‘Running towards Mark Todd for a selfie, I didn’t spot the knee-height rope fencing…’

  • Horse & Hound readers reveal their comedy encounters with the stars of the equestrian world

    They say you should never meet your heroes, but we like to think our equestrian superstars are a pretty amiable bunch — so when that chance encounter at the tradestands happens, it’s bound to be a memorable, bucket-list kind of moment, right? Yes, but sometimes for all the wrong reasons, say our wonderful readers…

    Paula Wroath

    “Circa 1980, I was hunting with the Belvoir. At one check, my horse was sweating and fractious after the run so I allowed him to eat the verge to keep him quiet, which obviously turned the froth around his bit green. There was a handsome horse standing beside me which I admired then glanced at the rider — the second I realised it was HRH Prince Charles, my gelding decided he needed to scratch his head, and the most convenient spot to do this was His Highness’s immaculate breeches, covering them in green slobber. The Prince of Wales said ‘horses will be horses’, which I felt was very generous…”

    Debbie Johnson

    “I was a Games Maker at the 2012 Olympics in Greenwich. My daughter was a big fan of Carl Hester and I spotted him outside Cafe Rouge so plucked up enough courage to ask him for an autograph for her. The lady standing next to Carl was looking at me a bit strangely but I thought nothing of it until later that day when she won gold! You can imagine what my daughter said…”

    Eve Duggan

    “At the Lincolnshire Horse Trials in 2012, when I was 11, I spotted Mark Todd walking out of the warm up arena and I desperately wanted a picture with him. I started running towards him and didn’t spot the knee-height rope fencing. I fell face first in front of all the international riders warming up their horses up. Needless to say I didn’t get my photo with Mark Todd and was thoroughly embarrassed for a long time after.”

    Emma Bithell

    “At HOYS I got in the hotel lift with Nick Skelton and, very excited, I told him I remembered him from the days of Milton. He seemed a bit speechless but I ran back to the hotel room to tell my sister my fabulous story about meeting Nick. ‘But Milton was John Whitaker’s horse!’ she exclaimed. That brought me crashing back down to earth and I’m still mortified to this day!”

    Charlotte Wisbey

    “The week after the Sydney Olympics in 2000, I was competing at Milton Keynes in the BE100, a step too far for my horse Robbie at the time! I set out on the cross-country just before Leslie Law, who had just come back from Sydney with Olympic gold. Robbie had other ideas and decided to have me off between fences four and five on course. Not even at a jump! I stomped back just as Leslie came galloping down to the first — he gave me a big comforting grin, I cringed!”

    Simone Burdett

    “I was at Burghley a few years back with my friend Louise, who is great pals with Jeanette Brakewell. We were at Jeanette’s lorry making bacon sarnies and tea for us all and were having a lovely chat when Mark Todd came across. Politely Jeanette introduced me to Mark, to which I replied ‘Hi, lovely to meet you, you make rugs don’t you?’ Honestly!”

    Bea Hawker

    “We were sitting watching Zara Tindall (or Phillips as she was then) at Burghley when suddenly the clip came off my Labrador Baldrick’s extendable lead and he promptly toddled off to investigate a discarded sandwich. At this same moment an older lady was walking past and tripped over the now extended lead. As we went to help her up and apologise, about 10 people did the same and I realised this lady was the mother of the rider we were watching and therefore none other than Princess Anne, whoops!”

    Lottie Green

    “While training at Summerhouse on my little eventer, soon after having a baby, I came off at the first fence! Less than impressed, we pushed on, both looking and feeling rather green. My instructor decided a nice oxer was the answer, at which my four-legged friend put on the brakes. As I hit the sandy deck I felt the emotional surge of being a sleep-deprived new mum hit me. I stood up, threw down my whip, burst into tears and began to rant about having enough of absolutely everything! My adorable instructor labelled it as ‘a Britney Spears moment’ and I could see Sir Mark Todd watching me in all my glory from the lorry park. He emailed my instructor later that night to say: “I hope for your sake not all your clients are that emotional…”

    Hannah Wright

    “I work at Brendon Stud Pyecombe, and one year during the four-day show I was harrowing the collecting ring in the tractor. I had asked all riders to clear the warm-up but midway through harrowing, somebody strolled in on a lovely looking horse. Not knowing who it was, I asked them to leave until I’d finished. When there was no response, I shouted: ‘Get out of the collecting ring!’ Which worked. Once I had finished harrowing, Shirley Light turned round to me and said ‘Have you met my friend and former world number one Scott Brash, who you just told to get out the warm up?’ I have never gone so red — but at the same time, I thought it doesn’t matter who you are when it comes to horse and rider safety!”

    Lizzy Campbell

    “I was volunteering at the Olympics in Rio and I stood to pose for a photo whilst Team GB were exercising behind me. Afterwards, my team leader introduced to me to Pippa Funnell. All I could do was cry! Still, it was the best day ever.”

