Billy the King

Ireland's Billy Twomey enjoyed an amazing run of success at the 2016 BHS Royal International Horse Show, including a win in the Longines BHS King George V Gold Cup. Victoria Goff spoke to him about his golden run.


Can there be any better feeling for a sportsman than hitting one of those golden runs of success, when you can do nothing wrong, when the wins just keep on coming? That was the case for Ireland’s Billy Twomey last summer at the Longines Royal International Horse Show when he picked up an incredible four international victories in the space of four days, including the €200,000 Longines King George V Gold Cup. “There is a lot to be said for times when you’ve got your tail up and are full of confidence,” said Billy after his King George win.

What was more remarkable was that he’d also been crowned leading rider of the show at Dublin the week before his Hickstead triumph, with two seconds in international speed classes and a win in the Speed Derby. Twelve months on and he’s more philosophical about that extraordinary purple patch last summer. “It’s happened to me a few times in the past, at the Belfast International Horse Show one year I was first or second in every class. Sometimes you get a run of form like that. The most obvious thing is that it helps your confidence levels knowing you can go in there and win.”

It was Billy’s first victory in the Longines King George V Gold Cup, making him the first Irishman to lift the famous gold trophy since Kevin Babington in 2003. The feature Grand Prix saw 13 riders go clear in the first round, with Billy having the enviable last draw. Keeping a cool head, he was able to shave almost half a second off Wout-Jan Van Der Schans’ leading time, despite an awkward moment when his foot somehow got stuck in the loop of his reins. Incredibly, Billy’s chestnut mare Lizziemary had never set foot in the International Arena before her victory, but he knew it would suit her. “Ordinarily, horses need to know that arena, but she’s really brave and has a big rangy gallop that covers the ground, so it suits her,” he said after his win.  

It was a class he’d always wanted to add to his CV. “It’s very special. It’s one of those historic classes that have been around for more than 100 years, and a lot of great riders have won it in the past. Only the best riders in the world are eligible to compete at the show, and I’m fortunate it all came together for me on the day,” says the Cork-born rider, who turned 40 this year.  

Billy describes his winning horse as ‘a real chestnut mare’ – she’s quirky, but incredibly talented. “She’s extremely competitive, she’s always looking for her turns and for her next fence, ready to help you,” he says of the 11-year-old mare, who has since been sold to the States. “She has a lot of blood and lot of energy, everything she does she does quickly.” Emma-Jo Slater had originally produced Lizziemary, before Billy got offered the ride. “A lot of my good horses have come from Kim Barzilay, where Tinka’s Serenade came from, and Kim sent Lizziemary on to me.”

His other three international wins at this show last year were the Bunn Leisure Salver with Diaghilev, plus the British Speed Classic and the Bunn Leisure Vase with Thomas. But it wasn’t just at the Longines Royal International Horse Show where Billy picked up prizemoney, he was also in the ribbons at the Hickstead Derby Meeting, winning the Tom Hudson Derby Trophy with Thomas and finishing runner-up in the Derby itself with Diaghilev. “Hickstead has always been a good place for me, ever since I was in Young Riders, though I could do with a bit more luck in the Derby – I’ve been second five times!” he says, somewhat wryly.

Two four-fault rounds with the 14-year-old bay gelding Diaghilev have seen Billy take the Derby runner-up spot for the past two years, yet a win in Hickstead’s legendary class still eludes them. The horse boasts an impressive Derby record, winning Hamburg’s version last summer, and you wouldn’t be surprised to see the pair finally conquer the Al Shira’aa Derby course at Hickstead. What’s unusual about Diaghilev – these days at least – is that he’s as at home jumping over Derby fences as he is in Grand Prix classes or five-star Nations Cups. In addition to his run of success at Hickstead last summer, Billy and Diaghilev produced a clear and a four-fault round in the FEI Nations Cup of Great Britain, helping Ireland to a very close second place behind Germany.

“He’s a very versatile horse and so brave, he’s not bothered by water, ditches or anything. He’s got a lot of blood too so he doesn’t get tired and has a lot of energy,” says Billy, who is keen to disprove the theory that you need to have a specialist horse to do a Derby. “In the 1970s and 1980s, all the best Grand Prix horses would also jump in the Derby, it was just a case of getting their eye in over a few Derby fences beforehand. Nowadays there’s this idea that a good Derby horse wouldn’t be able to jump a Grand Prix, but that’s not the case. I think people can get a bit precious about it.”

