Gary still in the driving seat

ONE of the most flamboyant and talented figures in the equestrian world is Gary Docking, who remains at the top in the carriage driving sphere after almost 27 years.

He is a self-confessed showman, having been born into the theatrical world, and describes himself as ‘passionate to the extreme about driving’ and there is no doubt he is also a perfectionist, meticulous in his work.

“I am an old-fashioned producer of carriage horses. I take as long as it needs with horses and never cut corners.

Sign up to our daily SussexWorld Today newsletter

“If you do, it is bound to to come back and hit you in the face in the ring. I don’t know the secret of success, but I do know the secret of failure is to try to please everyone. Carriage driving is still a passion for me and I will be wreathed in smiles when a four-year-old has just gone down on the bit for me for the first time.”

He started out in the sport at the age of 19 in a small yard at Liphook. Today, approaching 46, he has been based at Heyshott, near Midhurst for the last eight years and has won every championship in the book, including the accolade of producing the Show Champion at the British Driving Society Show at Smiths Lawn in Windsor five times, But he is never complacent.

“You are only as good as your next rosette and your last bank statement,” he says philosophically.

He has 15 horses and ponies in his yard at present, but will be down to 10 exhibition horses, a good number, for the 2011 showing season, as youngsters he has brought on for others over winter return to their owners.

His 2011 programme has been carefully mapped out, with 45 shows earmarked between April and September, including fairs, such as the Carriage Driving Fair at the South of England Showground on Sunday, and also lecture demonstrations around the country. He sits on the Council of both the Carriage Driving Society and the Hackney Horse Society.

But he says times have changed. “I am the last survivor from the old days of exhibition horse competition. Many remaining owners no longer have open cheque books and cannot afford new turnouts every year.

“They will revamp what they already have. I am still here because I am fortunate to have wonderful commercial sponsorship from Bailey’s Horse Feeds, and also outstanding owners, without which it would be impossible.