‘I’ve loved every minute’: Olympic eventer calls time on top-level career after sad loss of horse

  • Eventing legend Tina Cook has called time on her elite-level career, after her medal-winning ride Billy The Red was put down aged 15.

    Tina, who has three Olympic medals to her name, as well as being European champion, and winning world team golds and silver and European team gold, told H&H it is “the end of an era”. She will continue to produce young horses, and compete up to three-star level, but also support her daughter Isabelle, now 17, who events, and her 15-year-old son Harry, who are her main priority now.

    “I’ve had a fabulous career,” Tina told H&H. “There is more I’d like to win! But I’ve been able to be competitive, and aim for British teams, for the past 30 years, and I’ve produced and ridden many wonderful horses.”

    Tina had to say goodbye to Billy The Red, with whom she won European team gold in 2017, finishing fourth individually, and team silver in 2019, and was travelling reserve for the 2016 Olympics.

    “It was incredibly sad,” she said, thanking Billy’s owners Elisabeth Murdoch and Keith Tyson for their support. “He was challenging, a bright, sharp little horse who gave me so much.”

    Tina said Billy had competed at Pau last year, after an injury he sustained a year or so before, but was unlevel before Badminton this year. She turned him out but realised he would not have enjoyed a comfortable retirement.

    “He was a funny little horse with a sharp, spooky brain – never nasty but I soon learnt to ride him on his terms,” she said. “He had so much natural ability and a great technique; he had a short fuse but I found the best way was to work with him, then he gave me so much. He’d jump anything and everything, and on the last day he had an amazing record of showjumping clears.

    “I took the decision that was right for the horse. I get so attached to my horses; it was so sad but if they can’t have a happy retirement, you have to do what’s right by the horse. And at the same time as announcing that, I thought maybe now’s the time to say what’s probably going to happen.”

    Tina explained that Billy was her only top-level horse, and that there was a gap between him and her younger rides. She also wants to spend more time supporting Harry – she enjoys watching him play rugby at weekends – and Isabelle, who won junior European team gold and individual silver this summer on the homebred Mexican Law.

    “Mexican Law would probably have filled that gap but I felt she’d be a fantastic junior horse for Isabelle,” Tina said.

    Tina Cook and Miners Frolic in Beijing

    “It’s difficult as I need to earn more money, and produce young horses to sell, and age is catching up with me a bit! I enjoy producing the young ones, horses and humans. It was a bit of a wake-up call when I wasn’t entered for Tokyo as I felt Billy would have been competitive but when there are younger people coming through – which there should be, you’d be worried if there weren’t – you maybe have to step down gracefully, or try to be graceful! It’s the end of an era and a strange thought but I’ve had a year to think about it and it can’t be all about me; I’ve got other people in my life. I feel a bit older now and have picked up a few injuries, and maybe it’s that sort of time.”

    Tina said she will enjoy bringing on youngsters; she produced all her own top rides to that level, and maybe “producing some that may be good enough for Isabelle to represent her country, as I’ve been lucky enough to do”.

    She added that it is hard to pick out real highlights from her top-level career that has included so many special horses and successes.

    “There was Song And Dance Man who took me from Pony Club to the British team in 1993; the Europeans in pouring rain, where a lot of the top combinations fell apart but my little wiry thoroughbred jumped double clear and we won individual silver. That was a very pivotal part of my career; my first time on a senior team, at 22, and coming back with a silver, but so many horses have given me so much.”

    Tina also cited General Jock, who her mother Althea found as a four-year-old at Doncaster sales and with whom she won world team gold in 1994 and individual European bronze in 1997, and finished fifth at Badminton. And of course the legendary Miners Frolic, who won double Olympic bronze in 2008 and team silver four years later.

    “I thought for a long time I’d never get to an Olympics, as before each Games, something went wrong,” Tina said. “By then I’d had two children and to go to an Olympics as the mother of two babies and get the results seemed unrealistic. But to win individual bronze and coming back best of the Brits – it all happened at the right time. You just keep working away with these horses and hope you get it right, and seize the moment.”

    Tina added that she may not have a five-star victory to her name, but “I’m not walking away with any regrets”.

    “That would have been the icing on the cake but I suppose I’ve achieved a lot, and now’s the time to give something back,” she said.

    “You have to grow up at some point and I’ve had a good spin at this. The sport’s given me so much pleasure and I’ve loved every minute of it.”

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