Every top rider has a particular forte — whether it’s gleaning every possible mark in a dressage test, riding a perfect jump-off turn or giving a young horse confidence across country.

We might be in awe of how Michael Whitaker sets his horses up for a fence,  how Scott Brash rides a jump-off or how Piggy French makes cross-country riding look so effortless.

But who did some of our biggest names aspire to emulate when they were starting out in their careers?

5 top equestrians reveal their riding icons

1. Yogi Breisner
“When I started out in eventing Mark Todd was winning the first of his two Olympic gold medals, so I took a great deal of interest in what he was doing. The British riders Richard Meade, Sheila Willcox and Mary Gordon-Watson were all in a league of their own in the mid-1980s and I really admired both their success and their level of horsemanship.”

2. Geoff Billington
“When we were kids, John Whitaker and I used to sit in the stand at Olympia and watch all the top riders. Our eyes and ears would prick up when Harvey Smith, David Broome or Eddie Macken (pictured) came into the arena. They all had very different styles and we used to pick the things we liked about each of them and try to emulate them.”

3. Lucinda Green
Mary Gordon-Watson took me under her wing. I can remember my training stays with her at Blagdon Farm in Dorset in the early 70s: they consisted of wonderful riders across the Dorset downs, more often than not coursing behind her whippets. I suspect all that a budding young rider would see of a world champion’s facilities nowadays would be the inside of their arena.”

4. Robert Oliver
“The late Roy Trigg. He was one of the last great nagsmen and he was an inspiration to me and countless other riders. He was a perfectionist and a showman.”

5. Rob Hoekstra
Harvey Smith and David Broome were in a league of their own. They were great technicians over a fence. Then they handed over the mantle to the likes of Nick Skelton and John and Michael Whitaker. Now, Scott Brash and Ben Maher are fast stepping into their shoes.”

Don’t miss this week’s ‘The moment’ in Horse & Hound magazine (16 October 2014), where Mary Gordon-Watson talks about taking part in the first ever team chase