Life lessons: Event rider Mary King *H&H Plus*

  • Mary King has won 13 Olympic, European and world medals as a member of the British eventing team. She has won Badminton twice, as well as Burghley and Kentucky. She has also been British open champion four times.

    A few people have had a big impact on my career. Double European champion Sheila Wilcox was my mentor and thanks to the two years I spent working for her I formed a broad base of knowledge. Without that education, I would have reached the peak of my career at an earlier stage.

    I think gaining that all-round knowledge is where many riders miss out. Sheila was a real stickler in every aspect; from stable management to training, to getting the best out of different types of horses, to dealing with injuries. She had tremendously high standards and it becomes ingrained in you.

    My lower leg used to slip back, but through training with Pat Burgess I learnt to keep my lower leg forward across country. Lucinda Green was my heroine – she still is – and she was also a Pat Burgess student. Lucinda was one of the first riders to have an exaggerated forward lower leg. I would copy Lucinda and pretend I was her. I still do this – I’m Charlotte Dujardin doing dressage, Marcus Ehning in the showjumping.

    My one regret training-wise is that I never spent time training at a showjumping yard. Sheila helped me hugely on the flat; I am naturally brave and competitive across country – I’ve always loved going fast – but showjumping is my weakest phase.

    The horse I wish I had now is Divers Rock, who took me to my first Badminton in 1985, where I came seventh. I was a novicey rider, but he was extremely brave, bold and forward across country. He was so talented and could have done much better had I been more experienced.

    Now I have fewer horses at top level, I’m really enjoying keeping them out. I love being able to do them myself and I can manage four from the field. They do look scruffy and muddy when they come in, but I think, especially for young horses, living out does them the world of good.

    It’s a natural life; it’s good for their minds for horses to be freely moving all the time. It helps them mature, to deal with mud, and learn to look after themselves, rather than always being in a stable or on a perfect surface.

    My dear mummy was a huge support to me. She always told me to smile, whether I won or lost, and it helps me today when things haven’t gone well. She made me smile and it became second nature. It’s something I’ve tried to pass on to my daughter Emily because there’s nothing worse than seeing riders come out of the ring yanking their horses and all cross when they don’t get the result they wanted. I see it in other sports, too – some people don’t even smile if they win.

    Whenever I leave the start box, I remind myself to enjoy the ride and to try and be positive. I remind myself how lucky I am to be able to do this sport.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 26 March 2020