H&H’s 135th birthday: William Fox-Pitt — ‘it had never happened to me before, it was a huge moment’

Through the highs and lows of equestrian sport, Horse & Hound has been there – documenting the many achievements of Britain’s top riders and sharing their experiences on the world stage. We all have our treasured memories from the last few decades of competition, but what would some of our best-loved celebrities single out as their proudest moments? First up, as we celebrate H&H’s 135th birthday with a bumper issue out today (20 June), is William Fox-Pitt…

After more than 30 years at the top of the sport, eventing legend William Fox-Pitt has amassed an enviable collection of European, World and Olympic medals. He has also conquered all but one of the world’s six CCI4*s (now CCI5*), claiming a record six Burghley wins and twice lifting the Badminton trophy. Famous names from William’s yard have included Chaka, Tamarillo and the talented stallion Chilli Morning – with whom he made an astonishing comeback at the Rio Olympics in 2016, just 10 months after suffering a head injury in an eventing fall.

“Two proud moments stand out,” says William, looking back over a lengthy career. “The first was winning a silver medal at the junior European championships at Pratoni Del Vivaro in Italy, in 1987. Until then I hadn’t really won anything. I was riding Steadfast (pictured), a horse I was sure was a consistent team player, so I was mortified to be there as an individual rather than being picked for the team.

“That was so disappointing, so to then win a medal for my country was a miracle,” he adds. “It was the first time ever that it had all come together. I was just 18 at the time and so wrapped up in the whole Europeans thing — everything went by in a blur.”

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William continues: “My other big moment was riding at the London Olympics in 2012. When the announcement first came through that Britain had won the Olympic bid, I was competing at Shipton Moyne on a novice horse. That was probably six or seven years before the Games, but I remember thinking there and then that I would make sure I had a horse to ride at London. Nothing is ever certain with horses, but that was certainly my intention.

“I did make it to the Games with my number three horse, Lionheart, as various problems had arisen with the others. Things didn’t quite go plan, personally or team-wise [William was 27th and the team second], but it was pretty cool to be there.

“I really felt for the first time that it was not just about eventing — I was in Team GB. Being in the Olympic village with athletes from different sports, riding in front of a home crowd, realising that the whole country was behind you – that had never happened to me before. It was a huge moment, very emotive. I felt really proud.”

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