Unsung Hero - Sheryl McGlade
She’s not one to sugar coat anything, but with decades of experience in both racing and showjumping, Sheryl McGlade is someone who many turn to for advice and tips.
Some know her as Sheryl Trumper or Sheryl Marr, and it was as the latter that she showjumped for New Zealand in trans-Tasman competitions. She’s footed it with the best and as an A grade jumper won many a class.
Sheryl also dabbled in eventing and hunting, but jumping was her first love, so it is unsurprising she prefers hurdles and steeples in the racing game.
Great mate Ann Browne knew Sheryl in showjumping circles, but it wasn’t until Sheryl moved to Cambridge, more than 20 years ago, that their friendship strengthened. “We have a lot of similarities,” says Ann. “Ever since I was a kid I was into horses and I would see her showjumping. She was a really good showjumper.”
The two are the formidable force that run the annual Jumping School at the Browne property. “Sheryl is so willing to help people and has a huge amount of knowledge.”
That’s reiterated by former jumps jockey Shelley Houston, who first met Sheryl after moving to Waikato to work for Ann and the late Ken Browne. “Sheryl has had a lot of good jumpers in her time and trained some top-class people,” said Shelley, who also used to ride for Sheryl and Roger McGlade.
“Finishing second on Karlos [for the McGlades] in the Waikato Hurdles is one of the biggest disappointments of my career. He was game as anything and a great little jumper . . . I came in with my head down, but Sheryl just called it like it was. I thought we should have won.”
Shelley, who notched more than 100 wins as a jockey, is now training in her own right. “Sheryl was so supportive when I went out on my own, sending me breakers and recommending me to others. She is so straight up – she will tell you what you can do better in such a constructive way.”
Shelley says Sheryl’s forthright honesty hides a real soft side. “She is always there to help young jockeys and trainers and happy to help anyone who needs a hand. She and Roger are always there for working bees for the jumping school too. I think it [the jumping school] should be compulsory for young jockeys – she teaches them so much.”
And it is something she really enjoys.
Sheryl grew up in Hastings, doing pony club on borrowed mounts. “You did the best on what you had,” she said. “I was pretty average on ponies but when I moved to horses I was jumping A grade by 18 or 19.”
She spent time with the legendary Eric Ropiha, a champion New Zealand thoroughbred trainer and gifted equestrian rider and coach. “He was a good friend of my father and when I was coming off ponies I went down to Woodville and spent a lot of time with him.”
Sheryl was riding for Ian Nimon and had a couple of her own when she caught the eyes of the national selectors and made two New Zealand teams to compete in Australia, riding with the likes of Harvey Wilson, Maurice Beatson, Joe Yorke and other top riders of the time.
“The first time we went, we were there for three months and went from show to show – we went to the shows who were prepared to have us and pay appearance money. Quite different to today!”
Sheryl was also in the training squad eyeing the 1972 Munich Olympic Games but, in the end, New Zealand was not represented in equestrian.
She competed with success at the likes of the Horse of the Year Show, the national horse trials for the Forest Gate Trophy, and was second in New Zealand’s first-ever three-day event which was held in Rotorua. She remembers the Rotorua event so clearly. “The steeplechase part was at the racecourse and the roads and tracks through the forestry with the cross country on a handy farm. Anton Koolman won it on Jose, I was second on Rick and Cheryl Monds was third on Limelight.”
But she decided showjumping was her pathway. “With showjumping, it is just you against yourself – you remove that human aspect and it isn’t about whether the dressage judge likes you or not.”
She continued jumping until her mid-20s, when she and Lockie Richards took up the reins at the National Equestrian Centre in Taupo. She was assistant instructor for the New Zealand Horse Society and travelled the country running courses.
After two years at the NEC, Sheryl left and went to Isola for a year, before moving to the Wairarapa to focus on instructing and racing.
“I had been dabbling in it [racing] before, but it wasn’t until I got to Tauherenikau that I got my public licence and got more serious.”
From Tauherenikau, Sheryl produced Just Jojo to become the first mare in around 70-odd years to win the Grand National Steeplechase. That was in 1996 and in the same season Sheryl won the Great Northern Hurdles with Clem, who at 28 is still “hale and hearty” and in her paddock at home.
Sheryl moved to Cambridge in 1999, where she and Roger remain today, Sheryl has had 99 wins in hurdles and steeplechases, with a grand total of 153 victories.
She would have loved Just JoJo’s son Karlos to emulate her Grand National Steeplechase win but he had to settle for a second and a third in his two starts. He too is still at home.
Sheryl and Roger also open their home and their paddocks to South Island trainers who head north. “They do the same for us down there,” she says, in her usual no-nonsense manner.
“We still have a licence but we didn’t race anything last season. We have got three horses at home though who should be in work.” They also have shares in a couple of horses racing with friends Karen and John Parsons in the South Island.
Meanwhile, others continue to benefit from her extensive knowledge. “I have always made a point of teaching (jumpers) properly. I get a lot of satisfaction at the Jumping School that we run. Everyone can always learn something – the moment you think you know it all you may as well give up!”
At the Jumping School she starts them over logs and grids before getting them to the next stage. “It is all geared toward the track.”
She has no inclination to give up on the annual gathering, that benefits so many and gives some of the future stars of the industry – both two and four legged – a healthy start to it all.