I first met George Tapner in 1993 when the then secretary of Hawkesbury Horse Trials was unexpectedly re-locating and I was to become secretary overnight. After racing through a huge amount of information she added “Oh and you MUST get the Tapners, George is a whizz with money and organising and Jean does everything else” – so began my friendship with the wonderful Tapner family.
I always got the impression that George and Jean were slightly confused to find their completely non-horsey suburban selves the parents of horse mad Paul. Despite not knowing anything much about horses, they first got him lessons, then a pony, moved to 5 acres in Annangrove and by the time I met them, had become stalwarts of the Dural Pony Club. Paul was just about out of pony club then and into the eventing scene where he was to become a star in the not too distant future.
George was indeed a whizz with both money and organisation but more importantly he was a lovely, gentle man who never lost his cool even in the most vexed situations. He became HHTA treasurer and Jean put her mind to starting up a canteen in a dilapidated caravan, scouring service stations in the days before Aldi to find the cheapest slabs of soft drink to make that extra 10 cents for the club. George was immensely proud of Paul and supported him in every way – when Paul had an idea for portable yards to be rented out at events, George helped finance the venture and he was usually the one at the events overseeing the building and dismantling the yards before and after events at places like Scone with 2 or 3 strong young men he hired from Centrelink.
By this time George had retired from his “proper” job and was now available to be the public face of HHTA as the rest of us still had to earn a living. And it was through George that the club became a force to be reckoned with despite the minor handicap of not having a permanent base, sharing two sets of jumps and portable dressage arenas with three other clubs and having our cross country jumps in a public, shared space where they were once burnt down as part of a fire hazard reduction. It was George’s job to cajole affordable rates for everything we needed to hire, to persuade sponsors to provide prizes and to negotiate the use of all the necessary facilities. The peak of our prowess was running 320 horses over one weekend in the days before email, laptops or mobiles and as the team were having a quiet drink in a state of total exhaustion, George started packing up as he and Paul were driving down to the snow for a week. At this stage George was well in his 70s and as Paul had ridden three horses that weekend, my bet is George did most of the driving.
Nothing was too much trouble for George and people reacted to him in the same way, he seemingly effortlessly managed to turn our gaping black hole of debt into a healthy nest egg over the next few years so we were able to run bigger and better events. When the race-course gave us notice of their extension of the finishing straight and thus removed our access to the cross country course for a long period, it seemed sensible to wind up HHTA. George managed to distribute the majority of our funds to pony clubs, Kellyville Riding Club and RDA and our equipment was similarly divided up among local clubs, however no-one wanted Jean’s caravan even after we had done it up.
George had a long and fulfilling life, leaving all of us who were lucky enough to know him better people for having known him. The world would be a much happier place if there were more people like George Tapner in it.
By Marguerite McKeown