Laura Tomlinson reflects on the life of Prince Philip, and gender equality
FIRSTLY I would like to add my heartfelt condolences to the royal family, and pay a small tribute of my own to Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. What a life he led and what a legacy he has left behind, in the equestrian community and other spheres.
As a keen sportsman and equestrian himself, he excelled on the polo field and later in carriage driving, which he helped turn into a competitive discipline in itself.
As president of the FEI he helped create the World Equestrian Games (WEG), and I can vouch for what a phenomenal event the WEG is to be a part of. He also devised the Prince Philip Cup games. Mounted games is a discipline I never took part in as a child, but I have always watched it with complete awe.
My mother-in-law, Claire Tomlinson, was a great competitor in the Prince Philip Cup, and she was adamant that the skills she learnt from doing mounted games gave her the edge on the polo field later in life. Indeed, she became the highest-rated female polo player to date, with a five-goal handicap, and paved the way for more female sporting legends to come.
I FEEL that female success in sport is a particularly timely topic, as we have recently seen a woman crowned winner of the famous Grand National for the first time. Rachael Blackmore made history at Aintree earlier this month, having already had a hugely successful season. I admit the tears rolled down my face as I watched her post-race interviews.
In an era of much debate around equal pay and opportunity for women, I am proud of the equestrian community and the fact that horse sport is one of the few sports in which men and women compete directly against each other on equal terms.
We still have some way to go in many other aspects of sporting and workplace equality, but I must say, sometimes it’s nice to look back and be proud of where we have come from, and what has been achieved by some of these trailblazing women.
I enjoyed a recent feature in H&H’s Legends series on High And Mighty, who put Sheila Willcox on the map. Sheila was one of the first ladies to win Badminton Horse Trials, and did so three years in a row in the late 1950s.
I remember her telling me a story, when I was a little girl, of her being asked to give up her top ride for one of the male team riders of the time to compete at the Olympics, because eventing at the Olympics was for men only back then.
As a child, I remember being outraged at the idea of being asked to give my pony to someone else just because I was a girl.
Having grown up as the younger sister of three boys, I was always determined to be able to do everything they could do and more, but now as a mother I realise what a privilege it is to be alive in an era when I can take for granted the fact that I can compete my horses and measure myself against the best, both male and female.
I can choose to be a mother and have a career, to be ambitious and not be condemned for it. Stories like Rachael Blackmore’s make me feel lucky and proud and motivated.
I am sure Prince Philip would have been utterly thrilled to witness such an occasion, too.
●What childhood experiences helped shape you as a rider? Who are your female equestrian role models? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org
This report can also be read in this week’s Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 29 April
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