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William Fox-Pitt’s top ride, Tamarillo, proved himself once and for all in the mud at Badminton this year. The 12-year-old gelding came back from a long six-months on the sidelines to prove that Arabs aren’t just suited to desert conditions.

He has shown sparks of exceptional quality in the past, coming second at Badminton in 2002 and second at Blenheim in 2000, when he was a mere eight years old. He is William’s major hope for Athens in August, and the apple of owner Mary Guinness’s eye.

“I worship the ground he walks on,” she proclaims. “He is an absolutely wonderful horse and is a real character.”

Tamarillo was bred by the Guinnesses out of their own mare, Mellita, a Anglo Arab mare who stems from a long family of Guinness-owned and bred pure Arabs.

Mellita was a successful eventer in her own right, travelling to Le Lion d’Angers. She was retired temporarily to have Tamarillo, but two years later, in a freak accident, she was kicked in the field and broke her leg beyond repair.

Tamarillo was raised virtually an orphan, surrounded by people and doted on as a child. “He’s completely spoilt and one of the most human horses I’ve ever known,” explains Mary.

He was shown as a youngster and was champion part-bred arab at the Arab Horse Show as a three-year-old. He was subsequently evented by Diana Burgess until William Fox-Pitt took over the ride in 1999.

Tamarillo’s sire was a part-bred Polish Anglo-Arab. His owners, Terry and Anne Sutcliffe crossed Arabs with other breeds, and were at a crossroads in their breeding program. But it occurred to them that the Eastern Europeans, and the Poles in particular, had been breeding in the same way, and they decided to make a trip to Poland to investigate.

Their adventure took them to the Janow Podlaski Stud, the oldest state-owned Polish stud, where they found Tarnik, a half-blood Polish Anglo-Arab/Thoroughbred. They brought him to England where they showed him successfully and competed in the Arab Horse Society Marathon.

Finn Guinness remembers well. “I was competing in 1977 on a different horse, and I watched Tarnik from behind for 26 miles and I was tremendously impressed.”

Tarnik won the Marathon that year, but it was far from the last the Guinnesses would see of him. “Many years later,” Finn continued, “the Sutcliffes agreed to loan him to us for stud, and we now have several progeny, of which Tamarillo was the last.

“It was a gamble, in a sense. With horse breeding you never quite know how things will turn out. There are good and bad in every breed, but it’s much better to focus on the good.”

Tamarillo has certainly turned out to be “the good”. Mary describes him as the Rudolf Nureyev of the horse world, and “just wonderful to watch when he’s moving.

“He adores eventing, and particularly the cross country. I’m told by people that can speak to horses that he likes flying round. He’s totally tuned into William, and William’s attitude makes them perfect partners,” she says.

Tamarillo’s next major outing will be the Olympics in Athens in August, where he will have a supportive crowd of fans in tow. And Arab owners and breeders all over the country will be watching and waiting for this gem to bring home a medal.

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