What's New: September 2023

September 14, 2023

This month’s update, introduced by Hannah Smith, adds the lives of 22 people connected with equestrianism in modern Britain, including Dorothy Brooke, Marjorie Bullows, Eva Christy, Tony Collings, Ruby Ferguson, Maxwell McTaggart, Harry Faudel-Phillips, and Dorian Williams.  Read the introduction.

Blaine, Delabere Pritchett (1770–1845), veterinary writer and practitioner

Brooke [née Gibson-Craig; other married name Searight], Dorothy Evelyn (1883–1955), equine charity founder

Brooke, Geoffrey Francis Heremon (1884–1966), army officer and equestrian [see under Brooke [née Gibson-Craig; other married name Searight], Dorothy Evelyn]

Bullows [married name Wright], Marjorie Avis, Lady Wright (1889–1980), showjumper and riding instructor

Christy, Eva [pseud. E. V. A. Christy] (1869–1954), riding instructor and equestrian author

Cole, Ada Merrett Francis (1859–1930), nurse and animal welfare campaigner

Collings, Joseph Anthony [Tony] (1910–1954), equestrian

Ferguson [née Ashby], Ruby Constance Annie (1899–1966), novelist and children’s author

Hance, John Edward [Jack] (1887–1964), riding instructor and equestrian writer

Hance [married name Whittington], Helen Irene Minnie [Jackie] (1916–1990), equestrian [see under Hance, John Edward [Jack]]

Hayes [née Pyett; other married name Rucker], Alice Marie (1861–1913), horse-breaker, equestrian author, and riding instructor

Hayes, Matthew Horace (1842–1904), veterinary surgeon, horse-tamer, and equestrian author

McTaggart, Maxwell Fielding (1874–1936), army officer, showjumper, and equestrian writer

O’Donoghue [née Lambert], Ann Stewart Lyster [Nannie] Power (1843–1940), author, journalist, and equestrian

Phillips, Henry Faudel [Harry] Faudel- (1884–1971), equestrian writer and teacher

Ponsonby, John Arthur [Jack] Talbot- (1907–1969), army officer and equestrian

Wace [née Maude], Muriel Alice [pseud. Golden Gorse] (1881–1968), children’s author and promoter of Exmoor ponies

Williams, Dorian Joseph George (1914–1985), equestrian events broadcaster and adult educationist

Williams, Vivian Dunbar Stanley [known as V. D. S. Williams] (1885–1973), army officer and equestrian sports administrator [see under Williams, Dorian Joseph George]

Williams [née Mander; other married name Hickman], (Lilian) Brenda, Lady Hickman (1895–1969), dressage rider [see under Williams, Dorian Joseph George]

Wilmot, Norah Eleanor (1889–1980), racehorse trainer

Wynmalen, Henry [Henricus Joannes Evert Willem Carel Wijnmalen] (1889–1964), aviator, equestrian writer, and dressage rider


Introduction to the September 2023 update

Welcome to the 102nd update of the Oxford DNB, which adds eighteen new articles, comprising twenty-two new lives, accompanied by eight portrait likenesses, with a special focus on equestrianism in modern Britain. 

From September 2023, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford DNB) offers biographies of 64,881 men and women who have shaped the British past, contained in 62,465 articles. 12,005 biographies include a portrait image of the subject – researched in partnership with the National Portrait Gallery, London.

Most public libraries across the UK subscribe to the Oxford DNB, which means that you can access the complete dictionary for free via your local library. Libraries offer 'remote access' that enables you to log in at any time at home (or anywhere you have internet access). Elsewhere, the Oxford DNB is available online in schools, colleges, universities, and other institutions worldwide. Full details of participating British public libraries, and how to gain access to the complete dictionary, are available.

Equestrian Lives: Introduction by Hannah Smith

Equestrianism in Britain underwent major changes during the twentieth century. From being a mainly masculine activity, exclusive to the upper and upper middle classes and military in 1880, by 1960 it had expanded into an important leisure and sporting movement with a predominantly female presence. Such an outcome was all the more remarkable because, in the period immediately after the First World War, the future of British riding was uncertain. Mechanization appeared to be making the horse obsolete, both in the civilian and military worlds, and no longer of interest to the ambitious, modern young man. Hunting, viewed as a core equestrian activity and training ground, seemed vulnerable as large landed estates were broken up. Moreover, far from being preeminent, British riders achieved only limited success in international competitions; this was deeply embarrassing for a nation that prided itself on its superior horsemanship.

In response, equestrian experts and enthusiasts, a number of whom were former or serving army officers, worked to transform British equestrianism. The 1920s and 1930s saw a focus on establishing organizations that promoted proficient horsemanship, such as the Institute of the Horse, the National Horse Association of Great Britain, and the Pony Club. Prominent here was Major (later Lt.-Col.) V. D. S. Williams (1885-1973), whose ability and appetite for administration ensured that he was a pivotal figure in many key equestrian organizations from the 1920s onwards. Ever alert to emerging movements, towards the end of his long life, he and his second wife, Brenda Williams, became keen supporters of the growing Riding for the Disabled Association. His friend, Major Harry Faudel-Phillips (1884-1971) was a prime mover in the creation of the Pony Club, the junior branch of the Institute of the Horse, which aimed to encourage the participation of the next generation of riders.  Advanced equestrian training was provided by celebrated instructors such as ex-military riding master Jack Hance (1887-1964) at his Great Malvern riding school, and Tony Collings (1910-1954) at his Porlock Vale establishment in Somerset.

