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Horseytalk.net Special Interview
Roland Clarke
Roland is cheeky, mischievous, romantic and best of all, full of life. He always spares time to help people. I can't wait to read his book. He's written me in as a photographer!
Fiona Rafferty
Roland Clarke was a freelance contributor to Eventing magazine for several years until ill health forced him to give up reporting the south east horse trials circuit for me. His reports were always amazingly accurate and submitted on time, plus his writing benefited from him knowing so many of the riders on the circuit. I used to live in the same area, so our paths regularly crossed while I was freelance reporting for Horse & Hound and I can honestly say I have never met a more helpful reporter. If there was ever a winner I didn’t know, Roland would be the first to go off in search of them, bringing them back for both of us to interview.
Julie Harding
He has a sprit of true helpfulness, which is one of the most important things in life. He certainly well deserved the award he was presented with by BE for his unstinting support to the sport of horse trials through his South East Eventers League and organisation of Borde Hill horse trials.
Julie Harding - Editor Eventing
Roland is an exceptionally remarkable guy in the way he has coped with MS and continued his journalism and photography and now organises an event which would be exhausting for a fully fit person.
Roland Clarke has, for many years, made a valuable contribution to the sport of eventing from both inside and outside. His recent award from British Eventing is a clear indication of how much the association which runs the sport in this country values what he has done; as a long time organiser of the Borde Hill horse trials, and also as the originator and organiser of the South East Eventers League, and the celebrations that have gone on in conjunction with the prizewinners' presentations.
Roland has also been able to stand back and take a look at the sport as a journalist, with regular reports in Eventing magazine, and has been a long-standing and enthusiastic member of the British Equestrian Writers' Association.
Alan Smith Equestrian - Correspondent, Daily Telegraph.
As BEWA's chairman until last month, I knew I could always depend upon his support, in particular for the annual awards lunch: the 2008 lunch underlined his determination to continue to do so. Though he is now in a wheelchair and unable to drive and has to depend upon others to transport him, when his original guests (and potential chauffeurs) had to cry off at the last minute, Roland was determined to come, and fortunately was able to call upon Jenny Nolan, at one time his fellow organiser of Borde Hill, to bring him. If not, I think he would have wheeled himself up to London.
Alan Smith Equestrian - Correspondent, Daily Telegraph.


For one of the South East’s top award-winning eventing writers, journalists and photographers, Roland Clarke’s life has certainly been one major event after another.
The first major event came with his christening at Highbrook Church, near Ardingly. He was called – wait for it – Ralph Roland Bickersteth Stephenson Clarke. But he changed it by deed-poll as soon as he could to Roland Rafael Clarke.
“My original name was such a mouthful. I also got tired of forever writing it out on forms and so on. I wanted something much simpler,” he says.

His father was Robert Nunn Stephenson Clarke, who worked for the family shipping company and at Lloyds, the famous worldwide insurance market that insured everything from a dancer’s legs to the Empire State Building in New York.

Roland Clarke

His mother, Juana Nidia, was the horsey member of the family. She had a horse of her own and used to ride out and also hunt regularly especially as the real horsey influence in their life, Roland’s grand-father, Sir Ralph Stephenson Clarke, was a master of the Old Surrey & Burstow Hunt.

Roland, however, was not very horsey.
“I remember my first pony, Long John Silver,” he says. “ I had him when I was about four. He was grey, naughty and slightly fat. I spent more time getting on him on one side and falling off the other side. With his co-operation, I might add.
“But I was never very good at riding. I didn’t take to it at all. To tell you the truth, I used to dread the lessons sometimes. I was more interested in shooting.”

Roland with his mother in front of Borde Hill during the horse trials in 2005 (Photo by Tony Warr)

When he was ten, he decided to give it up.
“My family were terribly upset. But funnily enough, not my grand-father, who you would have thought would have been the one more interested in me riding. All he said was, One day you’ll meet a young girl who is interested in horses and you’ll want to start riding again.”

Roland may have given up riding but he couldn’t get away from horses. When he was 17 years old he got a summer job at Hickstead working in the main arena.
“I was one of the arena party working for the course builder, Pam Curruthers.  When I first started I had to wear overalls.

Roland Clarke in Eton College uniform

But after a while I got promoted. I could wear a suit. But I still wasn’t allowed to carry the tape-measure.”

Now came another major event in Roland’s life.  In his late teens, he went to Canada to finish his A-levels.

“At the time, I wanted to be either a farmer or a journalist. I couldn’t make up my mind. When I was in Canada I even thought of joining the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
While in Canada the boy who was scared of falling off horses discovered even more dangerous activities:  white water rafting and downhill ski-ing. “I was mad. Literally. I would go from the top to the bottom as fast as I could. Straight. It was crazy,” he says.

Studies completed, back in the UK, he decided he wanted to be a journalist. He took a secretarial course, learnt to type and do shorthand and at 20-years-old ended up as a sub-editor on The Field, the country magazine.


“I spent my time editing the fishing reports and the news page. Based on my experience working  in the arena party, I wrote an article about behind-the-scenes at Hickstead. 

