'I was allergic to horses' - How racecourse clerk David overcame the odds

Chief Executive & Clerk of the Course David Hunter said without their campsite at Fakenham Racecours

Chief Executive & Clerk of the Course David Hunter - Credit: Ian Burt

From Somerset to Fakenham via the armed forces and the Paralympics, David Hunter has seen a lot through his life, but the presence of one animal seems to link them all.

Born in Somerset in 1963, from early age horses and ponies have always been in his life as his mother loved them.

But fate saw it another way, and as he was growing up he discovered he had a serious allergy to them.

“My eyes would stream and snot ran down my face, it was just miserable,” he said.

“The mainstay behind my riding was my mother and she very sadly died when I was ten from cancer. Then about that time, I stopped riding ponies because I just wasn't enjoying it.”

At that point it looked unlikely that a career working with horses beckoned. But there was a twist.

Mr Hunter grew up knowing he wanted to follow the same path as his father after he served in the armed forces during wartime.

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He said he never had the desire to go to university when he left school. He knew he wanted to join the army, and all he needed was two A-Levels. He just scraped through with a D and an E.

He left Somerset when he was 19 and went to the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst, before being commissioned into the British Army.

While there he went down to the academy stables and sat on a horse. Miraculously, his allergy had disappeared.

David Hunter.

David Hunter joined the armed forces when he was 19, being posted across the globe. - Credit: IAN BURT

He joined up with the Yorkshire Cavalry Regiment and spent 10 years as a soldier, posted across the world in Cold War Europe in Germany, Canada and Northern Ireland where he celebrated his 21st birthday guarding HM Prison Maze.

He was also in charge of armed force stables in Cyprus. However, being posted in France was the trip that changed his life forever.

He was posted to Saumur in the Loire Valley to do a 12-month equitation course purely riding horses, of all disciplines.

“It was great fun, but it was a lot of hard work,” he said.

“We did five hours of instruction every day and rode eight horses every day.

“That really opened my eyes to how little I knew about riding, but I knew what I wanted to do, and how much more I wanted to do it.”

David Hunter, chief executive of Fakenham Racecourse. Picture: Archant

David Hunter, chief executive of Fakenham Racecourse. Picture: Archant - Credit: Archant

He left the army after 10 years to move to Norfolk as he was offered a job at the rehabilitation programme at The International League For The Protection Of Horses in Snetterton.

From here he built a name in the industry, retraining horses for local competitions in show jumping and dressage. He built contacts and heard about a job going as the clerk of Fakenham Racecourse.

With more racing taking place in the winter months, he found himself needing something else, so he applied for the role of performance manager of the British Paralympic dressage team.

Great Britain Equestrian team manager David Hunter during a photocall at Team GB House, London.

Great Britain Equestrian team manager David Hunter during a photocall at Team GB House, London. - Credit: PA

Over 15-years he took the British team all over the world to compete, including three Paralympic Games in Athens. Beijing, London, and then took the Canadian team to Rio.

“That was great. The team was undefeated in any team competition in European gold or Paralympic team,” he said.

“I was very proud of what they achieved.”

Now his focus is solely on Fakenham, both the racecourse and as a new member on the town council.

He has seen race meetings double since he became clerk, but is missing the crowd at a packed Fakenham race day.

“That atmosphere from the local people coming in, it's tight, it's busy, it's friendly and it's quirky. It has such a strong feeling of fun and you don’t get that at all racecourses, that's for sure.”

Despite not being Norfolk born, the county means so much to him.

“It fills me with pride when I go out of the county and come back over the border into Norfolk and then head towards Fakenham. It always brings a smile to my face.

“Even though I'm an import, at least my three children are Norfolk born and bred.”