Ride of my life: Mary Gordon Watson

  • Mary Gordon Watson recalls her ride on Cornishman at the 1970 world championships at Punchestown

    I started riding Cornishman, my father’s hunter, because I needed a horse for an A test course. Versatile and beautiful, he was reserve working hunter champion at Wembley and won at Windsor where I was proud to be judged by Pat Smythe.

    A week later we won Tidworth three-day and then there was no going back. We went to Badminton and stopped at the second last, much to my disappointment.

    Despite that, Cornishman went to the Mexico Olympics that year with Richard Meade and I had lessons with Ben Jones, who was my inspiration in the sport.

    The 1970 world championships at Punchestown was my first time on a team, and I was horrified to be asked to go first. The cross-country course was long and twisty, trappy rather than big. It felt like a hugely exciting day’s hunting, because you didn’t know what was coming next.

    We hadn’t a clue how to ride ‘The Boreen’, a double ditch with a bank in the middle and a big effort out into the next field, but the bogey fence was a spindly parallelwith brush in the middle. You had only a short run at it, couldn’t see the back rail and it was followed by sharp turn. Richard Meade and Mark Phillips both fell there.

    The atmosphere was delightfully informal – you went aroundthe back of the stables to find the start, where a dilapidated person in a mac just said: “Go and good luck!”. No one was quite sure if anyone had taken the start time!

    I remember seeing Lars Sederholm and some of my relations looking anxious, but otherwise it was like a hunter trials and there was no roping. The track had been built at the last minute using cheap timber and fences broke all day.

    Cornishman finished strongly and I was terrifically excited and exhilarated. I really felt I had survived something and I did have some bad moments. There was an early fence into a murky puddle where Cornishman saw the water at the last moment and almost sat down but somehow managed to jump, and he left a foreleg behind and slipped quite dramatically on a steep hill.

    Cornishman had great scope, stamina and class, but he thought like a pony and hunting with the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale and in Leicestershire made him clever – he was still hunting up until his death at 27.

    My overriding memory of the event was the relentless rain, and at the end of the day it was all doom and gloom because so many horses had fallen.

    I was a massive 70 points in the lead. I felt almost guilty because I had had so much nicer a time than the other team members, but at least our team gold was a happy ending.

    Don’t miss this week’s Horse & Hound (1 August) where NAME talks about his ‘ride of a lifetime’ at EVENT on HORSE.

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