John’s life of horsing around

You could say that John Day was born to ride. Certainly, he’d taken to the saddle by the tender age of four, went from Pony Club to Riding Club, and was riding competitively at 11 years old.

It helped that he grew up on the family’s arable, beef and dairy farm, Godshill Park, which was home to the All Island Jumping Centre.

Sponsored by his late father Ron Day, John was trained to a high standard by Newbury-based showjumper Andy Austin, now a TV commentator for the BBC and Sky Sport.

There was never any doubt in his mind that this was what he wanted to do professionally – and over a 20-year career from the age of 28, John certainly brought home the prizes.

In fact there are four heavy suitcases now sitting on top of his wardrobes, all full to groaning – and that’s just several decades worth of winner rosettes. The rest of the house is full of trophies.

“I’ve won so many classes that I’ve lost count,” says John. “I certainly had a good innings in the sport, and enjoyed every minute of it”.

Highlights are too many to mention, but he’s particularly proud of the phenomenal results he had riding a Molton Brown-sponsored horse worth £60,000; being sponsored by the feed merchant Triple Crown, and riding for the New Forest-based international instructor Kim Clark.

At the height of his career, John was jumping three horses and had four in the stable yard, so that he could rotate them for travelling to competitions.

“Our biggest cost was the ferry fares for the 10-metre lorry we used to take all over the place – that was a fortune.”

But the extensive travelling – which on one memorable long weekend saw him win six major classes at three different events on the mainland and the Island, from Thursday to Sunday – certainly paid off.

Among his triumphs were winning the All National and the Isle of Wight Showjumper of the Year titles and countless foxhunter competitions. In the process, he also managed to qualify many horses for Horse of the Year Show at Wembley.

In later years, he also enjoyed being involved in course-building for various shows around the country.

So why did he decide 18 months ago to change direction?

“It’s undoubtedly a very tough and disciplined sport and you have to be mega-fit and of course you do get hurt. Over the years, like most riders, I’d had a collarbone injury and rib problems and at 65 I decided it was time to make a change”.

When it came to it, he didn’t have to look far to see what would replace showjumping in his life.

Crab and lobster fishing had been a long-time hobby so it was no hardship for him to take to the water as a way of earning a living, running a commercial fishing boat from Bembridge three days a week.

Along with his wife Diane he’s opened up a delightful fresh produce shop at Delysia Farm, selling his catch of the day as well as home-reared ducks, poultry and eggs, home-grown fruit and vegetables and seasonal game.

What the Days don’t produce themselves, they buy in from local producer friends – whilst their jams and preserves are expertly made by John’s amazingly busy 97 year-old mother-in-law Katy Burrell.

“We are really enjoying ourselves,” he says.  “We could go bigger with the business, but we don’t want to – we want to keep it unique, hands-on, small and personal”.

Meanwhile, horses will continue to figure in John’s life in a big way. He still has his favourites Ganzy Man and Nex M, and he and Diane hack out 2-3 times a week.

“It’s nice to do it to relax now,” he says.  “We’ve got lovely hacking country around here and the beach to go at”.

The couple also enjoy going to events at Hickstead, as invited guest spectators.

Diane is also a good horsewoman – in fact, appropriately enough, the couple met at a horse show, when Diane was working as a housekeeper to Princess Alexandra. Ultimately she moved to the Island, worked as his groom, and the couple married 24 years ago. “The best thing we ever did” according to John.

“She is a very good horsewoman” he says, “a good rider on the flat”. Which is quite some compliment, coming from the Island’s undisputed showjumping ace.