‘A true horseman and a master of his craft’: riders’ tributes as William Fox-Pitt bows out of top level

  • The equestrian world has been paying tribute to William Fox-Pitt since he announced his retirement from the highest level of the sport, bowing out at the top as one of eventing’s all-time greats.

    William came so close to a fairytale ending to his stellar career after he and Grafennacht gave a cross-country masterclass at Mars Badminton Horse Trials on Saturday (11 May), but poles down meant they finished 13th. H&H reported on Sunday that he then announced it would be his last Badminton, after 26 completions.

    “I’ve really loved it,” he said. “I’ve been so lucky to have so many supporters, it’s been a great send-off. We enjoyed the moment yesterday. There’s no tears and sobbing – I’m very matter of fact about it; this is the right thing to do.”

    William has been representing Britain since he was in juniors, winning individual silver in 1987. He won two team golds, team silver and individual bronze in young rider Europeans. He has been on six European gold medal-winning senior teams, one silver and one bronze, and won two individual silvers and one bronze, not to mention world team gold, two silvers and bronze, and individual silver and bronze.

    At Olympics, he has twice won team silver and once bronze. In 2016 he was the highest placed Brit in 12th, less than a year after he suffered a serious head injury in a fall.

    His 14 five-star wins are more than anyone else has achieved, he has won Burghley six times on six horses, plus more than 50 three-day events.

    Yogi Breisner, British eventing performance manager through much of William’s golden era, told H&H this record speaks for itself.

    “But where he’s unique is that he’s done that on such a vast variety of horses,” he said. “That shows what a true horseman he is, his wonderful understanding for the horses and his ability to get the best out of so many horses.”

    Yogi added that not only is William a star, he shone through times when so many top riders were on the scene.

    “He was top of his game in an era of unbelievable riders,” he said. “He represented Britain on so many teams; not only was he such a good rider, he was an unbelievably good team member.”


    Pippa Funnell, who has been William’s close friend, fellow competitor and team-mate since their Pony Club days, told H&H that Sunday was a very emotional day.

    “It really is the end of an era,” she said. “He’ll still be at events, but it’s very sad we won’t see him at the very top end of the sport. It’s unbelievable what he’s achieved in his long career. What we witnessed on cross-country day at Badminton was absolutely William at his very best. He’s always been a magician across country, the way he makes the big tracks look so simple. He really is a master of his craft.”

    Pippa added that she has huge respect for William’s mental strength, and that he has always jokingly told her to “shut up and get on with it” for her competition nerves.

    “It was such a desperately worrying time when he was in a coma for so long after his injury and to come back and pick himself back up was a remarkable achievement,” she said. “I know it has played on [William’s wife] Alice’s mind so I’m sure there will be part of her that’s relieved he’s made this decision on his terms.

    “He’s an out-and-out horseman who looks at his horses as friends. The word ‘legend’ is used too much now, but in my mind he is one. It’s been an absolute privilege to have had our careers running in parallel; we’ve been holding hands all the way through.”

    Tina Cook told H&H that though William’s showjumping at Badminton did not go to plan, he will rather be remembered for Saturday’s cross-country.

    “William and I had similar upbringings, with strong, knowledgeable mothers,” she told H&H. “Our parents made it clear that to succeed in the sport, you had to work jolly hard. He worked his magic on each horse and got the best out of so many. So much thought and detail went in and as he’s so tall, he’s had to work harder on his balance and position; that shows in his results.

    “In his youth, he had ordinary horses, but always made the very best of them. He worked so hard to make sure they were in the right frame of mind and he had a natural art of making a hot horse calm and trusting. He has such a natural way with and feel for them.

    “He is just a unique, special person and a true horseman.”

    Carl Hester, who has worked with William for some time, told H&H he watched Badminton this weekend.

    “I enjoy watching the sport and having watched him when he started, I thought he was as magnificent as ever, which is wonderful,” he said. “He’s such a lovely person, a gentleman.

    “He always comes across as a really good role model for fair sportsmanship. He accepts what he gets and where he finishes and is delighted for other people – it’s not just about him, it’s about the sport and others in it, which is a lovely quality to have.”

    • What are your favourite memories of William Fox-Pitt’s career? Send your thoughts to hhletters@futurenet.com, including your name, and nearest town and county, for possible inclusion in our letters page.

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