Mary King: ‘The reality is I simply couldn’t have this career without my mother’

  • Mary King is a linchpin of the British eventing community, the idol of so many young riders — but it is her unhorsey mother, Gillian (Jill) Thomson who died suddenly on Monday (8 January), who she credits with enabling her to reach the top of her sport.

    While Jill didn’t have a natural affinity with horses — she would just about hold one to hand-graze at an event — she went out of her way to help Mary.

    In 1995 Jill had a bout of salmonella and was told to stay in hospital — but she pulled out the drip to drive the lorry back from Thirlestane in Scotland, where Mary had finished first on King William and second on Star Appeal in the final trial for the Europeans, all the way to Devon.

    And when Mary broke her her wrist and ankle bone in 1999, Jill looked after Mary’s two children, Emily and Freddie, full time.

    In Mary’s book ‘The Autobiography’, she remembers just a few of the those selfless moments:

    The ultimate competition companion

    “On my way up to the [Young Rider] training I competed at Stowell Park Horse Trials near Cirencester. ‘Make sure the people you park next to know you’re on your own…’ said Mum. Again I took off like a madwoman across country, and stupidly galloped straight at an upright white gate in a hedge-line. Humphrey chipped in a stride and hit the gate hard. I flew off and hit my head. When I woke up in the ambulance on the way to Cheltenham hospital, all I could do was repeat confusedly, ‘I’m on my own, I’m on my own.’ […] At that point, Mum decided that her accident-prone daughter shouldn’t go to any more events on her own.”

    On hand for a new mother

    “When I was first married, the half-hour ‘commute’ to my yard came as a shock. Now, with two tiny children, the strain began to kick in. Again, my wonderful mother came to the rescue. She gave up fostering children [Jill fostered over 36 of children over the years] and helping with the Guides, and instead devoted herself to her grandchildren, while I restricted myself to five or six horses and just rode in the mornings. Fortunately, Dad didn’t mind staying at home on his own while Mum accompanied me to events. She would drive while I spent time with the children in the back, and then she’d mind them while I was riding.”

    Continued below…

    A matter of fact approach to illness

    “In June 2007, Mum was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her immediate reaction to the diagnosis was typically calm, to the point of flippancy. […] She had an operation on 10 August and 12 days later we went to Urchinwood Horse Trials with four horses, two grooms and four children. Mum had been told she mustn’t drive the horsebox for at least a month, so there she was cooking eggs and bacon for eight of us. […] My mother’s resilience never fails to amaze me, and this alarming interlude only emphasised how much I owe her. The reality is that I simply couldn’t have this career without her.”

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