Hance, John Edward [Jack]
Hance, John Edward [Jack]
- Hannah Smith
Hance, John Edward [Jack] (1887–1964), riding instructor and equestrian writer, was born at 1 Bold Street, Fleetwood, Lancashire, on 24 April 1887, the elder of two sons of Frank Worthy Hance (1844–1911), draper’s assistant (and later general draper), and his wife, Emma Matilda, née Brown (1850–1916). Hance’s formal education appears to have been minimal, and he later returned to the classroom while in the army to achieve promotion. As a child, Hance had wanted to join the cavalry but settled for the Royal Artillery, enlisting as a boy soldier in 1903. He joined the ranks in May 1906 and two months later, on 25 July 1906 at Litherland, Lancashire, he married Minnie Amelia Power (1888–1956), whose deceased father, John Power, had been a Royal Artillery sergeant. Their son, Reginald Frank Hance (1907–1960), was born the following year. A daughter, Jackie [see below], was born in 1916.
Hance’s riding skills attracted his commanding officers’ notice, and he was sent to Woolwich to train as a rough rider. This was a formative experience, since Hance and his cohort were taught according to Major Noel Birch’s new system of training, with its emphasis on practical instruction. Hance excelled under this training regime and was soon appointed as a riding instructor at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich. On the outbreak of the First World War he was commissioned as first lieutenant and riding master and he spent much of the war training Royal Horse Artillery cadets at St John’s Wood, although he was in France briefly in 1917.
Hance was promoted to captain late in the war and in 1919 he was ordered to India, accompanied by his wife and daughter, where he took full advantage of the opportunities that this posting offered. He kept a string of polo ponies, raced, and went pig-sticking. Thus, it came as unwelcome news to learn in 1923 that he had been made redundant as riding master as a result of the army’s move to mechanization, especially since he had been living beyond his means. However, this calamity ultimately proved fortuitous.
Desperate for an income, Hance bought a mediocre riding school business in Great Malvern, Worcestershire, which catered for the numerous girls’ schools in the area. Accustomed to the army’s disciplined and lengthy teaching regime within a covered school, Hance hated his new employment, which comprised escorting schoolgirls and their horses along the lanes around Malvern. Minnie Hance, therefore, who had learnt to ride during the First World War, undertook most of the girls’ riding school teaching that initially paid the many bills. Meanwhile, Hance set about developing the innovative concept of a residential equitation centre (originally for women but then for men as well) for adults to ‘study riding seriously, as is done abroad and in our own Army’ (Riders of tomorrow, xvii).
Hance’s plan was astute. After the First World War there was rising concern about the parlous state of British equestrianism in comparison to that on the continent, which was highlighted by the competitive strength of many continental national riding teams. Thus Hance met a growing demand for expert riding tuition, conducted by a former military riding master but adapted for civilians. After a shaky start the school opened in 1925 and proved a success. In the course of its fourteen-year existence it attracted through personal recommendations around 3000 pupils, ‘many extremely well known, and a great number titled’, as Hance proudly recalled (Riding Master, 82). The aristocratic Lygon family at nearby Madresfield (an inspiration for Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited) proved particularly committed patrons. Indeed, Hance taught Waugh to ride. Hance’s school also drew exceptionally talented horsemen such as Tony Collings, whose Porlock Vale Riding School would provide the pre-eminent equitation training in England after the Second World War, and Olympic riders Reg Hindley and Derek Allhusen. About 1928 Hance taught two riders from the continent and, in conversation with them, became aware that, although in his early forties, he still had ‘a great deal to learn’ (Riding Master, 90). As a result, from 1929 for almost a decade Hance made a month-long visit to Germany to be coached by the renowned trainer Oskar Stensbeck. It was an influential experience and Hance blended this continental form of instruction with that of Birch’s, to create his own system.
Hance’s most high-profile students in the 1930s were arguably his children. Reg and Jackie Hance were fundamental to the running of Hance’s establishment (including retraining seemingly unrideable horses) and showcasing the school through their wins at major shows. His daughter, Helen Irene Minnie [Jackie] Hance [married name Whittington] (1916–1990), equestrian, was born on 6 March 1916 at 13–14 Prince’s Gate, Knightsbridge, London. Her ‘extraordinary success’ especially brought her into the public eye (Riding, April 1937, 316). Initially nervous of horses, Jackie made swift progress, taught first by her mother, then her father, and she was also coached by Stensbeck. She and her horses dominated hack competitive events, her many triumphs the results of remarkable talent, as well as gruelling training and injury.
