As a child, Mary would go on Pony Club coach trips to the Badminton Horse Trials, and she admits that it seemed “impossible” that she would ever “gallop around that course and jump those huge fences.”
“I never thought I’d get there, especially as I grew up in a rented verger’s cottage and we had no money, so it was such a dream to ride at Badminton for the first time,” says Mary. “I was second in 1989 and third a year later, with King Boris, but my first Badminton win — with King William, in 1992 — stands out as my proudest moment.”
When looking back at the five-time Olympian’s incredible success in the sport, it’s hard to imagine her starting out.
“At the age of 11 I went to Badminton with the Axe Vale Pony Club, and suddenly I realised there was another world and another level of riding out there,” she wrote in her autobiography. “I couldn’t understand how people could be so brave to jump these huge fences. Every year I collected the Badminton programme and studied the fence names.
“When it came to decision time at school, I realised that eventing was what I wanted to do and competing at Badminton was the completely impossible ultimate aim that I would pursue to achieve my dreams.”
And it was aboard the British-bred gelding King William, by Nickel King, that a 30-year-old Mary was able to fulfil these dreams.
“I fell for William the moment I saw him,” she remembered. “He was a beautiful, striking, big, dark bay horse with a white blaze, who looked so alert, purposeful and light on his feet.”
When King William died in 2002, Mary looked back on that first Badminton victory as an enduring memory.
“Winning Badminton on King William was the best moment of my career,” she said. “He was an incredibly sound horse who was renowned for his cross-country ability.
“The public adored him — he was very recognisable with his big white blaze. A fan once sent him a letter addressed to ‘King William, Devon’ and it reached us.”
Having first competed at Badminton in 1985, when she finished seventh on Diver’s Rock, Mary went on to win for a second time with Star Appeal in 2000.
How to watch Badminton Horse Trials
If you are interested in watching Badminton Horse Trials live from the comfort of your home, wherever you are in the world, you will need to subscribe to Badminton TV. To sign up, visit watch.badminton-horse.tv – click the “Sign Up” link in the top right corner of your screen, then follow the instructions. An annual subscription to Badminton TV costs £19.99 and gives you 365 days of access to all of the content in the Badminton TV library, the ability to watch the action live, and the option to replay all of this year’s action later.
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