Then one day the assistant editor, Derek Bingham, took me with him to Tidworth Three-Day-Event, which was the British Junior team trial. That started my interest in eventing.  It got me out of the office, away from all those fishing reports.  There was also something inspiring about it. Most of the riders were about my age. I thought, I like this bunch.

“I then suggested to the editor, Wilson Stevens that I go to Canada and write about the Toronto Winter Fair, which is like the Royal Show and Horse of the Year Show combined. He said, Yes. Providing you can raise the air fare. Which I did.”

Roland Clarke the rookie photographer (taking day off horses to photograph nature)
Zara Phillips during the Windsor Three Day Event in 2004.

Two years later, another major event was taking place in Roland’s life. He had left The Field and had set up as an equine photographer.
“Things were not as developed then as they are now. I went all over the country taking photographs at almost all the big one-day events and selling the photographs to the riders. I sold photographs to everybody. Princess Anne. I liked her very much. She always queued up like everybody else. Mark Phillips, of course. Lucinda Green. All of them.

“The best photograph I think I ever took eventing was much more recently of Zara Phillips during the Windsor Three Day Event in 2004.
All the paparazzi were waiting for her to fall off at the water jump. She didn’t.  She fell off at a later fence on the course and I was the only photographer to get the picture.”

Now came another major event in Roland’s life. He decided he wanted to become a dairy farmer.
“I gave up photography. Things were changing. When we first started we converted a horse trailer into a dark room.


We used to process on site and print all our proof photographs overnight. That was no longer possible. The riders were also not as interested in buying them.  I decided I wanted to be a dairy farmer. I worked on farms in Derbyshire, Scotland, the Isle of Wight. I also became interested in organic agriculture.

“Instead of becoming a dairy farmer, I helped set up one of the first organic and bio-dynamic fruit and vegetable wholesalers in the country.  We covered the whole of the South East. The business is still going.”

So what was the next big event in Roland’s life?
You’ll never believe it.
“I started riding again. We used to store our fruit in one of the garages at my grandmother’s house. The stables were being used by a young couple.  I started having lessons. I got on this horse. A thoroughbred.  16hh. He’d been bred for show jumping.  For the first time, we clicked. It was wonderful. I could ride. I could jump. I could do cross-country.  I wasn’t falling off. I wasn’t frightened.

Zara Phillips during the Windsor Three Day Event in 2004.
Roland Clarke  & wife Joanna on wedding day

“I wanted to buy him. I asked my grand-mother if she could lend me the money, but understandably she said, You don’t like horses. I couldn’t buy him so I gave up riding. Again.”

The events in Roland’s life now became more serious and more international. He got involved in the ecology and peace movements. He took part in protest demonstrations in London, Paris and Berlin. During one protest demonstration in Paris he met his wife, Joanna, a classics & drama student. With her, he later set up a film and television production company in Brighton. It was while he was discussing a television series about horses in sport that he met Tina Gifford, the 2008 Olympic Individual Bronze medallist, and that led to the next major event in  Roland’s life.
“She said eventing needed people writing about the sport in the press.

So I started. I rang up all kinds of publications and said, Do you want a story? They said , Yes. I sent them a story. Fifteen-years later I am still writing for many of the same publications.

“It was about this time that I got to know Ian Bareham.  At the time he was running Crockstead Equestrian Centre. He’s now running Golden Cross.

I sat down with him one day in his office and we came up with the South East Eventers League, which was the first eventers league in the country and is still the most successful. And sadly with only one imitator.

Roland Clarke with brother Andrewjohn & sister Marylnn on wedding day
Roland Clarke  and Jane Perry interviewing riders at Tweseldown for Eventing and Horse & Hound respectively

Instead of having reports on just isolated events, we wanted to link a series of events building up to one big, major title and prize at the end of the season. That’s what we did.

Pippa Funnell won the main title the second year in 1996. Jo Marsh-Smith has won it a record four times.

”Having helped to set up the Eventers League, Roland next turned to reviving Borde Hill Horse Trials, which takes place on the old family estate near Haywards Heath.


“It was difficult at first,” he says. “But it’s now one of the most popular one–day events in the South-East. We attract all the big names. Tina Gifford, Pippa Funnell, William Fox-Pitt but our mainstay are the grassroots riders.”

It was for all these major events in his life – covering equine sports, setting up the South-East Eventers  League and reviving the Borde Hill Horse Trials – that Roland has just been  presented with a British Eventing Award for outstanding contributions to the sport.

But there is still one major event in the offing for Roland, who is now suffering from multiple sclerosis, that could propel him on to the international stage.

Roland receiving British Eventing Award for Outstanding Contribution from Pippa Funnell at 2008 Seahorse Ball & SEEL Awards (Photo by Don Frost Event Photographs - http://www.donfrostevents.co.uk/ )
At the moment everything is under wraps. The only clue is Horses. And only an expert writer and journalist like Roland Clarke could come up with such a best-selling . . .Oops. We’ve already said too much.
But we’re sure it will be the biggest horsey best-seller of all time.