Graham Fletcher: God bless you, Tim Stockdale *H&H VIP*

Opinion

I’ve written for H&H for many years, but never with the sadness I feel on the passing away of Tim Stockdale through cancer, the most wretched of illnesses.

Only 54, Tim had a great track record. He represented Britain in more than 50 Nations Cups, at the 2002 World Equestrian Games and 2008 Beijing Olympics. The win that meant the most to him was the 2010 King George V Gold Cup at Hickstead on Fresh Direct Kalico Bay.

Although in the twilight of his career, Tim was still enjoying his riding. The last international I saw him compete at was Deauville in August; when we met up for dinner, I asked him whether, when he finished riding, he would like to be the next British team manager.

Not only was it a very positive “yes”, but he outlined his plans and how he would execute them, with the same passion, conviction and integrity that we’ve all come to expect from Tim.

And as I sat there, I couldn’t help thinking of that shy, skinny 17-year-old who came to work and ride for me when I was based in Yorkshire. He came from a non-horsey family, although they’d certainly instilled in him the need for hard work. And that’s how I remember Tim in those early days; not a lot of know-how, but unbelievably hard working and with an enthusiasm for learning that’s seldom matched.

If Tim hadn’t been with me, I’m sure he would still have made it to the top. What he did learn was attention to detail and, as I had some top sponsors at the time, how important it was to look after them.

In fact, Tim went on to take the public relations and TV coverage of our sport to a whole new level, with such programmes as Faking It and Only Fools On Horses, and fronting many BBC broadcasts. I can’t think of one rider who’s ever done it better.

The good old days

Whenever we recalled the old days, Tim always talked affectionately about the years he had with me. Indeed, we had many good times — although we got off to a slightly inauspicious start.

Tim would remember: “I arrived at your yard, thought what a good set-up it was and said to myself, ‘Yes, I could definitely enjoy working here.’ And then you arrived, said you were in a rush, told me to jump into the car and that we could chat on the way to Harrogate.

“When we got there, you parked on some double yellow lines,” Tim recalled. “I thought you hadn’t realised. And I was really embarrassed and went an even deeper shade of red when I pointed it out to you. You just said: ‘I know, it’s a bugger of a place to park is Harrogate. I’m going to put the car bonnet up so if PC Plod asks you what’s happening, just say I’ve gone to find a mechanic.’”

Tim always said it was the most embarrassing hour of his life so far, and that he thought he’d come to work for a mad man.

But survive and thrive he did. And when he set up on his own in Northamptonshire with the great help of his wife Laura, not only did he establish himself as a top international rider — something he’d always craved — he also created a top-class training centre. Today, Tim’s focus on training and dedication shines through the achievements of his two sons, Mark and Joe.

Devastating blow

There’s no doubt that Tim gave so much of his life to showjumping. Losing him is a devastating blow to our sport as when his riding career was to finish, he had so much more to give.

I’ve always believed in speaking of people in the same vein when they’re living as when they’ve passed away. So I’ll finish with what I said when Tim asked me to write the foreword for his 2012 autobiography.

“In the history of showjumping, there is only a small number who have the ability, tenacity and willpower to keep achieving at the highest level. One of those is Tim Stockdale.”

God bless you, Tim.

Ref Horse & Hound; 22 November 2018