Billy hails from a very horsey family - his mother ran a riding school near Cork, his uncle Kelvin was a National Hunt trainer, his aunt was a showjumping trainer and his grandmother officiated at major shows. He won the 128cms championship at Dublin and worked his way up the levels in showjumping, before making the move on to horses. A stint in Holland to train with Albert Voorn was followed by a move to England, and from there the teenage Billy landed a job as stable jockey to none other than Michael Whitaker. “Michael is a brilliant teacher and I can't put a value on the experience I gained with him,” he says.

He later set up a yard of his own with his partner Joanne, now his wife, initially in Leicestershire and then in Nantwich in Cheshire. He has enjoyed plenty of international success, with top horses including Luidam, Je T'Aime Flamenco, Tinka’s Serenade and Romanov, and has competed at two European Championships, two FEI World Cup Finals, two FEI World Equestrian Games and represented Ireland as an individual at the London Olympics.

In 2011, the Twomey family moved to a new base in Nottinghamshire, and he has spent the years since crafting the house and yard into a stunning family home and top-class training facility. “We’ve got 20 stables there, and I also have my own grass jumping arena with various Hickstead-style fences set up, which I’m lucky to be able to train over,” he says.

Billy has been competing at the highest levels for the best part of two decades, travelling to shows all over the world, but he always loves coming to Hickstead because his wife Joanne and their three children, Lily, Evie and George, are able to join him. “Last year there was me, three kids and three dogs all sleeping in a campervan, and I kept being woken up at 5am by dogs barking, but I wouldn’t have changed a thing. It’s great to have the kids and Joanne here to support me, I’m usually competing all over the world so I was really proud they were there to watch me win the King George.”

And while he might have to wait a few years to have quite so many international wins all in the space of a week at Hickstead, it’s a place he loves coming to. “The Bunn family is great, and the arena is phenomenal, it’s one of the best four in the world: Calgary, Aachen, Dublin and Hickstead.” High praise indeed.


This article first appeared in July 2017. 


Harriet Nuttall Q&A

Showjumper Harriet Nuttall has an extraordinary record at Hickstead, having won the Science Supplements Speed Derby twice, the Science Supplements BHS Queen Elizabeth II Cup and the Science Supplements All England Grand Prix - plus finishing runner-up three times in the Al Shira'aa Derby. Alex Irwin caught up with her to find out more about what makes her tick. 

Read more


Holly Smith Q&A

Alex Irwin caught up with Hickstead star Holly Smith at the Science Supplements All England Jumping Championships 

Read more


The unstoppable Irish

Victoria Goff looks back at Ireland's stunning win in the 2018 Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup of Great Britain, and goes back into the history books to remember the other memorable Irish wins at Hickstead 

Read more


William’s fabulous four

William Funnell joined the elite band of four-time winners of the Hickstead Derby last summer. Victoria Goff spoke to him about what it means to join the likes of Harvey Smith, Eddie Macken and brothers John and Michael Whitaker. 

Read more


Top Speed

We take a look back over the history of the British Speed Derby. 

By Victoria Goff

Read more


Five of the best

Five riders share the record of having four wins in the Hickstead Derby. Victoria Goff takes a look through the archives to relive these legendary performances. 

Read more


Coming of age

A few days before his 21st birthday, James Whitaker scored his first major Hickstead win. Victoria Goff caught up with him ahead of the 2019 Longines Royal International Horse Show. 

Read more


A Platinum President

The BHS President Martin Clunes is a regular visitor to Hickstead. Victoria Goff finds out more about his role at the British Horse Society, and why he loves coming to our shows 

Read more


10 magical showing moments

We take a look back over some of the standout showing moments from the 2017 season 

Read more


Miss Consistent

Harriet Nuttall proved she's no Hickstead bridesmaid, when adding yet another major title to her CV last summer. Victoria Goff caught up with the reigning Queen Elizabeth II Cup winner 

Read more


Perfect Timing

Paul Tapner talks to Hickstead Press Officer Victoria Goff about his first win in the MS Amlin Eventers' Challenge

Read more


Fiesta Time

Brazil had an extraordinary run of form at last year's Longines Royal International Horse Show. Victoria Goff finds out more. 

