Paula Sykes — Pioneering Woman Groom in International Show Jumping

I wrote an obituary for Paula Sykes, whose riding school in Cringleford, Norwich, I attended. Paula was an incredible character who was showjumper Pat Smythe’s right-hand woman. You can read the full text at Medium.

Pauline Phyllis Betty Sykes, who died in Costessey, Norfolk on her 88th birthday on 15 September 2017, was one of the first girl grooms in international equestrian competition. As the right-hand woman of 1950s showjumping superstar Pat Smythe, “Paul” or “Paula” (never Pauline) cared for Smythe’s champions Tosca, Prince Hal and Flanagan not just at the showjumper’s home yard in Miserden, Gloucestershire, but on the road when international equestrian transport involved days of travel by rail or packing the horses into crates on ship decks and crossing the Atlantic in winter gales. She slept in railway wagons alongside the horses on journeys to and from destinations like Sicily or cold war Berlin, on one occasion having to melt ice for her charges when the train was delayed at the snow-bound Italian frontier. She carried a knife to defend herself after an incident in an underground marshalling yard in Turin when a man tried to break into her wagon and was still clinging to the door as the train moved off. In her memoirs, Smythe praised Sykes as “a genius” who “cared for horses as children” and stressed the hardships of travelling and sleeping in a draughty horsebox, negotiating at showgrounds in four different languages and packing everything from crockery to campbeds and spare tack (Smythe’s Olympic bronze-medallist Flanagan once ate his own martingale shortly before entering the ring).

Published by Susanna Forrest

Writer Amazons of Paris, The Age of the Horse and If Wishes Were Horses.

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1 Comment

  1. What a wonderful tribute to an unsung hero. People who work ‘behind the scenes’ with top horses should get a lot more credit for their devotion and contribution to sporting success.

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