Magazine Page 19 - The End of an Era

A Speech given by Peter Price, Past President,

at a Dinner in York on 24th October 2009 to mark the

125th Anniversary of the Cleveland Bay Horse Society

and the retirement of James Stephenson

        Time moves on and it is amazing to think that when I last spoke to this Society as Deputy President just over 25 years ago, how much has happened within it. Then we were celebrating the Society's Centenary.

        Some of you here now were here then, and it is great to see you again. Sadly many are not, but it is a bit of a shock to find myself in the position of the surviving President from the furthest back in the Breed's history, save for Her Majesty The Queen, our Patron, my immediate predecessor for our Centenary in 1984.

        Our family interest goes back a lot further, with Jan buying her first Cleveland Bay, a part bred mare in 1965. As many of you are well aware, I am not really the horsey one in our family. Although not quite married to them for 50 years, I have been betrothed to them for over 50 years, but I always feel a bit of a fraud speaking to such a knowledgeable audience.


        My earliest memories centre around Ruth Kitching (a name to conjure with when in Cleveland company). We visited her home, Fryup Gill, soon after it was built, so that Jan could get some advice always so freely given by Ruth. There, I recall endless hours of discussion about Cleveland bloodlines.

       Another memory again involves Ruth. Jan was persuaded to take a mare and foal to a demonstration by the Society in Sussex in 1970. Ruth was on the microphone, Jan led the mare and I was given the foal. As we were parading, you know what happens, the foal stopped, something had caught its eye, it then realized mother was thirty yards away and took off. Ruth yelled "Hang on Peter, hang on" and so I did, on my face right through the long grass and a few pats left by cattle. When I stood up, still holding the foal I hasten to add, damn the cowpats, one trouser leg had split from top to bottom.

        Then I recall also being recruited to steward in the early days of the Society's Show and Sale at Wetherby racecourse.   Often my co-steward was Reg Stephenson, another person this Society has much to thank for. What a Gentleman Reg was in every way. Ruth, having shouldered responsibility for this ailing breed Society for years, approached Reg to take on as Secretary to get the Society on a businesslike basis and, in time, pass that office on to his horse mad son when he joined the family firm after University.

         I mentioned a moment ago, "Time moves on" and great changes are about to occur to this remarkable Society. The Stalwart, and I use that word advisedly, is to retire. It is difficult to know where to start with James's long career as honorary secretary and, a bit later, honorary treasurer of the Society, so much has happened in the long period that he has held office and all of it worthy of mention.

        James’ first reaction was to consolidate his position by becoming a breeder. He bought his foundation mare, Bonnybay, from Ruth Kitching and over the years produced a line of good purebred horses the best known would be the stallion Wigginton Antonio.

        The knowledgeable "old timers," steeped in history of the breed, guided James through the early years. Ruth, David Keenleyside, Jack Welford and Joe Sunley spent many hours inspecting horses around the country, verifying breeding and generally helping out in all aspects of the Society. Ruth used her legal skills to help put in place a new "constitution", which has only twice since been upgraded to keep up with the times, the second occasion quite lately.

        In 1977, the Great Yorkshire Show decided to celebrate The Queen's Silver Jubilee with a parade in her presence, based on the Cleveland Bay. James went into organizing mode and centred the parade around The Queen's own stallion, "Mulgrave Supreme", then standing with Max Abram at Busk Hill. That was the first of James' very memorable Cleveland parades. This was followed by the Centenary parade at Smith's Lawn before The Queen as our President, which was quite outstanding, followed that same year by one at the Great Yorkshire Show.      A few

years later in 1988 another at Hovingham Hall, in the presence of the Duke and Duchess of York, and finally at the Great Yorkshire Show, once again, last year in celebration of that show's 150th anniversary. His ability to drum up support and stage-manage these displays is legendry. Some of us might say that he drove us nearly to distraction at the time, but it was always worth it as they always worked and were great fun to do.       One of James's earliest ideas produced the Part bred Register in 1978, which not only encouraged the recognition of good part bred horses, but also generated some much needed revenue.

        Then with the demise of Ministry of Agriculture Stallion Licensing in 1982 all breeds were wondering how to control the use of stallions in order to keep up standards. Veterinary guidelines were set up to exclude the use of unsound stallions and funding for this became a big issue. Out of this reorganization came one of James's best ideas, which was the Premium Stallion Scheme. This certainly improved the King George V stallion competition, which became a showcase for the breed. Again funding was an issue but James proved a skilled negotiator with the Horse Race Betting Levy Board and raised a grant specifically for this purpose.

        James has always had the ability to tackle the problems that have had to be faced and turn them round to the Society's advantage. I have already mentioned the Premium Stallion scheme but another of these was the advent of passports for horses, a real burden for horse owners. Before we knew it the Society had become licensed to issue passports for all horses and this was another fund raiser for the Society, though maybe Chris Ogilvie, who carried much of the burden, might have a different slant on what it involved.

         As you probably all know, James is never one to stand still, although some say that he does come out of "overdrive" now and again these days. He has strong views, and likes them and his ideas to be carried through.

        Two such occasions have remained with me. The first was soon after I took Office as Deputy President when some matter suggested by James at Council came to a vote and ended in a dead heat and I had the casting vote. I cannot remember what it was about, and I'm not sure it was that important, but I do remember thinking to myself that James would resign if he lost. I decided I didn't want to go down in Cleveland Bay history as the chap never to be forgiven for losing the support of Stephenson & Sons. (I wouldn't be here now speaking to you, would I?) The financial loss hardly bears thinking about: venues at no charge and subsidized services.

        The second was at Smith's Lawn for the Centenary parade. James, with the help of Sir John Miller, the Crown Equerry, another great supporter of this Society, thought up this quite outstanding demonstration, and he wanted it to be just right. Our first dress-rehearsal went OK but not quite as James wanted it, so he called a second. I could see The Queen’s coach approaching in the far distance and firmly told him "NO", but I had to say it twice. The look I got from James would have curdled the milk, but he forgave me.

        My brief from your Chairman, Dave Anderson, was not only to thank James for everything he, his father, Judy his wife, and the family and firm of Stephenson have done for our Society over this past half century, yes, it covers almost two fifths of the Society's life, think of that, but also to celebrate 125 years of the Cleveland Bay Horse Society. 25 years ago my speech was mainly thanking those people and firms who had sponsored and helped us during that year of celebration.

        On this occasion I am going to thank you the Membership for your support of the Cleveland Bay horse and this Society for making it possible for it to reach its 125th Anniversary, but, and this is a very big BUT, I believe your continuing support is going to be imperative in the immediate future. Much change is afoot: the Constitution, the Management, and now the move to Harrogate.    It will all be quite a challenge.

        I ask you to raise your glasses to the Cleveland Bay Horse Society coupled with our retiring secretary, James Stephenson. Long may they both continue.


James Stephenson at KGV 2008, Lincoln

Posted 5.11.09