‘Various people have tried to talk me out of it’: Ian Stark plans his ‘semi-retirement’

  • Eventing legend, multi-medallist and three-time Badminton winner Ian Stark has confirmed he will step down from designing cross-country courses at the end of 2024 following his 70th birthday.

    Ian started course-designing in 2005 at Chatsworth. He was behind the 2015 European Eventing Championships track at Blair Castle, and today designs for top events including Bramham, Chatsworth, and Maryland five-star in the US.

    Ian, who turns 70 in February, told H&H he had always intended to retire from cross-country design at the end of 2024 owing to the former FEI age-limit that meant officials had to retire aged 70. However the rules changed in 2019 and there is no longer a limit.

    “I’d always planned [to stop at] the end of next year, and I’ve decided to stick with it,” he said, adding that the 2024 Maryland five-star at Fair Hill will be his final event as a course-designer.

    “It is tempting to go on, but I’ve always had it in my head. I’m a bit like that in my life and career where I have aims and goals, make decisions and I stick with them. I’m probably a bit bloody-minded when it comes to it, and various people have tried to talk me out of it, but that’s not going to happen.

    “I’ve had a great time with all my eventing, course-designing, all the other bits and bobs from the racing world and commentating; I’ve had a pretty good go of it all. I think I should go out when people still want me, than to be still hanging around when they want rid of me!”

    Ian, who is also contracted to coach the US eventing squad to the end of 2024 – with Paris the primary focus – plans a “semi-retirement”.

    “I’ll do a bit of coaching, but not to the same level that I’m doing,” he said. “Although I’ll be stopping designing, the FEI has asked me to stay on in an advisory capacity; if I can help with people’s careers and futures and still be involved in the sport I’d be delighted. I just don’t want the huge commitment after the end of next year.

    “In terms of the events, I’m working with the organisers about who will take over. I gave them all two years’ warning so they’ve known since the beginning of this year. They say they’d like to talk me out of it, but they understand why I’m doing it. We’ll see what happens, I may be doing a little bit of work, I may not be doing any. If I’m needed I’m around and if not, so be it.”

    But Ian has no plans to stop riding, and will continue to event. He retired from top-level sport in 2007, but continues to compete.

    “I’m incredibly lucky – I’m five months off my 70th, and I’m still reasonably fit and well. I did a 55-mile cycle tour of the borders the other day,” he said.

    “The horse I’m eventing (Chatsworth Diamond) would have been advanced if it hadn’t been for me being so busy, and I’ve just bought a new five-year-old that I’m very excited about. I’ve also got four youngsters on the hill that I’ll break and produce,” he said.

    “I’ll keep riding while I’m fit, and compete a bit. I enjoy it and I enjoy producing horses and getting out there. I’ve always said I’ll know when my reactions are no longer effective enough – and I have a very good wife and children who will very quickly tell me if it’s time to stop being an idiot and grow up, but I’m not ready to grow up yet!”

    Ian said he is most looking forward to spending time with his four grandchildren, Freddie, 14, Alfie, 13, Hugo, aged six, and Eilidh, aged three.

    “I like driving them around and doing things with them,” said Ian. “Freddie has a pony that Jenny and I bred that he’s eventing a bit. He’s already understanding the pressure of riding in my footsteps so he’s also riding out for a local racehorse trainer, Stuart Coltherd, during the holidays and at weekends. He may well decide that racing is the route he wants to go down, so I’m there to help and support wherever. I did point-to-points for a number of years and I can understand his desire for speed.

    “Alfie is mainly a rugby player, and I think his aim is to play for Scotland in the future. Hugo and Eilidh are a bit younger, but they’re both quite gutsy too. All four are now into skiing, so they want to go skiing with me – they’re all very active, and I love nothing better than spending time with them.”

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