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In memoriam: Delia Cunningham

last updated on June 01, 2017 18:14

In memoriam: Delia Cunningham

British Dressage is very sad to learn of the passing of Delia Cunningham yesterday on her 95th birthday. Delia has been involved in equestrianism in a variety of roles for over eight decades and influenced so many riders across the disciplines. She was one of the sport’s true characters and never held back on giving an opinion, offering advice and telling it as it was.

From a hunting family, Delia developed an interest in dressage after witnessing the competition at the 1948 London Olympics. Dressage gave her the opportunity to combine her other passion, music and she was a real pioneer in freestyle dressage.
She constantly sought out knowledge and would readily change her trainers just to broaden her experience of different systems. German, Dutch, Scandinavian, French, Portugese…all influenced her training and helped her to arrive at her unique style. Someone said of Delia; “…a firm believer in learning whatever she can from anyone. Her mind is always open to new ideas and though her knowledge is deep and reasoned, her opinions do not lack flexibility.”

Her first real dressage horse ‘Grane’ won the Elementary Championship in the 1960’s but it wasn’t until the arrival of Lord Randolph that she got the chance to represent Britain in international competition. Delphorrie, a full thoroughbred, was always one of her favourite horses but it was Master Doruto who gave her the most successes. She competed him right up to 1997 and retired after the Addington CDI when he was 18, and she was 75. 

In 1984, she had a double hip replacement but returned to the saddle just four months after.

A BD Medal of Honour holder, Delia also was a judge and quickly rose up the ranks to list 1 status and retired in 2011, aged 89. She also was an active owner, including being in a syndicate which owned horses for eventer William Fox-Pitt.

However, her real interest was always in training, whether it was her own horse or helping others to train theirs. And she loved to help riders from all backgrounds, abilities and ages. In an interview in Dressage Review, she cited 18 years of success with the Grafton Pony Club event team as her proudest achievement; far out weighing any of her own riding accolades or national titles. This was nature of this special lady.

Just a few weeks ago Delia was spotted at Addington Manor proudly mentoring her pupils Owen Cooper and Katie Richards and as ever, offering her advice and opinion on how to improve.

The British Dressage Board and staff would like to offer condolences to Delia’s friends and family; her loss will be felt by a number in the sport. Any funeral/memorial details will be published when available.