On this day in history : 15th August 1971 – English equestrian Harvey Smith is stripped of his £2,000 winnings at the British Show Jumping Derby, after allegedly making a rude gesture at the judges….

It is said Harvey had been involved in a heated exchange with one of the judges on the morning of the competition, which was being held at Hickstead in West Sussex…. Harvey, who had won the derby the previous year had forgotten to bring the trophy with him for this year’s presentation…. Some believed he had done this deliberately, assuming it was a foregone conclusion he would win it again…. The trophy eventually arrived from Harvey’s Yorkshire home just in time for it to be presented back to him….

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Photo credit : The Dutch National Archives – Public domain

It was after winning the competition that Harvey was seen to make a two-fingered V-sign in the direction of the judges…. He protested innocence, saying “It was a straightforward V for Victory. Churchill used it throughout the war”….

He had a point…. Harvey had used the gesture with his palm facing towards him; Churchill, on first adopting his V for Victory salute had also done so with his palm inwards…. His advisors eventually took him aside and explained the actual meaning of this….and from then on Churchill used the palm outward-facing sign….

Harvey bucked the trend of the then usual upper class snobbery of the show jumping set…. He was a blunt Yorkshire lad, with a broad accent; he was known as ‘Heathcliff on Horseback’…. Frequently clashing with the sport’s governing body, his rebellious nature made him popular with the public…. Through much publicity and the backing of the public the disqualification was reversed two days later….

Harvey Smith (1974)
Harvey Smith (1974) – Photo credit: Rob Mieremet / Anefo CCO

Harvey won the British Show Jumping Derby a total of seven times and represented Britain in the Olympics three times…. He did later admit in interviews that he had indeed V-signed the judges!

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