Jack Hance wrote several influential books and articles on riding, notably School for Horse and Rider (1932), which argued that riders should be taught how to ride rather than be ‘carried about by good-natured animals’ (School, 3). He lamented that the ‘real art of riding’ (ibid., 11) had been neglected by those who believed, erroneously, that there was no need for trained riding on the hunting field, and he emphasized the value of schooling, exercises, and practical demonstration in an enclosed school. He followed this up with Riders of Tomorrow (1935), aimed at children and, more particularly, their parents, which repeated the message of School for Horse and Rider but in story format. Better Horsemanship (1948) reworked some of his previous arguments for a post-war audience.
By the late 1930s the Hance family partnership was fragmenting. Reg married in 1935. Jackie married, on 21 April 1938 at the Priory Church, Malvern, Charles Richard Whittington (1908–1992), a stockbroker, with whom she had five children. The outbreak of the Second World War destroyed Hance’s riding school as a viable business. Hance left Malvern to resume his military career in Britain, and ended it as lieutenant colonel. Minnie Hance, meanwhile, lived with her daughter near Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire. Hance and his wife later divorced.
After the war Hance become a freelance riding instructor, and worked for a number of riding schools and private clients; he briefly taught the future three-day eventer, Sheila Willcox. His status as one of the very top British riding teachers led him to being offered the opportunity on several occasions to run proposed national centres for British riding, although these fell through. On 23 December 1952 he married Marjorie Samways, née Heilbron (1904–2002), the daughter of James Heilbron, a soap manufacturer. Previously the wife of Lieutenant Commander Harold Bernard Samways, Marjorie Samways had studied with Hance at Malvern. She later went on to coach three-day event and dressage riders. Hance moved to her house at Upperton, West Harting, Petersfield, Hampshire, where he worked on his autobiography. Throughout his life Hance had suffered countless riding-related injuries, including a badly broken leg as a young man, which thereafter limited his use of it. He became increasingly heavy in weight; by 1937 he was nearly 19 stone. He died on 22 January 1964 at West Harting from coronary thrombosis. Jackie Whittington had a ‘second career’ (Horse and Hound, 10 Jan 1991, 47) in the equestrian world, as a judge at major shows. She and her husband moved to Brampton Bryan, Shropshire, and she died on 17 December 1990.
Acclaimed on his death as ‘an inspiration to a whole generation of riders’ (Riding, April 1964, 144), Hance was a pivotal figure in the development of British equestrianism in the inter-war years and a pioneer of dressage in Britain. In tune with changing attitudes towards equitation, Hance’s riding school at Malvern and his publications made the systematic teaching of riding in a civilian setting both fashionable and indispensable, with long-term results for British riding. Jackie Hance was vital to the success of the Malvern school, and became one of the most celebrated female riders of the 1930s.
- J. Hance, Riding master (1960)
- J. E. Hance, School for horse and rider (1932)
- J. E. Hance Riders of tomorrow (1935)
- J. E. Hance, Better horsemanship (1948)
- Horse and Hound (10 Jan 1991)
- Pony Magazine Annual 1962 (1961)
- M. Amory, ed., The letters of Evelyn Waugh (1980)
- The Times (7 Feb 1964)
- London Gazette (21 Sept 1918)
- Daily Telegraph (11 Nov 1933)
- W. Sidney Felton, Masters of equitation (1962)
- Gloucestershire Echo (23 Jan 1934)
- Riding, 1/11 (April 1937); 24/4 (April 1964)
- J. Badger, ‘Jackie Hance: a remarkable child rider’, Jane Badger Books, 2021, janebadgerbooks.co.uk/jackie-hance-a-remarkable-child-rider/, accessed 1 December 2022
- b. cert. [Jackie Hance]
- d. cert. [Jackie Hance]
- 1939 Register
- photographs, repro. in Hance, Riding master
- photographs, repro. in Hance, School for horse and rider, Hance, Better horsemanship, and Riding, 1/11 (April 1937) [Jackie Hance]