Oliver Townend Q&A: the media, Avebury and going it alone

  • Helen Hazeltine: If you could ride any famous horse from history, who would you choose?

    Oliver says: “He’s not really from history, but the eventer I would choose would be Avebury, owned by Rosemary and Mark Barlow and ridden by Andrew Nicholson. Not only is he absolutely top class, he looks good fun as well. I was lucky enough to sit on him once in a parade at Burghley and he was lovely. I also really like his pedigree [he is by Jumbo, out of the thoroughbred mare Bairn Free, by Bairn].

    “Also, he’s grey and that’s a colour which has been lucky for me in the past [Oliver’s Badminton winner Flint Curtis and Burghley winner Carousel Quest were both grey].

    “From a racing point of view it would have to be Desert Orchid. He’s another grey, but the reason for choosing him is the special feeling he must have given when he stood off at a fence from outside the wings.

    “On the Flat, I would pick Frankel — I don’t think I’ll ever be fortunate enough to sit on a horse with gears like him.”

    Ella Vincent: If you were to advise a young event rider wishing to progress up the ranks, what would your top tips be?

    Oliver says: “I would advise riders to spend as much time as possible in every type of yard — so to work in a dealing yard, a racing yard, a jumping yard, rather than just event yards. And don’t set up on your own too early — make sure you have a good apprenticeship.”

    Deb Meek: What was the turning point of your career?

    Oliver says: “For me, it was setting up on my own. I was only 21, but I had served a long apprenticeship as I had effectively been professional since I was 14 and it got the stage where I wanted to work in my own way and I was never going to work for anybody else again. I set up in a rented yard initially and then bought my current base, Gadlas Farm, when I was 25.”

    Beth Cowell: I would like to ask Oliver about the relationship between top sportspeople and the media and business. Given that competing at the top level involves conducting interviews with the media and dealing with potential sponsors, has Oliver done any media training or a business course?

    Oliver says: “No, but in hindsight maybe I should have done!

    “You learn very quickly when you make mistakes. I didn’t understand initially that my personality and what I say doesn’t always look good written down. People can’t write the way I say things, or a smile or a wink, so I have learnt you should always be careful when talking to the media.

    “In terms of a business course, I didn’t come from a place with much financial backing, so it was either sink or swim. I had to become business savvy and learn to make a living quickly or I wouldn’t have been able to pay the rent on my yard.”

    Check back on Monday for more questions and answers with Oliver.

    Oliver Townend is the guest editor of today’s issue of H&H (dated 5 March), which includes our eventing special. Don’t miss it!

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