In our third episode of an exclusive new online series, Horse & Hound catches up with legendary event rider William Fox-Pitt to learn more about his current and upcoming rides, life away from the horses, and whether he feels under pressure to bring his incredible competition career to an end…
What’s special about William’s current top horse Grafennacht?
Grafennacht is the first mare I’ve ever ridden around Badminton Horse Trials, which seeing as I’ve done 25 is a big statistic. I’ve never even had another mare entered and that’s not because I don’t like mares, I’ve just never had one. She’s a lovely, talented horse.
She’s sadly missed Burghley this year because she did two months of embryo transfers after Badminton and missed too much work. She didn’t produce a foal either so it was all a bit sad. But she’s a very talented horse, very able and went well at Badminton, which was her first five-star.
I’m going to take her to Maryland five-star in America in October. She’s 11 and missed a year last year so is probably still a little bit green for her age. We now need to work on her strength and jumping on the last day.
Which up-and-coming horses is William Fox-Pitt most excited about right now?
I’ve got Duke Legacy, who is a big, gangly teenager and coming on. And I’ve got a great six-year-old called Absolutely, who is very flashy and smart. He won his last three novices. I’m also riding the former racehorse Santini, who was placed in the Grand National and the Cheltenham Gold Cup. He is 11 and got his first double clear round a novice last week – we are very excited about that.
There is another thing I’m doing; my mother Marietta gave her granddaughter (the eldest of my two daughters) a foal, the way grandmothers do. The foal (Cusco) is now six and I’m now producing him for my 10-year-old, Chloe. Lucky daddy is bringing on the six-year-old so when the horse is 12, Chloe will be 16 and I’m dreaming they will be in juniors. That’s the plan, because I certainly won’t be buying her juniors horses. Granny’s home-bred is what the future is about.
They say you never stop learning in horse sport – what’s the last thing William learned?
That’s true! You’re always learning, even at 54. I do more and more teaching now, so I’m learning from my pupils. I wish I’d done more teaching earlier in my career because I’d have learnt more as I would have had to have it all in my head.
I think the whole attention to detail is so important. I was always probably a little bit quick to move on to the next thing. Now, I think getting the basics right is vital, not just good enough. Before, I’ve been happy with good enough and move on – but now the sport is different. Good enough is absolutely not good enough. You’ve got to be the best. Keeping it simple is useful too.
What is William Fox-Pitt’s go-to training mantra right now?
I do a lot of jumping and controlling. Often when people jump, they lose control, and they jump too big because people always want to jump big – but that’s no good if you haven’t got any control.
I start with jumps on the small side and work on straightness, balance, rhythm, tempo and all those boring details, because then it becomes a habit. Then, when the jumps get bigger, you don’t suddenly start to gallop and cut the corners.
What keeps William occupied outside the horses?
I love my poultry. The chickens keep me very busy; we regularly have a fox. We always focus on the next lot of chickens. I love my mix and match bantams. Otherwise, I’ve been focused and single-minded about horses for a long time. I enjoy a bit of hunting and racing – I’d like to get a bit better at skiing, a bit better at tennis and I’d like to learn how to get more excited about fishing.
Outside eventing, what is William Fox-Pitt most looking forward to?
We are going on a family riding safari in Kenya. I’ve joked to my kids they all have to learn to ride well enough so that they can do a riding safari. This is it – the last family holiday with all six of us because Ollie has now left school, Tom is doing his A levels and they certainly won’t be coming on riding safaris anymore. I’ll definitely miss them when they’re gone. They’ll leave a very large hole and we’ll have to fill it up with more gardening and poultry.
What’s new at William Fox-Pitt’s yard?
I’ve just had a mare produce a new foal by Diarado. I used him because I love the horse JL Dublin, who is by Diarado. Although Dublin didn’t have a great European Championships with Tom McEwen, in my eyes he is the perfect event horse. The foal’s dam is a thoroughbred called Tambourine Mix that Nicky and Josh Hamley gave me for my 50th. She’s produced some lovely foals so far, but I was keen to send her to a stallion who can jump. We’ve been calling the foal Thor.
All riders get to an age when they face pressure to retire – does William feel that?
Yeah, I totally have pressure to retire – I totally should retire. I’m 54 and far too old to be eventing really. I’m not Mark Todd – it’s time I grew out of eventing, but I haven’t been able to yet. There will be a time, and I don’t think before too long, when I will retire but I’m not there yet. I haven’t lost my nerve and I’ve got a lovely horse I want to ride a bit longer. I haven’t got many at the top level – Little Fire is injured; Oratorio II had his heart attack and it’s looking as though if anything went wrong with Grafennacht, I wouldn’t have anything else anyway. It’s all heading that way.
Riding at Badminton this year was amazing, I was pleased to jump all the jumps and finish well, not good enough, but well. When you’re my age you might be quite happy with finishing 14th or 15th at Badminton – my goalposts have moved slightly.
I have been very lucky that I have won enough stuff that I absolutely do not feel like I need to win anything else. I would like to, but I certainly don’t need to. I’ve been in 19 British teams, but of course I would like to be in 20. I’ve won 14 five-stars, of course I’d love to win 15. There are all those little dreams, but they’re not realistic and I’m very relaxed about that. It’s no longer about winning.
Peter Charles once told me: “You know what you have to remember mate – you’re a long time retired.” That is always in my mind, and it makes me smile. But there won’t be many more events – I promise.
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