They had hoped that the insight and perspective they say parenthood has provided would give Eventing Team GBR's Tina Cook and Piggy French the edge over the field at the World Equestrian Games in Tyron last week - and so it proved to be becoming Team Gold Medalists.
Cook, 48, is one of the longest standing and most successful athletes in Britain, with 16 championship medals since her first appearance in 1987.
The 2012 Olympic silver medalist, who is a single mother of two children, Isabelle, 13, and Harry, 11, says there is crossover between her parenting and her horsemanship.
“You have to be sympathetic but black and white and you can't bully them," she told Reuters of her approach to her horses.
"They need to understand the difference between wrong and right. For each individual, there might be a different way of approaching that. It is the same for bringing up children."
Although there is a crossover in philosophy, she says compartmentalising her roles is the key to success.
"When I am competing in a dangerous sport I don't want to be thinking 'I hope the kids are ok'. When I am at home, I put my children first," she said.
Cook’s second pregnancy was physically and emotionally challenging after carrying twins full term before losing one.
Yet returning to her career gave a focus to Tina, who competed on Billy the Red at the WEG.
French's dream of a medal in the 2012 Olympics was foiled by injuries to her best horses.
“It was heartbreak for me,” the 38-year-old said. When another horse was injured weeks before the European Championships in 2013, French was ready to give up, saying she had lost her self-belief.
It was finding new love in partner Tom March and the birth of their son Max, which helped restore her passion for eventing.
“Tom was my rock through hard times then having a baby was the best thing that happened," she said. "I had hit rock bottom but since being a mother, I think 'what will be will be'.
"When I was young, I was hell-bent on that final result, you spend your life dreaming and then working towards that dream. I had stopped enjoying it but I have come back to it with a different head on.
"It has brought results because I am more relaxed."
Piggy's new-found and more relaxed approach saw her standing on the podium last Sunday when she competed on Quarrycrest Echo. She had, however, said that if things did not pan out, she would now better able to deal with disappointment.
“Tom and Max are my world. We have our little bubble and we are very happy in it," she said. "We just bundle along and do our thing and if some horses take us places then that is amazing.
Jonty Evans and Cooley Rorkes Drift AKA 'Art' were competing at Tattersalls International Horse Trials on 3 June in the CIC3* when he fell at the main water feature on the cross-country course.
A statement released by Eventing Ireland this week said,
"Jonty remains in a stable but serious condition in Hospital.
"Jonty has now been moved from intensive care at the Beaumont Hospital to a high dependency ward in the Connolly Hospital, Blanchardstown, West Dublin.
"Unfortunately, there is no change to report in his condition from the most recent update. Jonty remains unconscious, with a very serious head injury.
"The family deeply appreciate all the care for Jonty from the Beaumont Hospital staff and the support and messages from all his family and friends.
"Further updates will be issued if there is a change in Jonty's condition."
Horse Sport Ireland had already confirmed that the 46-year-old suffered a "significant brain injury" after falling from Cooley Rorkes Drift and that it “may take him many months to recover”.
Following the fall from his Rio Olympics mount, Cooley Rorkes Drift, during the cross-country phase of the CIC3* competition at the Tattersalls international horse trials in Co Meath this statement was issued on Monday afternoon on behalf of Jonty Evans’s family by Horse Sport Ireland, the governing body of equestrian sports in this country.
“Jonty continues to be in a stable condition in intensive care in the Beaumont Hospital under the care of the hospital’s neurological team. Jonty’s family would like to express their thanks to the wonderful staff at the hospital and for all the best wishes and kind messages of support that have poured in over the past days.
“The family appreciate that people do wish to understand the nature of Jonty’s head injury and we can confirm that Jonty has not yet recovered consciousness after his fall. Although no longer under heavy sedation, further tests in the past few days have shown that it is a significant brain injury and it may take Jonty many months to recover. The Beaumont Hospital medical team continue to emphasise that every case has to be treated individually and people’s recovery rates vary case by case.
“If there are any changes in Jonty’s condition, further updates will be issued in due course through Horse Sport Ireland,” concluded the statement.
Those seeking information on the rider’s condition have been asked once again not to contact the hospital.
"Without the horse, I'm nothing in my job,"
English based New Zealand eventer, Andrew Nicholson was named an Officer of the NZ Order of Merit on Monday.
