Rainy Day at Malvern
by Betty Finke
We never realize how much we take for granted in this life until something happens that turns the world upside down. Something so drastic that from one moment to the next, nothing is the way it was before.
Such a thing happened on the second day of the British Nationals at Malvern this year, when Ryan Jones, one of the finest trainers and handlers, suffered a fatal heart attack on the evening of the second day. He was just returning from the breeders’ party, where he been celebrating a successful day of showing with friends. It happened too fast for anything to be done about it. He was gone, leaving a huge Ryan-shaped hole in the world and throwing the Arabian horse community into a collective state of shock.
It still seems hard to believe. He was only 43 years old. When I saw the news on Facebook early in the morning, while preparing to leave for the showground, I was unable to process it properly. There had to be a mistake. I’d seen him just yesterday, winning the last championship of the day. But the messages of grief and sympathy that kept pouring in by the second left little room fo r doubt. It was true. Incomprehensible but true.
As a result, the Arab Horse Society made the unprecedented decision to cancel the third day of the show. It was impossible to continue. Virtually everyone involved in the show had known Ryan for years, not to mention that both Ryan and his brother Rod were scheduled to show in all the upcoming halter classes. Impossible in either case. And no, there was no outcry at the decision, which in itself tells you a lot about Ryan and the esteem in which he was held.
So on what should have been the busiest day of the show, exhibitors were quietly loading up their horses and departing, while Ryan’s friends and associates gathered to share memories and tears, and the sky above the showground poured down rain as if sharing in the grief of the people below.
It wasn’t just the British Arabian community that grieved his passing. Ryan was valued as a trainer, handler, and consultant across the world, working closely with stud farms in the Middle East, especially in Saudi Arabia. We all remember him in his iconic white suit, showing Al Muawd Stud’s glorious Polish mare Norma to her numerous victories several years ago.
He was a horseman from childhood, born into the industry. I first met the Jones family back in the 1980s, when they were just setting out on their path to becoming one of the foremost families of breeders and trainers in Britain. Ryan and his younger brother Rod were just small boys then, but already involved in handling the horses. I remember setting up a photo at the farm in 1991 with four generations of mares—proud parents Emrys and Sue Jones holding the old foundation mare Berenice and her daughter Nareena, while 15-year-old Ryan had Nareena’s daughter Sharene, and Rod the filly Syrene. Two families together, two-legged and four-legged, not something you see every day. Over nearly 30 years, I have seen those two young boys grow into two of the finest handlers in the business and their own children taking their first steps into the world of equestrian showing.
And from one day to the next, one of them is gone.
No wonder even the skies wept.
Rest in peace, Ryan. You may be gone, but you’ll never be forgotten.