In memoriam: Susan, Duchess of Richmond

  • Written By: British Dressage
  • Published: Sat, 17 Jun 2023 11:09

It is with great sadness that British Dressage has learned of the passing of our former president, Susan, Duchess of Richmond. She died peacefully with her family present, on Tuesday 13 June, at the age of 90.

Her Grace, Susan, Duchess of Richmond (pictured with Stephen Clarke and David Hunt at Goodwood House) was a loyal supporter of British dressage. Through her creativeness and drive she led the laying of the foundations at Goodwood for the rise of British dressage from a little-known sport into Olympic gold medal winners and this included introducing music to dressage within the FEI. The Duchess of Richmond was president of British Dressage from 2007-2012.

Goodwood was the shop window of dressage in the UK and attracted the very top European riders who were won over by the superb setting and hospitality of the West Sussex venue. The elegant backdrop of Goodwood House was glorious, and together with the magnificent stables and generous hospitality, created an unrivalled experience for competitors, their connections and spectators alike.

Born in 1932, Susan Monica Grenville-Grey’s connection with Goodwood began in 1949. Two years later, she married Charles Gordon-Lennox, the late 10th Duke of Richmond - a school friend of her brother’s and head of the family that has lived on, farmed and managed the Goodwood Estate since the 1690s.

When The Duchess moved to Goodwood, she bought a grey Arab, Sword of Islam, and her interest in dressage took off. Small riding club competitions and dressage courses at Goodwood led to staging the first international competition in 1973. That meeting also marked the opening of an equestrian centre at Goodwood and the presence of some of the top German riders of the time firmly laid the foundations to what was to become an important annual event.

The event grew from small beginnings with grass arenas and straw bale seating to huge spectator events with permanent arenas flanked by covered grandstands, financially underpinned by large scale sponsors such as Hermés, Toyota and Volvo.

For 21 years (1973 – 1993), Goodwood hosted international dressage competitions and many of the world’s greatest combinations of the time including Jennie Loriston-Clarke and Dutch Courage, Reiner Klimke with Ahlerich, Margit Otto-Crépin and Corlandus, and Christine Stückelberger with Granat, graced the arenas in front of Goodwood House. Goodwood staged the 1978 World Championships, where Jennie Loriston-Clarke and Dutch Courage won individual bronze, and the 1980 Alternative Olympics following the political boycott of Moscow.

Goodwood set new standards in excellence in the running of an international show with the result that the late Duke of Richmond became the first chairman of the Association of International Dressage Event Organisers. International judges eagerly sought an invitation to stay in the splendour of Goodwood House.

The Duchess’s innovative clear thinking and gentle determined approach means she leaves behind a formidable heritage, particularly in the development of British dressage.
Jane Kidd

Not only did the Goodwood championships put dressage on the map in Great Britain, several other innovations came in its wake. The biggest of these was dressage to music. The Duchess of Richmond was the driving force behind the concept, stemming from her own love of ballet dancing and dressage. It was her friendship with the late Esmé Jack, which led to this innovative event, and laid the foundations for the modern sport.

Esmé was a great exponent of riding to music, which she often incorporated when training her pupils. One of her pupils, The Duchess, developed a love of riding to music and thought riding to music in competition would be a good idea, so together with The Duke she persuaded the FEI to get their permission for Goodwood.

Together with the late Wolfgang Niggli, who later became chairman of the FEI Dressage Committee, freestyle to music was introduced into the programme at Goodwood in 1979. Over the next few years, the idea was developed so much so that when it was decided that a World Cup for dressage should take place, the qualifying events were run with a music freestyle test.

From modest beginnings, the inclusion of musical tests revolutionised the sport and became an official part of international dressage competition, culminating in iconic events such as the FEI World Cup series and crowd-pulling finales at the major championships.

Another innovation was a dressage show entirely devoted to the under-21s. This led to the National Championships for Young Riders launched at Goodwood in 1982. The following year, Goodwood started an international young riders event. These events helped to inspire young British riders and motivate them to new heights. Then a collection of young horses was persuaded to come from Germany to demonstrate their training and way of going and this led, in 1981, to the new idea of classes for young horses, assessing their potential as international competitors. Potential Competition Horse classes followed for three-, four- and five-year-olds confined to British-bred horses, which gave British breeders a standard for which to aim.

As a result of Goodwood’s stature in the dressage world, The Duchess of Richmond organised a Trainers’ Convention in 1981 with, as Jane Kidd the co-organiser said, ‘the aim of building co-operation and understanding to promote discussion and exchange of ideas among trainers so there may be a greater agreement and better knowledge of the main objectives and of the present deficiencies in British dressage’. These conventions proved such a success that in 1987, The Duchess organised a music convention. Another convention, in 1992, discussed the future of dressage in a ‘think tank’.

As well as the international dressage events, Goodwood hosted the national championships starting in 1981. These championships grew in stature over the years and the 1993 Shell Gas National Championships was the last major dressage event at Goodwood. That year, The Duke and Duchess moved out of Goodwood House in favour of their son, Charles Gordon-Lennox, The Earl of March (now the 11th Duke of Richmond) and his family. With increasing difficulty in finding large-scale sponsorship for dressage events, the family decided to ‘bow out’ while at the top and the park became the setting for a different kind of horsepower. Charles, now the 11th Duke of Richmond has transformed the estate over the past 25 years, building Festival of Speed and Goodwood Revival into global brands.

Susan Gordon-Lennox, Duchess of Richmond was famously one of the trailblazers of Britain’s organic movement, and has had a great influence on the Goodwood Estate Farm, encouraging organic farming since the 1950s when she joined the family. Goodwood Home Farm had the first 100% organically fed dairy in the country and is the largest lowland organic farm in the UK.

The Duchess of Richmond leaves behind five children, 13 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

BD Chairman Jill Day commented; “How sad I am to hear of the passing of The Duchess of Richmond. The first National Championships I ever qualified for were held at Goodwood and it was an amazing experience. The arenas in front of Goodwood House made it all the more special.

“The Goodwood stables were like no other and added to the experience. I was also lucky enough to compete at the last National Championships held there. I will never forget those early days of dressage at Goodwood and am thankful and grateful for the opportunity given to us by The Duchess.”

Jane Kidd, author of Goodwood Dressage Champions, added; "The Duchess’s innovative clear thinking and gentle determined approach means she leaves behind a formidable heritage, particularly in the development of British dressage."

The British Dressage Board and staff would like to offer sincerest condolences to The Duchess’s family and friends. She will be greatly missed by so many and we owe her a great debt of gratitude.

Her funeral service will take place on Thursday 29 June at 2pm at Chichester Cathedral.