Representing New Zealand for more than 30 years, Nicholson at 56, has fashioned a body of work that any of his peers would die for, including seven Olympics Games over 28 years, three Olympic medals and a 1990 team world championship title. He's a five-time winner at Burghley, one of the world's top equestrian events, and proved his enduring ability with a maiden victory at Badminton just last year.
"I'm very, very proud and very honoured. To be given that is quite something, isn't it? I'm very satisfied and I realise how lucky I am to have a job that most people spend a fortune on, just to call it their hobby."
Speaking in tribute to his horses, Nicholson said,
"I appreciate them, I respect them. They're far more intelligent than a lot of people give them credit for. Even a lot of horse people don't realise how intelligent they are, they're very trainable."
Avebury and Nereo.
"Nereo has always stood out for me," said Nicholson.
"Avebury was a pretty grey and always looked very happy with life, and he was a pleasure to work with."
"Nereo is a bit more raw and rangier, possibly not as handsome, but he always felt like he was giving you 110 percent.
"Whether I took him to the Olympics Games or world championships, Badminton or Burghley, he felt like he would just give you his mind and his body. To do that year after year is quite something."
Nereo was retired after last month's 2018 Badminton event, but can still be found giving loyal service, now to Nicholson's teeange daughter.
"He looks as happy as can be and she's just beaming," said Nicholson. "It's great to see.
Sometimes when something bad happens it can be a force for good so we're really hoping that the recent outcry over Oliver Towend's overuse of the whip during the cross country phase of Badminton Horse Trials 2018 will bring about a change to eventing rules and attitudes toward the use of the whip on horses in general.
This year’s Badminton highlighted the fact that the current rules in eventing don't go far enough to protect the welfare of the horse. So, one suggestion is for British Eventing and the FEI to introduce more stringent rules, suspensions and fines similar to those that were introduced into British horse racing when it came under pressure from the public to protect horses from being beaten to the finishing line. This seems particularly pertinent now in view of the new eventing scoring system which has put more emphasis on fast cross country times.
Obviously new rules would have to be tailor made for eventing but here's a brief intro to British Horseracing Authority rules….
The permitted number of uses of the whip with hands off the reins is 7 time for Flat races and 8 times for Jumps race. Additionally, 'Provided that the manner in which the whip had been used was measured, Stewards may choose to disregard occasions when the whip has been used in the following circumstances:
a) To keep a horse in contention or to maintain a challenging position prior to why would be considered the closing stages of a race.
b) To maintain a horse's focus and concentration.
c) To correct a horse that is noticeably hanging.
d) Where there is only light contact with the horse
additionally for Jump Races
e) Following a mistake at an obstacle
f) To correct a horse that is running down an obstacle.
Stewards may be less tolerant should a rider use the whip 8 times or more in a Flat race or 9 times or more in a Jump race:
a) When the horse is young or inexperienced.
b)When a rider continues to use the whip when not being directly challenged for a finishing position.
c) When a rider fails to recognise that his use of the whip is not having the intended effect.
If you listened to Ian Stark's commentary for the BBC's coverage of Badminton you will have heard him justify the use of the whip on quite a few occasions. In fact when Oliver Townend gave his horse Cooley SRS three smart smacks on the rump on their way to the Shogun Hollow, Ian Stark said, “OK, so he smacked the horse but he is actually getting the horse's attention and concentration. He wasn't beating the horse up, it was actually doing a bit of good, getting the combination thinking together.”
This of course is the view that a lot of equestrians maintain - the whip is actually necessary for horse and rider safety when jumping big obstacles.
However, there are some people who argue we should go even further, much further. One of these is Mark Smith, a very experienced horseman who has evented to international level and heads up the Bitless not Brainless team chasing team. He also specialises in re-training ex-racehorses and teaching confident, more effective and therefore safer riding cross country. For more of that, read one of our previous posts HERE.
Mark proposes that Badminton Horse Trials 2019 should put itself at the forefront of horse welfare by dropping the whip completely, making eventing the first equestrian sport to do so. Yes, your jaw may have also dropped on reading this, but stay with us because his arguments are very interesting.
"Badminton,' says Mark, 'is our worldwide showcase for the best riders and horses in eventing. For horses and riders to qualify for Badminton they have to be the best in the world and their horses will be used to jumping big and scary obstacles. There won't be much out there that they haven't seen before, well at least something very similar.”
According to Mark, at this elite level, it shouldn't be necessary to use a whip for 'safe' jumping.
