A competitive streak and desire to try new things has taken Joy Wheatcroft from gymkhanas to the CPSA World Championships, with much in between
Joy Wheatcroft was introduced to game shooting later in life, when she returned to Leicestershire, and the sport has now become her way of life.
Sporting Diana Sarah Henderson, the garden designer and eldest daughter of six-times National Hunt champion trainer Nicky Henderson has riding and the countryside in her blood.
A stalwart of the Pytchley and accomplished team chaser, Sporting Diana Lydia Cope leads an equestrian life to the full – with nothing keeping her from the saddle
SPORTING DIANA JOY WHEATCROFT
Bananas were still scarce in the early post-war years and, being one of seven children, sibling rivalry and a taste for bananas instilled an early but strong competitive urge that was nurtured further by a childhood immersed in the fringes of F1 motor racing. My earliest and happiest childhood memories were of endless days spent exploring our large paddock, but the pride in my jam jar full of worms evaporated in an instant when my father produced our first pony.
I learned to ride the hard way but I learned quickly, progressing from gymkhanas to the hunting field, showjumping to eventing, always driven by that urge to improve and win. My parents were not overly happy about the prospect of me racing point-to-point or obtaining a competitive motor-racing licence, so when I embarked on learning to fly I kept quiet until – mission accomplished.
I shared a passionate love of the outdoors, of animals and of adventure with the man I was to marry. When he inherited an isolated island in Shetland, complete with a baronial mansion, we were eager to make it our home. We raised 1,000 head of sheep, started a salmon farm and, with the help of one of the most consistent, championship-winning stallions of his time, I initiated a Shetland Pony stud farm. We opened the hall to the public and hosted summer banquets, ferrying visitors to and from the island by boat to augment our income.
It was not always the romantic idyll. Long, dark winter nights, gales that lashed the sea against the rocks for days on end often meant enforced isolation. Out of necessity, I learned to handle the boats to get supplies from the mainland and to crank the generators into life for electricity, to cut peats for fuel and to assist with lambing. We improvised, persevered and learned a resilience we didn’t know we had and that has stayed with me to this day and pushed me forward during my darkest days. Regrettably, our marriage didn’t survive but the adventures we shared and the two lovely daughters we raised will always bind us together and he remains my dearest friend.
I returned to Leicestershire and rather late in life my partner, Charles, introduced me to game shooting, initially as his loader. Sadly, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer and I inherited his remaining shoot days at some of the most prestigious estates in the country. It was everything I loved. The tradition, the etiquette, the camaraderie and the opportunity to travel to some of the most amazing places that I would never have discovered otherwise. Even after his death, Charles has continued to be my biggest inspiration in life. He taught me to pursue my dreams, goals and ambitions despite setbacks along the way. I continually find inspiration in others, from all walks of life, who have this same passion and enthusiasm for life, irrespective of age.
I still enjoy my shooting, spending summer weekends away on simulated game days and organised events, exploring the countryside and staying at village pubs. However, I wanted a bigger challenge. My journey into competitive shooting came only recently but seemed a natural progression. During recovery from a hip replacement at the end of last year and with increasing health concerns, I was on a mission to become the best I was capable of being. I had received some excellent initial instruction from Nick Hollick and his team at Honesberie and then in ex-World Champion Ed Solomons I have found a fantastic coach who I relate to totally.
My gun was made for me in Italy by Rizzini, who have remained hugely supportive. It has been an incredible journey with some depressing lows and amazing highs, culminating in my recent win of the Leicestershire & Rutland County Ladies Championship and selection to the county team, and competing at this year’s CPSA World Championship.
Shooting is an all encompassing sport, regardless of gender or age and with so many different disciplines I just cannot see a time when it will cease to excite me. It has become my way of life, I respect it enormously and am truly grateful for everything it has rewarded me with and the life-long friends it has given me.