My father bought Cornishman V as a virtually unbroken four-year-old for £500 from a farm sale in Cornwall. He had gone with the intention of buying another horse, but when he saw Cornishman’s head he decided that there was something he liked about him. My father and mother both hunted him and they also ran him in a couple of point-to-points.

When Cornishman arrived at our home I was about 15 and still riding ponies. I never dreamed that one day I would be partnering this 17hh addition to our yard, but when my brother, Alexander, took over my pony I had nothing to ride for my Pony Club A test and our relationship began.

He was totally unschooled on the flat and he didn’t behave well during our week away, getting so over-excited by it all that he would fly-jump down the road.

Major Paddy Burke recognised Cornishman’s potential, however, which made me keen to take him eventing. We started off with a couple of riding club competitions and then tackled our first affiliated event, a novice class at Wylye.

That winter, my father took Cornishman hunting, then we returned to eventing in the Spring. We won a novice event at Sherborne and the working hunter class at Royal Windsor and followed that by winning the novice three-day event at Tidworth all in the same week. This meant that Cornishman upgraded to advanced in two events.

Babe Moseley and his selection committee expressed an interest in seeing us run at Badminton the following spring, the year of the Mexico Olympics.

Most people thought it was a silly idea and I was daunted by the prospect, but I went to Ben Jones for a crash course in dressage and to Derek Allhusen, who advised me on Cornishman’s fitness.

At Badminton I made the mistake of going too fast on the cross-country, partly due to seeing Ben Jones waving at me as I galloped past. I assumed that he was telling me to go faster when, in fact, he was merely waving encouragement.

It all ended in disaster at the coffin fence, three from home, where I fell off and Cornishman was too tired to go on. It was heartbreaking and I would never again ride a horse which wasn’t fit enough.

Later that year, I broke my leg in a fall from Cornishman in the working hunter class at Wembley. While I was in hospital my father was pressurised into lending the horse to the British team.

He ended up being ridden by Richard Meade and while I found the fact that my only horse was being transported to the other side of the world alarming, I felt immensely proud as I watched him collect the team gold medal.

Cornishman came back to me after the Olympics and the next year we won the individual gold medal at the Haras du Pin European Championships – one of the best moments of my eventing career. I remember Cornishman giving me the most fantastic ride.

At a wet World Championships at Punchestown the following year, we came home clear as pathfinders for the British team, which earned us team and individual gold. We won by about 60 marks, not least because all those who went after us suffered falls.

Other memorable moments followed, including winning team gold at the 1971 Europeans and finishing third and second at Badminton in 1970 and ’71. But the one that really stands out from the rest was the Munich Olympics.

There, we incurred a stop on the platform at fence 22 while following team orders, but Cornishman rose to the occasion in the equestrian stadium and jumped a clear round.

The Italian, who was in the bronze medal position, rattled several jumps, but none of them fell and so Cornishman and I finished fourth individually and won team gold – a highlight of my life.

I retired Cornishman from eventing in 1973, but I continued to hunt and team chase him. He was a clever horse and 100% genuine, but you couldn’t take him for granted – if you did he wouldn’t let you get away with it.

Although I had fun with the horses who subsequently came my way, no other horse would ever measure up to him – I was certainly spoilt when I was very young.

Cornishman Fact File

  • FOALED: 1959
  • BREEDING: By the TB Golden Surprise out of an unregistered mare, Polly IV
  • CAREER HIGH POINTS: 1st Tidworth novice three-day event 1967; 4th & team gold Mexico Olympics 1968 (with Richard Meade); individual gold Haras Du Pin European Championships 1969; 3rd Badminton and individual/team gold Punchestown World Championships 1970; 2nd Badminton and 4th & team gold Burghley Europeans 1971; 4th and team gold Montreal Olympics 1972; 6th Badminton 1973
  • RETIRED: 1973
  • DIED: 1986
  • This feature was first published in Eventing magazine
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