"There are only 3 reasons why a horse would refuse a jump at Badminton…"
1. The horse is hurting, in which case it is totally unacceptable to use the whip.
2. The horse is exhausted (many horses won't have encountered a course as long as Badminton, so it's not his fault their fault if they're not fit enough) in which case it is totally unacceptable to use a whip.
3. The rider has screwed up the approach to the fence, so again, it is totally unacceptable to use the whip!"
Mark isn't against competitors carrying a whip at novice level events but insists "Most top trainers agree that the whip has one use only and that is to make the horse go faster. Horses aren't like humans, they haven't the capacity to link crime and punishment. We need to look at things from the horse's point of view and train them so that they volunteer to do the right thing by taking away the wrong thing. We shouldn't be bullying them into it. For instance if a horse stops at a skinny, I put wings at each side, get him confident, then take them away. So, I've taken away the wrong option and let him think he's become a volunteer. I truly believe that people don't want to watch a horse being press-ganged into doing what their rider wants and would rather see that horse enjoying itself.
"As for elite equestrian events, they want to see the best that horse and rider can be and feel sickened when they see a rider asking too much of their horse and beating it. If Badminton banned the whip it would be an opportunity for them to showcase skill and harmony between horse and rider. This could be the best thing that's happened in equestrian sport for a long time."
Is Mark's proposition that Badminton 2019 leads the way and places a total ban on carrying a whip, a step too far? Would you prefer to see a change to eventing rules similar to those in horse racing- or don't they go far enough? Maybe you think a winning rider in breach of the rules should also lose their placing in the results? We'd love your views on this very controversial subject. One thing's for sure, no change is simply not good enough!
If you want to sign Mark's petition then click HERE.
For more info on British Horseracing Authority rules, and penalties click HERE.
In week that has seen two mum’s, both with very young children, win two of the most coveted prizes in the sport of Eventing, record crowds gathered at the Dodson & Horrell Chatsworth International Horse Trials where Britain’s Piggy French and her horse Quarrycrest Echo headed up the all-female Event Rider Masters podium in the first leg of the 2018 Series.
Event Rider Masters 2018 Leg 1 WINNER Piggy French
Setting a personal best in the dressage, delivering a clear show jumping round this morning and becoming only the sixth personout of 1460 in the history of Chatsworth CIC3* to make the time across the country, Piggy French landed her first CIC3* win since 2014. Speaking after her win Piggy said
“I was sitting in the truck waiting for my turn and I said to myself “Come on, do something useful!”
Their finishing score of 27.3 is the second-best finishing score in this class at the venue.
Mother of one Sarah Ennis (IRE) gave Horseware Stellor Rebound one of the speediest rides of the day landing them the runner up spot on the Podium. Naming Chatsworth as one of the favourite events, Sarah became Ireland's first rider to achieve a podium finish in the ERM. Speed Queen and fellow mum Izzy Taylor and her mount Call Me Maggie May added 4.8 time penalties to their post Show Jumping score to claim third spot on the Podium. "She's not the fastest horse in the World but I am delighted with her and so happy for her owners".
Fellow mum and freshly crowned 2018 Badminton CCI 4 star Champion, Jonelle Price, made it 50 CIC3 star completions since 2008 today and maintained her perfect 11/11 (100%) cross country jumping record with FAERIE DIANIMO.
Over-night leaders after the dressage, Laura Collett (GBR) and Mr Bass had an unfortunate 4 faults in the show jumping after they rolled one of the coloured poles. Adding just 6.4 time penalties to her score after the cross country, Collett came a very respectable 4thand bagged herself strong ERM Series points.
Doing it for the boys, crowd favourites William Fox-Pitt (GBR) and “old friend” Bay My Hero put in a stellar performance to land them an ERM top 10 finish, his first since the Masters began. Speaking after his cross county William said, “The Event Rider Masters is the most exciting thing to happen to the Sport of Eventing in my time – and that is saying something.”
The win with Classic Moet aka Molly came after a shaky showjumping phase, when several rails were rattled but none fell. The final, decisive phase of a three-day event isn't the horse's strong suit.
"It is the first clear round she's jumped on final day for years. Despite rattling a few poles, despite the nervous moments for all those watching, it was a really good round."
Classic Moet's forte, however is her speed. She was a clear 10 seconds quicker than the second fastest horse (Arctic Soul) over the cross country phase of the competition. Second-placed Oliver Townend said: "I hope the public understands what that horse is. I don't think we'll see another cross country galloper like it in our lifetime."I couldn't keep up with it in the prize giving – it was about ten strides ahead of me, I looked down for a moment, and when I looked back up it was on the other side of the arena! I'd give anything for a foal out of it."
