Mary King: Shades of foot-and-mouth year *H&H Plus*


  • The last time eventing was in lockdown was during foot-and-mouth in 2001. However, I had managed to break my neck in a fall and by the time I recovered, the season was up and running at the end of May with Tweseldown and, I seem to remember, the Wiegersmas’ fun event at Penzance.

    A sort of “bargain” Burghley was salvaged thanks to the generous donations – of several thousand pounds – from owners and supporters. And in Ireland, which was also in lockdown, everyone was cheered up by the determination of Georgina Colthurst to run Blarney Castle.

    Although one can hardly compare 2001 with the current crisis, it is similar in that we’ve been advised only to ride on our own property and to avoid taking risks which could add to the NHS’s burden. Foot-and-mouth wasn’t worldwide, though, and a lot of people decamped to Kentucky, which was then in its relative infancy as a four-star (now five-star).

    Like most other riders, the focus now is on my youngsters and, in that respect, things don’t feel too different. I have five home-breds, which I do myself, including a three-year-old that I’ve brought in earlier than usual to back. They all know me well because I’ve been handling them from birth, but I’m trying particularly hard to avoid risky situations.

    I have three DIY liveries, one of which belongs to Annie Corbin (née Collings) who worked for me for so many years; it’s lovely to see her every day and we chat from a distance.

    I’m also helping on the farm which, of course, must keep going, come what may – animals still need to be slaughtered and people fed. As I write, my husband David has just returned from Truro cattle market, which was only open to buyers, who surrounded the ring at 2m intervals. Vendors dropped off their stock, then had to leave.

    24 days to a shower

    I am feeling very lucky to have been able to complete my leg of the Clipper Round the World Race, as that’s now been halted, with boats marooned in the Philippines. I joined the race in South Africa, after teaching a clinic at the Stellenbosch District Riding Club near Cape Town and finished with a wonderful family holiday in Australia after David and my children, Emily and Freddie, met me in Fremantle.

    Life as an event rider – not only the physical hard work and living out of a lorry, but having to manage the fear factor – really helped me because the race was a huge challenge. Fortunately, I was only seasick once, but it was very cold, you feel permanently damp, including your clothes and sleeping bag, and we lost a helming station (one of two steering areas) in a storm, which was rather exciting!

    I’d been looking forward to experiencing the Southern Ocean’s famous “Roaring Forties”, which are incredibly loud, strong, freezing winds – we were quite near the iceberg region of Antarctica. But eventually it became warmer by the day and, after 24 days, I had my first shower. I’m thrilled to have completed an ocean race – I really loved the whole experience, but still prefer four-legged horses to the white ones!

    Paying tribute

    It’s been a great sadness that Lord Patrick Beresford has passed away. Fortunately I spoke to him the week before he died and reminded him to watch Cheltenham; as we hung up, he was writing a reminder to watch the Champion Hurdle.

    Patrick was chef d’equipe for the Brits for my first Europeans, in 1991, and my first Olympics, Barcelona, the following year. He was a lovely man, an exceptionally kind person, who instinctively supported those who were unhappy or marginalised. I always kept in touch with him and he became a great supporter of Emily’s — he had a lovely young horse with her that he hoped to follow this season.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 2 April 2020