Sheila Willcox , the equestrienne who paved the way for women in the sport of eventing, has died at the age of 81.
Born in 1937, Sheila was a pioneer for women in the sport of eventing, winning multiple European medals and Badminton titles. Starting her career in The Pony Club, she went on to become the top female rider in British eventing, winning her first Badminton in 1957 after finishing in second place the previous year.
Riding High and Mighty, she was then selected for the 1957 European Championships where they won team and individual gold medals before returning to Badminton in 1958 to convincingly win the event again with a 47 penalty advantage.
Sheila Willcox married, becoming Sheila Waddington, and returned to Badminton in 1959 with her new, and inexperienced mount Airs and Graces - who had only competed in his first three day event just six months prior to Badminton. She won the dressage, but had to go slow cross-country due to the ground conditions. However, a rail down in show jumping by fellow competitor David Somerset allowed her to clinch the win. To this day, she is the only rider to have won Badminton three years running.
In the same year High and Mighty also added another team gold to her tally at the European Championships. During this time women were not allowed to compete in the Olympic Games so despite being one of the most decorated riders and accomplished horsewomen of the time she was denied an Olympic appearance.
She went on to coach Team Canada for the 1976 Montreal Games and 1975 Pan Am Games and wrote the first book about the sport, ‘Three Days Running’ in 1958, followed by the ‘The Event Horse’ in 1973.
A Requiem Mass is being held for Willcox at St Gregory’s Church, Cheltenham on June 30.