Speaking after her victory Jonelle said,
"I certainly had lady luck on my side, but sometimes you need a little luck.
"I sat down last night with Mark Todd who has been there numerous times before — we're often neighbours in the truck park.
"He said to me over a drink 'every dog has its day'. I said 'are you calling Molly (Classic Moet) a dog, and he said no - you'.
"It was a silly little moment, he was right, sometimes it is just meant to be and certainly today was our day."
One minute you're sitting pretty at the top of your game and the next, it's all turned ugly! That about sums up the last week of Oliver Townend's eventing career, from Kentucky to Badders. It's tough to get to the top and it can be even tougher to stay there. As the Billy Ocean song goes, " When the Going Get's Tough, the Tough Get Going.' We know that it takes grit and determination to rise to the top of any sport but when animals are involved the less attractive side of ambition can be amplified.
The reactions of most spectators to Oliver Townend's use of the whip on Badminton's Cross Country day ranged from 'uncomfortable' to 'appalled'. The sudden onset of hot weather married with 'holding' ground meant that a lot of horses were really tiring near the end of the course and had to be coaxed home. A lot of riders did this sympathetically but Townend was seen giving Ballaghmor Class in particular, quite a few smacks plus waving of his whip to drive him home. When we watched the cross country action live on the BBC it certainly wasn't a pretty picture. In his interview with Clare Balding afterwards Townend said that he'd had to work hard on his young horse who was prone to being nappy and was playing up a bit on the way home. Re-watching the footage, Ballaghmor Class actually didn't look as fatigued as many of the other horses and so maybe he did just have his mind on other things. Cooley SRS who he rode at the beginning of the day, didn't look too tired as he finished and both horses certainly looked good in the jumping phase so certain claims that he was beating unfit exhausted horses home is probably an overwrought response.
Oliver Townend on the XC course riding Cooley SRS at Badminton Horse Trials, 2018
You know your horse is talented, you've got your eye on the grand slam and a huge cash prize, new scoring changes have meant that your cross country time is even more crucial than before so it's easy to see that if your steed then decides he'd rather be back in his box munching hay, you might feel impelled to dissuade him! …..and under pressure, in full view of the equestrian world, Oliver Townend did just that with rather too many thwacks and waves of his whip.
Now, we're not condoning what he's done but let's face it, many of us riders have made errors of judgement especially in the heat of the moment that we regret. There are probably plenty of his critics who definitely shouldn't be throwing stones! On the other hand it's quite right that we demand better of our equestrian heroes; they are supposed to inspire us and when they are flawed, we are disappointed. This has meant that Oliver Townend has received on top of the official warning from the Badminton ground jury, a social media whipping which can create it's own version of ugly.
"I fully accept the warning I received. My competitive instincts got the better of me and I will work hard to improve in this area.
"I try hard to give my horse the best ride possible. I try to be as fit as possible, to be as light as I can be, to sit as still as I can, to get them on the best strides and take-off points to minimise the energy they have to waste."
Badminton's top 10 finishers, pictured here on Saturday's Cross Country day.
1. Winner of the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton horse Trials 2018, Jonelle Price (NZL) riding Classic Moet
“Being a CCI4* winner is an elite club to join and it’s been something that has eluded me for a while now, so to now join it – especially here at the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials – is very, very special,”
2. Oliver Townend (GBR) riding Cooley SRS
“If you’d have told me I’d have two horses in the top five at the end of this week I’d be very, very happy. “I’ve had to fight harder than I’ve fought before and it didn’t always look like I wanted it to look, but both horses have come out of it feeling very good.”
3. Rosalind Canter (GBR) riding Allstar B
“I was a bit nervous going into the showjumping (on Sunday) because he felt quieter than usual in the warm-up and that rattled me, but our round got better and better as we went on.”
4. Gemma Tattersall (GBR) riding Arctic Soul
5. Oliver Townend (GBR) riding Ballaghmor Class
6. Mark Todd (NZL) riding Kiltubrid Rhapsody
7. Tom McEwen (GBR) riding Toledo De Kerser
8. First timer, Padraig McCarthy (IRL) riding Mr Chunky
9. Lauren Kieffer (USA) riding Veronica
10. Michale Jung (GER) riding La Biosthetique-Sam FBW
Full Final Results HERE