Frances Youngs

By: Horse Deals

Frances Youngs
Words by Margaret Shaw Pictures by Real Time Imaging and Margaret Shaw

Showing arena controller

Horse Deals goes behind the scenes and meets the people who really make equestrianism tick.
After being truly bitten by the equestrian bug, Frances Youngs wanted to work with horses. She qualified as a BHS Assistant Instructor and went to work at Pinnocks Wood in Berkshire.
It was there that Frances met Eileen Law and changed jobs to ride Eileen’s show horses, with qualifying for the Royal International the first highlight. Frances worked for Eileen for 18 years and because her employer ran Taplow Show, it was a natural progression to become involved in the organisation.
When a back injury forced her out of riding, Frances became heavily involved with stewarding. Her first offers came from Bucks and Herts County Shows.
"It was great getting back into the ring," says Frances, who met her husband, John, an international show jumping judge, 18 years ago at an unaffiliated show. "Funnily enough, John had judged at Taplow, but we’d never met."
John was involved at Hickstead and suggested Frances came there as a steward.
"I did the smaller classes first, which proved quite a task," recalls Frances, who made the trek down to the River Lawn with a big box of numbers and all rosettes.
She then multi-tasked, giving out numbers, stewarding classes, writing out results and organising the presentations.
Her efforts didn’t go unnoticed. Nick Brooks-Ward asked her to officiate at Royal Windsor, where she was the first female ring steward. Then in 1994, Frances became a judges’ liaison steward at HOYS, at that time still held at Wembley.
The show then moved to its current location and Frances climbed steadily up the ladder. After stewarding for three years, she was promoted to arena controller for showing’s Caldene Arena.
This most important of posts involves the total management of the arena throughout the day. In preparation for a 7am start, Frances and her assistant, Linda Berry, need to make sure all the infrastructure is in place, so they start their duties by six.
"Breakfast’s taken on the hoof," laughs Frances.
The official handover of the arena after early morning exercising takes place just 10 minutes before the start of the first class.
"That doesn’t leave a lot of time to make sure the going’s perfect, so we liaise with the ground staff the day before," says Frances, who considers starting on time the most important thing of all.

"We have no chance of catching up, so it’s critical that we’re ready to go at the allotted time," she explains.
Behind the scenes, Frances and her judges’ liaison steward, Wendy Brooks, ensure judges and stewards are in the right place at the right time, and that the sponsors’ area is ready.
"The main aim is background co-ordination," says Frances, who ensures call-ups for the next class go out over the stable loudspeakers.
In the ring, Frances is responsible for the presentation of prizes, organising photographers and making sure sponsors are in place to give out awards. She also needs nimble feet.
"Horses and ponies are unpredictable creatures and I’ve had to sidestep a few times," she explains.
Frances is never happy to just do one job at a time, so while the presentations of one class are taking place, she’s using the eyes in the back of her head to check that the next is ready to come in.
Background music, too, comes under Frances’s brief.
"I try to find a nice balance of music. I’ve sourced everything from good old-fashioned tunes for traditional classes to Disney songs for the children. During the class, we use quiet music and then build it up for the presentations. We also lift the tempo during the downtime and changeovers," says Frances.
While the Caldene Arena is a hive of activity throughout the show, the pace doesn’t slacken much for Frances after HOYS.
"Grandstand Media, the show organiser, is very proactive in consultation, and we have lots of meetings," says Frances.
The first pre-show get-together is in July. At this meeting, there is discussion about location of rings, maps are produced and access for ambulance and emergency services highlighted.
"When you get involved in these roles, you have to look at the wider picture. The showing ring’s very much an integral part of the organisation and we’re consulted on a regular basis, while comments and feedback are invited," says Frances.
A meeting is held at the start of HOYS to make sure everything is in place, daily get-togethers ensure the smooth running, and the debrief is usually in November.
"It’s hard work, quite pressurised and long hours, but I absolutely love it. I wouldn’t swap roles with anyone," adds Frances.


When Frances Youngs threw a tantrum after being asked to dismount from the donkey following her first riding experience on Rhyl beach at the age of three, the writing was on the wall for her parents.
After learning the ropes at her local riding school, Frances became the proud owner of Tommy Tucker, the ideal "happy hacker".
Frances then progressed to Good As Gold. This mare lived up to her name, competing in everything from gymkhanas to showing, and eventing for the Pendle Forest Pony Club branch.
Good As Gold conveniently grew overheight, so Frances took her into senior ranks, where they were successful in show jumping classes.
But it is as a calm, authoritative stewarding presence that Frances has made her mark and she now acts the showing arena controller at HOYS.