Horse of a lifetime: William Fox-Pitt and Steadfast

  • “Steadfast was a noble, dutiful horse,” says Olympic event rider William Fox-Pitt. “He thought it was his duty to take me around and look after me.”

    “Steady”, as he is known, did everything by the book – his own book. A distance away from the fence, his ears would lock forward and his brain would assess the problem ahead. Then he altered his stride pattern, checked himself and reached the obstacle amply prepared for a correct launch.

    Learning curve

    As a teenager, William thought he knew everything about his sport, but only fully understood the brilliance of Steadfast and how much he owed him after riding a myriad of other horses.

    The generous and forgiving horse gave him his first success, confidence, abundant knowledge, the three-day eventing “bug”, plus a career.

    The white-faced, 17hh gelding by Ascertain, out of an unknown mare, had average paces, a safe, economical “pop” with no scope to bounce out of trouble, indifferent dressage and a tendency to knock down at least one show jump.

    William was 15 years old when he first saw him with his feathers sweeping the floor and vehemently protested that he was not his sort of horse. He was even delighted to hear that Steadyhad failed the vet, but was shocked to learn his mother had still gone ahead and bought him.

    Two years later, he won the individual silver medal at the Junior European Championships, following it with two team gold medals, a team silver and individual bronze in Young Rider competitions.

    “The achievements were nothing to do with me,” insists William. “I did not have a clue – they were all Steady’s. If I asked him to do something, he thought he must be capable and got on with it. It sounds crazy, but its true.”

    William competed in six three-day events before tackling Badminton in 1991 where Steady came a respectable 19th. first reserves for the senior British team at the Europeans in Punchestown.

    One of the family

    Steadfast went on to become a true family horse, partnering William’s sister, Laurella, at the Junior European Championships and hunting with the Quorn, with either William’s brother Andrew, or with his parents.

    Today William fondly remembers Steady’s idiosyncrasies – how he hated his forelock being plaited; how he would remain placid throughout a three-day event until the Sunday trot-up when he would mysteriously go berserk, rearing and boxing.

    Andhow he always needed kicking in a cross-country phase, but would not stand or queue out hunting, where he reckoned it was now his privilege and place to do the kicking.

    There is praise and respect for Steadfast from all those who knew him, particularly William’s veterinary surgeon wife, Wiggy, who says: “He was a wonderful safe jumper. It was a case of fasten your seat belt and go.”

    A former British Open Champion, William, who is based at the Bicester’s former Hunt kennels, stresses: “Steady was a real gentleman.”

    Every member of the Fox-Pitt family shed a tear when the 21-year-old Steadfast was put down following a serious infection.

    “We did not want him to suffer,” says William. “He was my partner andmy friend.”

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