    Marita Dobson

    “I was part of the Scottish British Dressage group that visited Carl Hester’s yard in 2016. I was the last one in to the arena and all the seats were taken and I almost sat in the poo bucket — Carl, ever the gentleman, ran to my assistance — but then Charlotte Dujardin’s dog took a shine to me, eventually becoming rather amorous — in front of the whole of the group! I have never been so embarrassed…”

    Julie Ann Johnson

    “Back in the early 1990s at Bromont Horse Trials (where the equestrian disciplines for the 1976 Montreal Olympics were held) I was standing in line one morning absolutely desperate for a homemade sausage-in-a-bun. The guy ahead of me took TWO and then there were none left! It was Cpt. Mark Phillips.”

    Nina and Iona Heywood

    “My sister and I were at Olympia one year and we happened to see the late Tim Stockdale walking around, so we went up to him and asked for a signature. Without looking, we thrust forwards a catalogue we had picked up during our shopping spree. He scowled at it, clearly a bit confused, and said: ‘You know this isn’t me, right?’ We looked down and it was a picture of John Whitaker. Sportingly, he did still sign it.”

    Katie Harris

    “At Hickstead in 2011 in the Pimm’s tent (naturally), I realised I was standing next to none other than Nick Skelton, and in all my (completely un-cool) enthusiasm spluttered out: ‘Nick? Nick Skelton? Oh my god, I love you, you’re my hero’. Shame I ended up sounding like a drooling lovestruck teenager…”

    Emma Murphy

    “A few years ago, my friend and I were at Bicton College Arena for a William Fox-Pitt demonstration. I came walking round a corner looking down at my very hot, very full, cup of hot chocolate, when I face-planted into William’s chest. Luckily the hot chocolate didn’t spill all over his beautiful white breeches but I apologised profusely. I couldn’t look at him for the whole of the demonstration and when I got the opportunity to have my photograph taken with him I turned it down out of fear! Cringe.”

    Nichola Williams

    “I once met Mary King at Badminton. I told her she had been my idol ever since my mum bought me Mary King’s Riding Star on PlayStation 1. I then cried so much that Emily King had to go and find me a tissue. To make it worse, I had gone to Badminton with non-horsey friends, who had no idea who Mary King was!”

    Abbie Hipgrave

    “During the lunch interval of a Carl Hester demo at Oldencraig EC many moons ago, I was shopping in the stands and became flustered at seeing Carl a few feet away (I was only 16 and he was, still is, my idol). In my teenage panic, I turned quickly away and knocked a whole rail of clothing on the floor. Carl looked round to see me scooping up everything in a red cheeked embarrassed mess on the floor!”

    Anna Viktoria

    “During the summer of 2017 in Falsterbo I was a volunteer and I saw Bertram Allen pass me tons of times but didn’t have the courage to ask him for a photo. Before leaving, while regretting not having asked I asked a friendly man (didn’t know who he was, just saw he had the Irish team’s clothing) whether he knew where Bertram was going to be in the afternoon as I wanted a photo with him. Later, when I got home, I realised that the really kind and friendly man was Rodrigo Pessoa, former Olympic and world champion! He was incredibly nice and helped me find Bertram who I eventually got a photo with!”

    Rachel Robinson

    “A girl called Caitlin was working for me at Bramham one year. We finished the cross-country and Caitlin took the horse back to the stables to take his studs out. When my friend got there, Sir Mark Todd was taking them out and Caitlin had not realised who he was. She said: ‘I thought he was someone’s dad and was instructing him on how to pick up a horses foot — just run your hand down his leg and say ‘Hup’ — and don’t be turning it any further to the right, remember its righty tighty, lefty loosey.’ Mark just grinned wryly and did as she told him! About a month later I had a lesson with Sir Mark and he kindly wrote on her leaving card: ‘Pleased to be able to help with the studs.’ Top guy.”

    Danielle Miles

    “I am a big fan of Ben Hobday’s, so when a demonstration evening came up at Craven country ride, I jumped at the chance to go along. Following a fascinating cross-country demonstration we all retreated to the clubhouse for a talk from Ben and the chance to get his signature and a photograph. After umming and arring for a while as to whether or not I should join the queue of youngsters (I’m in my 30s) to get Ben’s signature I thought why not, it won’t be embarrassing right? For the entire length of the queue I was toying with what to say. Then, as I sat down I got a whiff of Ben’s aftershave (and what a fantastic aftershave it was) and the first words out of my mouth were ‘Wow is that you smelling like that?’ He looked at me strangely and I then proceeded to lunge towards his neck and take a huge sniff whilst my friends looked on mortified. Luckily Ben found it funny. Why couldn’t I just have said ‘Hello, I think you’re a great rider’ or ‘I loved watching you and Mr Mulry flying around Badminton’!”

    Continued below…

    Dawn Bacchus

    “About 30 years ago, but sufficiently embarrassing that it still sticks in my memory, I asked Mary Gordon Watson if she evented… We were chatting between rounds at a show jumping competition. She was very nice and said ‘not with this horse’. Perhaps next week I’ll ask Andy Murray if he plays tennis!”

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