Read more


Worth the wait

Victoria Goff describes the wait Nigel Coupe had before he finally become the Al Shira'aa Derby Champion in 2017. 

Read more


Doing it for Ella

Hickstead's press officer Victoria Goff caught up with Matthew Sampson, the winner of the Bunn Leisure Speed Derby 

Read more


Race against time

Victoria Goff takes a look back at some of the famous Hickstead Derby jump-offs that have taken place over the years. 

Read more


A New Era

Victoria Goff finds out more about Al Shira'aa, the title sponsors of the Hickstead Derby 

Read more


Q&A with Georgie Strang

Next week sees one of the UK’s largest horse shows open their gates for the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ of Great Britain at the BHS Royal International Horse Show. We caught up with one of the MS Amlin Eventers' Challenge competitors, Georgie Strang, and found out how she’s feeling about returning to Hickstead for her second shot at the title…

Read more


12 moments we loved at this year’s Al Shira’aa Hickstead Derby Meeting

The Al Shira’aa Derby drew our June fixture to a close, and what a way to round off four fabulous sunny days of showjumping and showing. We take a look back at some of the best moments of this year’s show.

Read more


#RoadToHickstead contenders reveal...

We ask some of our leading Al Shira'aa Derby contenders some killer questions.

Read more


Harriet and Nigel go head-to-head

Two of the main Al Shira'aa Hickstead Derby contenders, Harriet Nuttall and Nigel Coupe, discuss this year's challenge.

Read more


Hickstead Q&A - Hamad Ali Al Kirbi

UAE rider Hamad Ali Al Kirbi made his Hickstead debut last summer when he competed at the Al Shira'aa Hickstead Derby Meeting. We caught up with him ahead of this year's show. 

Read more


Can you spot our Mystery Guests?

We're very busy preparing the International Arena ahead of this year's Al Shira'aa Hickstead Derby Meeting CSI4*, and with spring being somewhat late to arrive this year we've had to ask some special guests to join our Ground Crew! 

Read more


Billy the King

Ireland's Billy Twomey enjoyed an amazing run of success at the 2016 BHS Royal International Horse Show, including a win in the Longines BHS King George V Gold Cup. Victoria Goff spoke to him about his golden run.

Read more


A home from home

Hickstead is very familiar stomping ground for David Simpson, the Queen Elizabeth II Cup winner in 2016. Victoria Goff spoke to him about winning on 'home territory'. 

Read more


The One to Watch

In the run up to the 2017 Longines Royal International Horse Show, Hickstead Press Officer Victoria Goff caught up with Amlin Plus Eventers' Challenge winner Esib Power.  

Read more


The nation's favourites

Earlier this year, we asked you to vote for your favourite Derby-winning horses. Victoria Spicer counts down your top 10. 

Read more


An unforgettable Adventure

Adventure De Kannan is one of the most successful Hickstead horses of recent times. Victoria Goff looks back at the remarkable career of the one-eyed wonder horse

Read more


William Whitaker: How to win the Derby

The 2016 Hickstead Derby winner William Whitaker shares his winning formula! 

Read more


William Whitaker: Advice for Hickstead newcomers

If you haven't ridden at the All England Jumping Course before, reigning Hickstead Derby champion William Whitaker shares his insights into competing here.

Read more


William Whitaker: The perfect warm-up

The current Hickstead Derby champion William Whitaker explains how to nail your warm-up routine, both at home and at competitions. 

Read more


William Whitaker: Winning a jump-off

Want to nail those jump-off rounds? Hickstead Derby 2016 champion William Whitaker shares his advice, and suggests two training exercises to improve your performance against the clock. 

Read more


William Whitaker's training secrets

In the run up to this year’s Al Shira’aa Hickstead Derby Meeting, reigning Derby champion William Whitaker shares his showjumping training insights.

Words by Victoria Spicer, photos by Daisy Honeybunn

Read more


6 links between Hickstead and the Grand National

The home of British Showjumping and the most famous race on earth have more in common than you might think, writes Victoria Spicer...

