Four of Britain’s leading equestrian personalities received recognition in the New Year Honours List last week.
Olympic gold medallist Leslie Law (pictured) was given an MBE for his services to equestrian sport. “We are obviously delighted for Leslie,” says Winnie Murphy of British Eventing. “The first gold medal [in equestrian sports] in 32 years certainly deserves recognition. We all hope it won’t go to his head . . . but knowing how laid back he is, I don’t think it will.”
Law won Britain’s first Olympic gold medal in equestrian sports since 1972, when Richard Meade bagged the eventing gold medal at the Munich Olympics. Law had finished in silver position in Athens, but he was later upgraded to gold after German rider Bettina Hoy was disqualified for crossing the start line twice during her show jumping round. His individual gold in Athens also meant that the British eventing team was promoted from bronze to silver.
Law has long been part of the British eventing team. Although he had to pull out of the Atlanta Olympics in 1998 because his horse went lame, he made up for it when he won team silver with Shear H20 in Sydney four years later. Since then, he landed two team golds at the European Championships in 2001 and 2003, and a team bronze in the World Equestrian Games in 2002.
Law was recognised at this year’s honours alongside other Olympic athletes. “All the gold medal winners from the Athens Olympics are included in this list and as a general rule receive the next level of award if they have already been honoured,” the Prime Minister’s spokesman said last week.
It was perhaps slightly disappointing that the same rule did not apply to all Paralympic gold medallists because the number of equestrian honours would have then skyrocketed. Among the gold-winning equestrian Paralympic team, only Lee Pearson was included in the New Year Honours List.
“We are a young movement and it is not to say that every Olympic gold medallist had an MBE so every Paralympian should too,” says the Press Officer for the British Paralympic team, Caroline Searle, who points out that many Paralympic athletes, including Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson, got unprecedented recognition this year. “We hope that Debbie [Criddle] will receive the same if she carries on winning in Beijing and beyond.”
Pearson, who had already been honoured with an MBE when he won gold at the Sydney Olympics, received an OBE for services to equestrian and disabled sport.
Pearson, 30, has won six gold medals at the last two Paralympics. His first gold came at Sydney in 2000, when he won the individual grade I dressage, the individual grade I freestyle and the team gold. Four years later, he managed to pull off the same hat trick in Athens.
“We are delighted for him,” says Searle. “I spoke with Lee on New Year’s day and congratulated him. He is obviously extremely happy.”
Recognition for equestrian success this year went beyond Athens’ achievements, as Vice President of the Pony Club, Ernest McMillen was given an MBE for services to horse riding and Morag Gray, the former chief executive of Hamilton Park Racecourse, was awarded an MBE for her services to horseracing.
Gray became Britain’s first female clerk of the course, at Hamilton in 1988. Two years later, she joined the Racecourse Association, where she was eventually appointed racing director. She returned to Hamilton in 2000 where she was their chief executive until she resigned in August. She was pleasantly surprised at her MBE, which she saw as recognition to Scottish racing and racecourses.