Celebrating our childhood equestrian idols: who was yours?

  • This week’s issue of Horse & Hound magazine (11 January 2017) is dedicated to nostalgia: celebrating those great stars of yesteryear. So the H&H team has wound back the clock to remember who their childhood equestrian heroes were...

    Sarah Jenkins, Content Director

    Pippa Funnell
    “I had stickers of her horses on my tack cleaning bucket. I loved the way she seemed to genuinely adore her horses in the way I did my 13.2hh pony. She would give them a truly appreciative pat at the end of her cross-country — that appeared to be her first thought, thanking the horse, before acknowledging the crowd or anything else. They say “Never meet your heroes”, and though others have disappointed, when I first interviewed Pippa for an equestrian magazine the stories she told backed up that clear adoration and respect for her horses. Plus of course she’s simply a superb rider — she was when I watched her win Blenheim on Bits And Pieces in 1995 — she gave a terribly shy 13-year-old me her autograph while walking the course, which made my year — and she still is, guiding the inexperienced Billy The Biz round a truly challenging Olympic track in Rio. So Pippa Funnell, a living legend.”

    Carol Phillips, Website Editor

    Ginny Elliot and John Whitaker
    “I loved the fact Ginny could get such an amazing tune out of so many horses. I will never forget the sight of her getting jumped off Murphy Himself at the bottom of the ski jump at Badminton. And of course John Whitaker and Milton. I had a poster of them up on the wall of my bedroom and always wondered how they could make the huge fences look so effortless.”

    Martha Terry, Print Sub Editor

    Mark Todd
    “He was always so effortlessly cool — a typical memory was him riding Bertie Blunt round Badminton without a stirrup in 1995. I love that, because of his longevity, a child of the 80s/90s can have the same idol as a child today. Somehow I was tasked with teaching his kids when they came on hol to Val d’Isère when I was working there. One afternoon he decided it was his turn to go off with a guide, so I took him. It was memorable because he ended up breaking his ski at the furthest point away from the resort close to lift-closing time, so I had to get the equivalent hire shop to swap the dud ski, and then race to get home. We literally caught the last sequence of lifts and I felt so chuffed. The funny thing was that I didn’t dare admit I was a rider, even though I was eventing at intermediate at the time! I thought he would not welcome being hero-worshipped on holiday, and I just loved the fact that I was better than him at something!”

    Madeleine Silver, Features Editor

    Mary King (pictured, above)
    “Friends might have been saving up to go and see Westlife at Wembley, but going to see Mary King do a talk for my Pony Club in a Somerset village hall was the highlight of my 12-year-old self’s life. It coincided with the year that she won Badminton on Star Appeal (2000) and the amount of posters that covered my bedroom walls of the pair of them may well have been considered a fire hazard…”

    Polly Bryan, Dressage Editor

    Pippa Funnell and Anky van Grunsven
    “I read Pippa’s autobiography about eight times, including under the desk at school. Also Anky van Grunsven. I was given a video (ha) about her and Bonfire for about my 12th birthday, and I used to watch it on repeat for hours, then pretend I was doing grand prix to music on my little strawberry roan pony… That video was basically what got me into dressage.”

    Catherine Austen, Hunting Editor

    Roger Lyles and Ginny Elliot
    “My very first equestrian hero was a man called Roger Lyles. He was master of the West Norfolk when I was a child and came from a great East Anglian racing and hunting family. He was the first person I ever saw jump a five-barred gate, when I was four or five, on a palomino horse he had. I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever seen. Later it was Ginny Elliot, whose immaculate precision and beautiful riding I desperately wanted to emulate. I remember watching her go cross-country at Badminton on Master Craftsman the year they won, in 1989.”

    Jane Gazzard, Print Sub Editor

    “Stroller was mine because I had a 14.2hh pony called Orion who looked exactly like him and I used to imagine myself soaring over those huge fences on my boy. My mum was great at blagging her way into the area where the riders sit at Horse of the Year Show and it blew me away when Marion Coakes sat right in front of us. Needless to say, my mum told her we were huge fans because I had a pony ‘just like Stroller’ and I remember just wanting to be swallowed up!”

    Continued below…

    Gemma Redrup, Online Journalist

    Mary King
    “I had her video and computer game ‘Riding Star’ and it was when she won team gold at the European Open Championships at Burghley on Star Appeal in 1997 that mum and I ended up walking the cross-country at the same time as her on the Wednesday afternoon. We kept our distance as we didn’t want to get in the way but then she saw us and invited us to walk the course with her — I was seven and at that point I think it was the greatest day of my life! I then went to the media centre after the showjumping to get some autographs and Mary came out and asked if we (there were other fans there too!) wanted to touch her gold medal. Best. Week. Ever.”

    Lucy Elder, News Writer

    Pippa Funnell
    “Pippa Funnell was (still is) my absolute equestrian hero. I loved the way she spoke about her horses and how she spoke so openly about the things she found hard. Going to Burghley has always been a highlight of my summer and when she won the 2003 title — and the Rolex Grand Slam — there, it totally solidified the fact in my mind that she was the ultimate pro rider. I went to watch a lecture demo around a year or so later at Arena UK where she let a young girl walk off Supreme Rock at the end of the session, which I thought was just the nicest thing to do. The first time I interviewed Pippa was after the Burghley Young Event Horse finals in 2009 for Eventing Worldwide. I was on my gap year and had just about decided for certain that I wanted to be a journalist. I was incredibly nervous and couldn’t quite believe I was standing there wearing a press badge, but she couldn’t have been nicer!”

    Rachael Turner, News Writer/ Digital Sub Editor

    William Fox-Pitt
    “William’s mother, Marietta, taught me at Pony Club (West Street) and we all looked up to him. Marietta would always say, ‘If a neck strap is good enough for William it’s good enough for you!’, when riders were reluctant about wearing one cross-country. He used to teach at our three-day rally (we didn’t have a camp so this was our version) and I got so nervous before William’s lessons. I remember taking a bad line to the first fence in my first showjuping lesson with him and having a run out. I was mortified. I managed to redeem myself later on and learnt lots from his sessions. He was very down to earth and would go out of his way to help you improve, whatever level you rode at. He was a great instructor and straight talking, just like Marietta.”

    Take a trip down memory lane with this week’s issue of Horse & Hound magazine (11 January 2017), celebrating the stars of yesteryear

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