Alongside this trend for creating equestrian organizations and riding schools to improve horsemanship, there was a proliferation of instructive literature by British and Irish authors; links between the British and Irish equestrian worlds, it might be noted, remained strong throughout this period. Such works advised young and older riders on equitation, horse care and stable management and followed on from important pre-First World War publications by Delabere Blaine (1770-1845), Eva Christy (1869-1954), Alice Hayes (1861-1913) and Matthew Hayes (1842-1904), and Nannie Power O’Donoghue (1843-1940). Faudel-Phillips authored several books, as did Geoffrey Brooke (1884-1966). However, the most divisive writer in the interwar years was Lt.-Col. Maxwell McTaggart (1874-1936). McTaggart wrote for various audiences on a range of equestrian themes, including equine welfare, but he was most famed for his controversial advocacy of the ‘forward’ seat in jumping. The era also saw the development of a sub-genre of children’s fiction, the pony story, which was mainly written by girls and women. Such books aimed to instruct as well as entertain children about good riding, pony care, and sportsmanship. Muriel Wace (1881-1968) (pseud. ‘Golden Gorse’) was especially influential as the author of the popular ‘Moorland Mousie’ books (which also championed the Exmoor pony) and, in the tradition of Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty, centred on the life of an individual equine. Ruby Ferguson (1899-1966) wrote in a later variant of the sub-genre, which focused on the experiences of the child rider, with her frequently republished ‘Jill’ books, commencing in 1949.

The period witnessed a more general interest in animal welfare and psychology, a growing appreciation of the horse as an intelligent and characterful animal, and horror at its ill treatment. Organizations were initiated to protect equines. Ada Cole (1859-1930), the founder of the International League Against the Export of Horses for Butchery (now World Horse Welfare), fought to end the long-distance transport of horses for slaughter on the continent. Dorothy Brooke (1883-1955), whose second husband was Geoffrey Brooke, spearheaded a prominent press campaign to rescue British warhorses who had survived the First World War only to be sold into a life of gruelling labour. Dorothy Brooke then founded the Old War Horse Memorial Hospital in Cairo (now The Brooke) in 1934, to care for them and assist those who worked them. 

British participation in competitive equestrian sports was transformed over these years. There was a move away from the amateur approach to equestrian competitive events, characteristic of early twentieth-century British sporting activity more generally. Instead, there was a far greater focus on sustained specialist training. The mechanization of the armed forces meant that the military no longer provided the opportunities and resources for competitive riding. By the late 1940s, specialist training took place in civilian settings, such as that provided by Collings at Porlock Vale. 

Before the First World War, show jumping had been dominated by male army officers such as Geoffrey Brooke and McTaggart. Army officers remained influential, including Olympian rider and trainer Lt.-Col. Jack Talbot-Ponsonby (1907-1969). However, a striking development was the participation of women in equestrian competitive sports at the highest level. Marjorie Bullows (later Wright (1889-1980)) was celebrated as an innovative interwar female show jumper who rode astride. She also provided advanced training for women riders, and here she followed in the steps of Christy and Alice Hayes who had been pioneering teachers of female riders. Jackie Hance (1916-1990), whose father was Jack Hance, was an exceptional girl rider, who dominated the show-ring in the 1930s. After the Second World War, dressage as a sport grew in reputation and popularity. The pioneering advocacy and dressage displays by Henry Wynmalen (1889-1964), who had enjoyed a high profile career as pre-First World War Dutch aviator, had a significant impact. But so too did the acclaimed dressage performances of Olympian Brenda Williams (1895-1969). While racing remained a predominantly male sport, Norah Wilmot (1889-1980) operated as a successful racehorse trainer despite the institutional bars to her participation. Meanwhile, by the 1950s, public engagement with competitive equestrian sports, notably show jumping, had expanded. This was encouraged by British successes, extensive television ownership and coverage, and by the expert commentary of ‘The Voice of Show Jumping’, Dorian Williams (1914-1985), son of V. D. S. Williams.

The equestrian world of the 1960s was strikingly different from that which had existed in 1880. By 1960 equestrianism was supported and regulated by national organizations such as the British Horse Society (successor to the Institute of the Horse and the National Horse Association of Great Britain) and the enduringly popular Pony Club. Equine welfare organizations championed activism and education. There was a plethora of instructional literature aimed at adults and children, the latter also served by a thriving industry in equestrian fiction. Riding schools, catering for novice and advanced alike, boomed. Most striking of all was the demographic change. Men – often former army officers – still predominated in the upper echelons of the equestrian world. However, the majority of those who worked with equines or rode were women and girls. This shift can be linked to the changing socio-economic position of women in twentieth-century Britain, as well as to the cultural reconfiguration of equestrianism in the wake of the motor car as a feminine rather than masculine pursuit.  The biographies included in this new update illuminate these profound changes to British equestrianism, and how they came about. 

Dr Hannah Smith is a Tutor and Fellow of St Hilda’s College, Oxford and Associate Professor in History at the University of Oxford. She is currently writing a book on British Equestrianism, 1920-1970.


The Oxford DNB is updated regularly throughout the year, giving you access to the most up-to-date and accurate information available. Nearly all public libraries in England, Scotland, and Wales—and all in Northern Ireland—subscribe to the Oxford DNB. This means you can access tens of thousands of biographies, free, via your local library—anywhere, anytime. Full access to all biographies is also available by individual subscription.

Discover a full list of entries added this year.