Read more


A winning debut

Chloe Winchester, winner of the Templant Events Queen Elizabeth II Cup in 2015, chats to Victoria Spicer about her winning debut at Hickstead

Read more


Elizabeth the first

Last year Elizabeth 'Beezie' Madden became the first woman ever to win the Longines King George V Gold Cup. In 2015, she did it again. Hickstead's Press Officer Victoria Spicer caught up with America's first lady of showjumping. 

Read more


12 moments we loved at this year's Derby meeting

There was rain, there was mud, but much more importantly there was some brilliant competition at this year's Hickstead Derby Meeting. We choose our top 12 moments from this year's show. 

Read more


Back on top

Hickstead Press Officer Victoria Spicer chats to the connections of Loughnatousa WB, a horse who holds a very special record in the Derby...

Read more


Three in a row

Journalist Andrew Baldock takes a look back over the Hickstead archives at the three riders who have won the Derby three times in succession - and finds out which other riders came close...

Read more


A cool guy

Victoria Spicer chats to Guy Williams, the winner of the 2015 British Speed Derby, about setting records and why Hickstead will always be special to him

Read more


Eight great Derby rivalries

There have been some amazing clashes in the 56 years of the Hickstead Derby. Pippa Cuckson takes a look at some of the great rivalries over the years...

Read more


Breen’s Derby dream comes true

Hickstead's Press Officer Victoria Spicer chats to the 2014 winner of the Derby, Trevor Breen. 

Read more


Five Minutes with Fran Callan

Continuing our new Five Minutes With... series, we caught up with Fran Callan, the head travelling groom for Trevor Breen. As part of her job, she looks after Hickstead megastar and reigning Derby winner Adventure De Kannan...

Read more


Miller's tale

Victoria Spicer meets Phillip Miller, winner of the 2013 Hickstead Derby, to talk about his rise from riding school lessons to Hickstead champion. 

Read more


A lesson with Derby winner Phillip Miller

When we ran an exclusive Hickstead Derby Community competition to win a lesson with the 2013 Derby winner Phillip Miller, we had a great response. In the end, we selected 25-year-old Jodine Brooks from Kent and her seven-year-old Dutch gelding, Camorasun.

Read more


15 facts about the Derby course

From poles that 'twang', resident newts and motorway fences turned into showjumps, Victoria Spicer investigates 15 things that you might not know about the most famous course in British showjumping...

Read more


Five minutes with Phillip Miller

Her latest victim in the 'Five Minutes With Series…', Daisy sits down with natural born comedian and Hickstead Derby superstar, 2013 winner Phillip Miller…

Read more


Five minutes with Bob Ellis

Daisy Bunn is back in the interviewer's chair this week with Hickstead's very own Bob The Buider, world renowned, Olympic course builder Bob Ellis...

Read more


10 iconic Derby moments

Last seen disappearing into our dusky archives, Hickstead Press Officer and journalist Victoria Spicer has put together a review of 10 of our most iconic Derby moments over the years, specially for our HDC members. 

Read more


Five Minutes with Steve Wilde

Continuing our new Five Minutes With... interview series, Hickstead Director Daisy Bunn sits down with Hickstead's 'golden tonsils', commentator and Director of Ceremonies Steve Wilde...

Read more


Five minutes with Daisy Bunn

As part of a new series, exclusively for our HDC members, Hickstead Director Daisy Bunn is going to catch key members of the Hickstead team for mini 5 minute interviews, to give our members a unique, behind-the-scenes take on everything Hickstead. Who better to start with than Daisy herself!

Read more


The best of the best

Equestrian journalist Charlotte Ricca-Smith asks Hickstead Derby winners to name the performance - apart from their own! - that impressed them most. 

Read more


A Hickstead first

In 2013, Paul Beecher became the first person to produce a clear round having been drawn first to go in the Hickstead Derby, then go on to win the class. Victoria Spicer spoke to him about his achievement.

Read more


A National treasure

Harvey Smith is the only man to have won both the Hickstead Derby and trained a Grand National winner. Victoria Spicer reflects on his remarkable achievement.

Read more


Olympic heroes

Did you know that three out of the four showjumping gold medallists from London 2012 are past winners of the Hickstead Derby? Victoria Spicer catches up with them to find out what those wins meant.

Read more



RH17 5NU

Tel: +44 1273 834315
Fax: +44 1273 834452

View our Privacy Policy.

Our website uses cookies

Find out more about how these are used in our privacy policy.