Ten budding equestrian stars — all hoping to representing Britain at the Olympics — have been given a £65,000 leg-up in a new national scheme targeting 2012 London Olympic hopefuls across all sports.

Closely involved in the government initiative, the Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme (TASS) 2012, the British Equestrian Federation’s Victoria Underwood said it recognised the medal-winning clout of equestrianism — riding comprises 10% of the scheme.

The 10 riders, representing show jumping, dressage and eventing were tipped for success out of a total of 100 TASS scholarships awarded to athletes from 47 sports.

“We were lucky to get as many as we did of our 14 original nominees,” said Underwood, manager of the BEF World Class Start and Potential programme. “It shows equestrianism really is recognised as a priority sport.”

Underwood said the awards (the majority totalling £5,000, with a couple of riders receiving £10,000) came as a complete surprise to the lucky 10: Paralympians Elizabeth Stone, Lara Dennis and Sophie Wells; dressage riders Spencer Wilton and Sarah Millis; show jumpers Robert Whitaker and Jamie Wingrave, and eventers Chris King, Kitty Boggis and Francis Whittington.

“They didn’t know we’d applied — because it was the first year of the scheme, we didn’t want to dash their hopes. They were all over the moon when I rang them.

“I won’t forget Lara Dennis’s reaction. She was teaching when I called and she sort of screamed and then the next thing she said: ‘I’m on the floor, I’ve fallen over’.”

At 35, Dennis was the oldest rider in the line-up of TASS winners, while 16-year-old Sophie Wells is the youngest.

International event rider Chris King, 28, said he honestly believed it was a joke when he got the call: “I just didn’t believe it and had to ring back an hour or so later to make sure I’d heard right.”

King said the grant was “perfect timing”, as he was moving yards.

Fellow eventer Kitty Boggis, 23, the former under-25 champion and highest placed young rider on her 2005 Badminton debut, plans to buy mirrors for her outdoor school.

  • This news story was first published in Horse & Hound (12 January, ’05)

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