Jon Doney MBE: 29th January 1949 – 1st April 2020
By Stephanie DeWitt Photo by Julian Portch
Born in Amberley, near Stroud, and educated at the Marling, Gloucestershire, Jon's interest in all things equestrian were fostered at a young age. His father ran both showjumping and racing yards while his sister, Jackie, competed at the highest level. Aged thirteen, Jon started building practice courses for Jackie in their jumping paddock. Although he hunted regularly with the Duke of Beaufort's Hounds, Jon never had any interest in competing himself.
On leaving school Jon joined a haulage company in Cornwall to train in carpentry with the family coach-building company. Returning to Gloucestershire, Jon's interest in course design was rekindled and he trained with June Nuttall initially. However, his father arranged for him to go to Hickstead to assist the late Pam Carruthers. Pam proved to be a wonderful mentor with regard to theory, design and organisation. Douglas Bunn was also instrumental in this by allowing him to work at Hickstead. With Pam's assistance Jon then went to help at prestigious events in Washington, New York and Toronto, then subsequently at Spruce Meadows and the Olympic Games.
When Jon was not course designing he took on the running of the Amberley Horse Show and Country Fair. This event had originally been started by his sister Jackie and a friend in their jumping paddock! Over the years it grew into one of the largest shows in the country.
In the 1970's Jon joined the British Show Jumping Association as one of their course designers and rose to become Registrar of Judges, having responsibility for the appointment and training of all national course designers and judges, as well as administering the association's jump department in Aldershot.
Being appointed to the FEI course designers panel in 1978, Jon went on to build in at least twenty-five countries worldwide. In 1988 he was invited to join the panel of world experts to test and lecture future international course designers and judges. Five years later the FEI put him on their highest list of course designers from which Olympic and World Championship designers are drawn.
Over the years Jon received awards from various bodies: the BEF Medal of Honour, the BSJA Award for Services to Showjumping, the British Eventing Award for Services to Eventing (Jon built the showjumping course at Badminton Horse Trials for many years), and the British Equestrian Writers Association Liz Dudden Award for the Horse of the Year Show of which Jon was Show Director for some years. In 2014 he received the honour of becoming MBE for services to equestrianism.
In 2010 Jon was appointed to the FEI's Official Judges Panel, thus becoming the only person in the world to hold O status in showjumping as both Course Designer and Judge. Most recently he was appointed by the FEI as President of the Ground Jury for the forthcoming Tokyo Olympic Games.
Jon appreciated that he was lucky with invitations to the top world events. Designing prestigious classes at Hickstead and the World Championships in Holland ranked as some of his finest moments. But sometimes things went wrong! During the jump-off in the final of a pony championship at Hickstead the bell was rung, the pony cleared the first two fences only to find the third fence in a heap, being removed by the arena party!
Surely his funniest moment was when a judges' caravan, still connected to a car and with the judges inside, was towed away. Judges and timing cable flew in all directions, all because they had eliminated the son of the caravan owner!
Jon believed that course designers play a big part in the development of jumping horses and encouraged dialogue between them, riders and trainers. He found it rewarding to see young riders coming up through the ranks.
"It is very important to have the feel of the horse (which I learnt in the hunting field), to know what a horse can do and never expect too much that breaks a horse's heart," Jon once said. "Whilst there are tests in a course, don't put all the test in one track; arrange the course so the horse and rider can get into a good rhythm. Watch the horse jump your courses and learn from any mistakes made. Never try to be too clever.
"Whether the competition is novice, standard or Olympic, at the end of it a horse must be able to go on and be happy in future competitions."
Wise words from a man who will be sorely missed. Our thoughts go out to his widow, Mary, and his sister, Jackie at this sad time.
Jon Doney MBE, The All England Jumping Course at Hickstead
Photo by Julian Portch