The Walkie Talkie / Joannah Hanlan-Blackwell / Strikingfaces Blog
For three days, the Rathbones East Ring at the New Forest Show is a spectacle to behold!
From the Heavy Horse Musical Drive, to the frantic pony club races, the Grand Parade of livestock, the Old Time Farming Parade – and many other exhibitions of excellence, there is something for everyone to see and enjoy.
And how, you may ask, do these events in the Rathbones East Ring run so smoothly with such military precision timing, and how do the stewards manage to get all of the competitors, into the ring at the time ?
This enormous challenge is managed by Joannah Halnan-Blackwell, who can be seen with walkie talkie in hand, always beautifully dressed and sporting one of her many stunning hats. Jo’s task is monumental – there are 12 or more classes each day and she has to make sure that all competitors are ready, that all trophies and rosettes are present and correct, ensure that the stewards know what they are doing, who the judges are, meeting the sponsors, and record how many entries are in each class and, most importantly, making sure the commentators have all of the information they need. And there are many, many other tasks involved to ensure that the Show runs like clockwork so it’s no wonder that Jo’s day begins at 7am!
“It’s all about keeping people aware of what is going on” says Jo, “ A bit of a juggle at times but somehow we get through it all and thank goodness for walkie talkies !”
As a member of the Horse Committee, Jo attends meetings throughout the year. All sorts of matters relating to the New Forest Show and the horse classes are discussed and the members are committed to working towards giving the competitors and spectators the best experience possible during the three days of the show.
Jo first went to the New Forest Show when she was 12, and as a teenager, she was competing in the show jumping and showing classes. As she admits, “I was quite a bonkers rider and didn’t have any fear – I loved hunter trials, eventing, team chasing and even side-saddle, Following a serious riding accident 30 years ago, I was told that I should never ride again so I began driving and then scurry driving with my 42” Shetland ponies which led to a new challenge and many, many happy memories.”
In the mid 1990’s Jo became a judge for the British Driving Society which was a great honour, and until 2018 she was a member of the British Driving Society’s Council.
In 2011 Jo was appointed as steward to the North Ring and in 2014 she was to be seen in the East Ring – a huge accolade – and responsibility ! Her favourite class is the driving classes “I love watching the hunters as I used to show them and, having once had a coloured horse I really enjoy the ridden coloured horse classes – aren’t I lucky that I’m in pole position to watch these incredible horses!”
If you see a very elegant lady being chased by Shaun the Sheep around the main arena – that will be Jo ! Whenever he comes into the ring he always looks for her, “I don’t know who he is (his identity is top secret) but we’ve had some really funny chases around the ring – much to the delight of the crowd. Happily, last year I got my own back by spraying him with water!”
What is always apparent to the onlooker is the great camaraderie she has with the judges, commentators and stewards. In the commentary box perched high above the show ground, Jo and her colleagues, all of whom are experts in the equine field, frequently discuss the competitors. And their collective enthusiasm for each and every class reflects their passion for horses.
Now retired from work, and the British Driving Society, Jo just loves to involve herself with the New Forest Show.
“The Show enables me to continue to be involved with my life long passion, of horses. I am a Hampshire girl through and through, and every year I thoroughly enjoy the three show days in July working alongside the 500 volunteers who all work together to create such a traditional and unique Show.”