‘I worshipped the ground she walked on'
Horse & Hound|July 22, 2021
It’s easy to feel isolated in the horseworld, and many pros turn to a mentor for guidance. Kate Johnson speaks to those who have reaped the benefits
Kate Johnson

ALICE PLUNKETT, racing broadcaster and the only woman to have ridden around Badminton and the Grand National, recalls a moment at the races that summed up the effect of her mentor.

“Clare Balding said to me, ‘Why are you still riding? You should be totally focused now on the broadcasting as there are some great opportunities for you.’ Months later I met her straight after I finished my cross-country round at Badminton and was absolutely buzzing and declared, ‘That is why I am still riding!’ Simon made it possible for me to be riding at that level”.

That was Simon Lawrance, also master of the Heythrop hunt, counsellor for the Samaritans and trainer for event riders. Alice was in her late twenties, knew how easy it is for riders to get “bogged down in the minutiae of managing horses”, and realised she needed help to compete at the highest level. So she began working with Simon, keeping three top horses with him.

“He life-coached me, and supported me psychologically, and with the management of the horses – they looked and felt incredible – and made it possible for me to expand my broadcasting career and work towards the big three events: Badminton, Burghley and Bramham.”

Why did it work so well?

“Simon has a clear way of looking at things, and taught me about playing to my strengths – I could muck out five horses but I can also talk about horse racing, so better to develop that side of it – and covering my weaknesses,” Alice says.

Simon was a role model in the way he conducted himself; he gave Alice confidence, structure, exceptional riding coaching and sound advice, often in a chat over coffee in the tack room or driving to events. He held her to account too, entirely without judgement. If Alice had been working away too much, for example, he’d remind her she needed to be jumping her horses at 6am too.

“Outside of my family he’s the person I trust the most,” she says. “I had someone totally at my back, with my 100% best interests.”

So much so that when she decided to stop competing, “he said, ‘This is the bravest thing you’ll do, it’s much harder than carrying on,’ which is quite a thing to say to your client”.

His positive contribution was immense. Could she do with him in her life permanently?

“He’s godfather to one of my children!” she laughs.

LEADING showing producer Katie Jerram-Hunnable hasn’t enlisted her mentor for long-term spiritual guidance, but she does have equally strong feelings about Ruth McMullen, saying: “I worshipped the ground she walked on. You hang on their every word and if you don’t, they’re not the right mentor.”

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