One of South Africa’s great lady trainers of the 20th century, the no-nonsense champion Jean Barnard Heming, passed away at her home in England on Friday evening.
She had been ill for some time and was 78 years old.
Jean trained some of our top horses over 30 years and the fairytale began when she and her husband arrived in South Africa from England with two yearlings, a Welsh pony colt and an Arab colt, in September 1969.
For a year they farmed in Villiers in the Orange Free State and then came up to the then Transvaal. Mrs Barnard taught riding at the Kildare Riding School at Honeydew and also competed in the show ring. She won the Elementary Dressage at the Epol Indoor Horse Show, one of the top shows in the country. In 1970 she decided that it was too difficult to make a living out of show horses and took herself to the 1970 Yearling Sales where she bought two fillies and then applied for a trainers licence.
Her licence took quite some time to come through however and in the interim her husband sold the fillies. She was given a horse, Lambeth Walk, a 5-year-old maiden, but it broke down the second time out!
Jean’s first winner – in 1971 – was a leased horse called Sportsclub, a 5-year-old which won at the Vaal by a short head.
Only nine years later she headed the list of trainers in the then Transvaal.
The next year the struggle continued with only five wins, but from then on she went from strength to strength and built her yard up to 60 horses.
Her early winners included Ballet Kick, winner of the 1973 St Leger and the 1975 Jubilee Handicap and Victors Song, winner of the 1978 UTA Handicap.
She won two Goldfields with Abeam and Galleon, the latter also the winner of the Transvaal Handicap and the Transvaal Cesarewitch.
One of her best performers had been Sir Mordaunt Milners Off The Hook who in 1976 won the Winter Stayers Handicap, the Transvaal Cesarewitch, ran second in the Durban Gold Cup and then won the 1977 Transvaal Handicap.
By the 1977/78 season she was already the fourth leading trainer in the country with 73 winners.
The following year she was third with 70 wins, 155 places and R312,240 in net stakes, the second highest amount earned by any stable in the country.
She trained some top horses over the years including Pedometer, Roland’s Song and runaway Derby winner Kwiktan.
Heming won four South African National Champion Trainer titles and 12 consecutive Highveld provincial titles during the 1970’s and 1980’s.
Jean Heming was shot three times when she went to investigate unusual noises on her farm near Viljoensdrift one evening in December 1993.
She recovered remarkably well and astounded racing officials by telephoning from her hospital bed to finalise riding plans for her horses for the following week’s meetings.