequent visits to England to stay at Shotover Park near Oxford, with her grandfather, Brigadier General Alfred Douglas Miller. Master of the South Oxfordshire Hounds, he had taught his five children that horses were the most important thing in life.

Life at Shotover Park was, she recalled, "utterly Upstairs Downstairs". The family - which would also include Sylvia's younger brother, Beville, returned to England, to Virginia Water in Surrey, in easy reach of the various Guards regiments.

Their new home had stables and two fields, and so began Sylvia's love of riding.

The next five years was an idyllic period, but during the war years Sylvia and Beville moved between Shropshire, Sussex and Oxfordshire, before returning to Surrey.

Sylvia, who was educated by a governess, loved drawing and painting, particularly horses and dogs, and studied at the Chelsea School of Commercial Art, from where she took a diploma. At home, her mother had become a dog-show enthusiast, and Sylvia became skilled at grooming and showing.

In 1948, when her father retired from the army, the Staniers moved to his family seat in north Shropshire. But Sylvia had no intention of becoming a debutante; she wanted to work with horses.

Despite her passion for horse racing, she went to a hunting stable, joining the Wyndham Lewis family at Slapton, near Towcester, in Grafton hunting country. In 1950 her mother's groom, Kenneth Grant, who had served in the Scots Greys, introduced her to his former Greys officer, Colonel Joe Dudgeon, who had ridden in the pre-war Olympics.

Sylvia joined him at his new operation, at Merville in Booterstown in south Co Dublin. Starting in the stables, she soon graduated to instructor and developed her long reining, lunging, show jumping and dressage skills, giving a demonstration of long reining at the 1966 Horse of the Year Show.

Through Joe Dudgeon she became trainer to the Irish Olympic team and was able to study both haute ecole and dressage with the very best exponents in Europe, Einar Schmit-Jensen and Nuno Oliveira.

After a quarter of a century in Ireland Sylvia Stanier returned to England to set up her own equestrian establishment on a small farm at Maidwell in Northamptonshire, where she remained for the rest of her life. There, she schooled horses for the American trainer John Galvin, and for the Royal Mews.

She also had time to study circus riding, with Circus Knie and Mary Chipperfield, and she took great pleasure in joining a racing syndicate.

She wrote three books on equitation, on schooling for dressage, long reining and lunging, as well as revising and updating the classic text, Mrs Archer-Houblon's Side Saddle. She edited the English version of a Dutch work on classical circus equitation, and in her later years she produced for her family a memoir of her childhood; she had been planning a second volume, covering her time in Ireland.

Sylvia Stanier, who did not marry, died on October 12.

© Telegraph

Telegraph.co.uk

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