Neither age nor a hip replacement has diminished show jumper Hugh Graham’s zest for competing – or the thrill of victory. The 72-year-old Jump Canada Hall of Fame inductee bounced back from hip replacement surgery in the spring to claim two grand prix wins in Ontario this summer.

“I like going in and kicking butt and I don’t care who I beat,” says Hugh. “I give them all lessons when I’m showing.”

The long-time Canadian Equestrian Team stalwart operates HJG Stables at Aisling Mor Equestrian in Burlington and spends winters coaching, training and showing in Florida. On April 1, the day before he was to return to Ontario, a student’s horse bucked him off at the mounting block, breaking his left femur. Long-time friend and veterinarian Robert McMartin ended up driving Hugh to the hospital, instead of to their intended lunch. Because the break was so high on the leg, the surgeon opted to replace Hugh’s hip and he was able to walk out of the hospital and was back in the saddle soon after.

“I like going in and kicking butt and I don’t care who I beat.”

In July, Hugh won his first grand prix of the year at Caledon Equestrian Park on Florino, his 14-year-old Westfalen gelding. A photo of the winners’ podium captures a typical Graham moment: red ribbon dangling from his shirt, laughing joyously as he sprays champagne. On August 14, he claimed victory in the Show Jump for Heart Grand Prix at Ten Sixty Stables.

Hugh grew up in Georgetown and started riding at age 13. He became an Ontario champion calf roper and steer rider in his teens, while training reining and cutting horses.

“I missed a lot of school, but never missed a rodeo,” he says. Milo Heatherington, a 65-year-old horseman who had trained circus horses in the 1930s, became his mentor and those lessons about patience and repetition shaped Hugh’s own approach to training. A fractured leg ended Hugh’s rodeo career.

“With steers, there’s only one way off and you rarely landed on your feet,” he noted.

In his twenties, while working at Sam-Son Farms breaking Thoroughbreds, he worked for trainer and Olympian Jim Day and decided to take up show jumping. Hugh watched how the gold medallist rode and trained, asked a lot of questions and spent hours perfecting what he learned. Hugh bought an unbroken young Hackney-Clyde gelding that a dealer brought to Sam-Son Farms. Three years later, Hugh and Spot Check were Open Jumper Champions at the 1973 Royal Agricultural Winter Fair and Hugh also won his first grand prix on that horse.

Hugh was named to the Canadian team in 1982 and since then, has competed at every major championship in equestrian sport—the Olympics, World Championships, World Cup Finals, Pan American Games — and won numerous grand prix. One of the keys to winning, he says is mastering the rollback, a skill he learned when he broke reining horses as a kid.

In 1989, he met Seymour and Gloria Epstein and a year later when they started KingRidge Stables, Hugh was pegged to train and compete their horses and he played a key role in developing their renowned breeding program. In 2004, there were 144 horses at their farms in Ontario and Florida. The breeding program ended six years ago and the last horse sold last year.

Inducted into the category of Rider, Hugh Graham (right) receives his Jump Canada Hall of Fame award in 2016 from Seymour and Gloria Epstein of KingRidge Stables. (Michelle C. Dunn photo)


Although Hugh has had numerous careers highlights, favourite memories including having the only clear round on Abraxas to solidify Canada’s fourth place finish at the 1984 Olympics. And he considers his final clear round at the 1987 Pan Am Games on Wellington, a junior amateur jumper that belonged to one of his students, to be the ride of his life. That round garnered the gold team medal for Canada and the favoured U.S. team had to settle for the silver. He also rode KingRidge’s stallion Money Talks to two consecutive victories in the $100,000 Queen Elizabeth II Cup at Spruce Meadows.

Another cherished memory is of a big win not in the show jumping ring, but at the track at Woodbine. In 2005, his father-in-law Morgan Firestone asked Hugh to take over management of his large racing stable. Two years later Mike Fox, a homebred colt Hugh had trained, claimed victory in the Queen’s Plate with Emma-Jayne Wilson aboard, the first female jockey to win the prestigious race.

“I have in mind that I’ll hang it up after the Royal Winter Fair in 2023.”

With 39 grand prix winning horses to his credit, Hugh says it’s tough to choose a favourite, although his KingRidge-owned mount Undercover from the 1990s ranks up there as do two bred by KingRidge: Executive Privilege 3E and Fifth Estate 3E. And he’s also fond of his current ride, Florino.

“He’s very scopey and careful and has a great brain,” Hugh says. “I love him, he’s a dream to ride.”

Hugh will finish his show season in Ontario and head to Florida for the winter, where he looks forward to showing again at the World Equestrian Center in Ocala that he considers one of the best venues he’s ever ridden at.

Don’t expect Hugh to retire anytime soon ‒ but he does have a tentative retirement date of November, 2023. “I have in mind that I’ll hang it up after the Royal Winter Fair in 2023. That will be 50 years since I first won the (open jumper) championship there.”