From Tokyo commentary to Pony Club champs: eventing legend steps in as grassroots team coach

  • When you’ve qualified for a Pony Club championship and your normal trainer is indisposed, what do you do?

    In the case of the Duke of Buccleuch Hunt branch, you appeal to one of the greats of eventing — who duly spends some 10 hours in the pouring rain helping young riders and their ponies.

    Lucy Wilson told H&H the team, her 13-year-old daughter Lottie on Gracie, Freddie Robson on Faith, Tom McTaggart on Reiver and Coco Oakes on Puffin, had qualified for the grassroots showjumping northern championships, at Auchlishie Eventing, Kirriemuir, on 6 August.

    “We took them to Ayrshire for the qualifier a couple of weeks ago with no expectation that they’d qualify, but they did!” Lucy said. “We then found out the final was the next week, and Freddie’s mum Steph, who’s their trainer, couldn’t go. She said ‘I’ll ask my dad’.”

    Dad in this case is multiple medal-winning eventer Ian Stark, who agreed, hot-footing it from commentating on the Tokyo Olympics equestrian events for the BBC.

    “It was the most filthy day,” Lucy said. “As we were driving there, we kept thinking ‘surely they’ll cancel’, but they didn’t. I think poor Ian thought he’d signed up for a few hours but we got there about 8am and didn’t leave till about 6pm!”

    The showjumping was all on grass, on which the rain took its toll, and Lucy said the children’s instructions were “just get round”.

    “But only two teams got through to the jump-off, out of 26, and they were one of them,” she said. “They came second, it was unbelievable.

    “Ian was so good with them. He got them all warmed up individually — and missed most of Freddie’s rounds as he was warming the next rider up — he was brilliant, and they were so lucky to have the experience.”

    Lucy added that Ian walked the courses with the team, and instilled some much-needed confidence.

    “Coco’s only nine and she’s tiny,” Lucy said. “The second course was quite big for her, but Ian said ‘I’m going to put the jumps up in the warm-up ring; your pony can do this and you can do it’. He got her round and she wouldn’t stop, she just wanted to keep going.

    “He gave them so much confidence, he was just fab.”

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