Being the oldest grand prix competitor on the circuit might be a more dubious honour, but it is one the former Olympic rider and List 1 judge Tricia Gardiner wears comfortably.
Tricia has been competing in grand prix for 25 years and was a regular member of the British team for 13 years between 1977 and 1990, competing in the Seoul Olympics in 1988 with her Thoroughbred Wily Imp. She currently competes Moon Tiger.
She is rarely out of the ribbons, despite the fact that, in this present eraof big-moving continental warmbloods, she has stuck with the more modest British Thoroughbred. She is known for her love of the Thoroughbred and her four grand prix horses have all been, for the greater part, from that breed.
“I like the temperament and looks of the Thoroughbred. The excitement of dressage to me is in the sense of achievement in training your own horse.”
Tricia ran a stud following her marriage and, after raising a family, her ambition was to compete at Badminton. Partnering Sam Barr¨s foundation stallion Welton Gameful, she came close to realising this and the combination was just two points off the necessary qualification, which Tricia hoped to achieve at Wylye. Instead, the day resulted in what appeared to be the end of her riding career.
“We came a big cropper at the sheep pen, breaking both my legs, and I was told I was unlikely to ride again.”
Despite the gloomy prognosis, Tricia was back competing at Wylye two years later, but she soon decided to change track.
In 1976, Tricia was short-listed for the Montreal Olympics with El Farruco. The same year, she competed at her first international in Rotterdam with her home-bred Manifesto, whom she had trained with Lorna and Robert Hall, and for whom she was offered an open cheque by the Germans.
Manifesto, by the influential HIS stallion Kadir Cup, was bred by Tricia out of mare she was given for her 21st birthday and is her horse of a lifetime.
Manifesto started Tricia on 13 years of internationalcompetition. They were listed for the British team after their inaugural grand prix and made their team debut in the Goodwood CDI in 1978. Tricia passed her BHS fellowship exam the same year.
The following year, they were members of the British team for the European Championships, as well as competing in the 1980 substitute Olympics at Goodwood.
Wily Imp came to Tricia and her then business partner, Bill Noble, at their training centre in Wiltshire, having been sent for an assessment of his potential. Bill persuaded Tricia to ride the Thoroughbred by Impersonator and the combination enjoyed five years of success at grand prix after becoming national champions in 1987, including many forays abroad.
Tricia sold her training centre and moved back to Herefordshire five years ago, but has no plans to retire.
“I am always looking for another horse, although, this time, I am going to be choosy as to the right one – it has to be an athlete. I’m not sure whether I ultimately will ride it, but I would love to train one more horse to grand prix. And, luckily, I have a daughter who may take over the reins.”