Greats in British Olympic Team

A few younger first-timers join an impressive line-up of mature stars in the British Olympic Equestrian Team

Nick Skelton at the Athens Olympics 2004, talking with great mate, Jeff McVean (Image: Jane Thompson)
Nick Skelton at the Athens Olympics 2004, talking with great mate, Jeff McVean (Image: Jane Thompson)

The British Olympic equestrian team has been named and includes some very experienced campaigners as well as others off to their first Games. At the London Olympics, the British team won gold in both jumping and dressage, and a silver in eventing. While they won’t have the home advantage this time, many who were in those winning teams are back for another crack at medals.

Jumpers

What an experienced team! They have even been referred to as the “Rolling Stones” of jumping.

Nick Skelton and Ben Maher are two of the team-gold winners from London 2012, and will be riding Big Star and Tic Tac respectively at Rio. Nick was aboard Big Star for the 2012 win; Ben’s horse then was Tripple X.

This is Nick’s seventh Olympics: with the exception of Sydney 2000, he has competed at every Games since 1988. He also holds the BSJ High Jump record of 2.32m. Nick is 58, and is based in Warwickshire. Big Star has had some time out with injuries, but has been back competing since the beginning of the year with consistent placings. He is a bay stallion aged 13 years, by Quick Star out of Jolanda, by Nimmerdor.

Ben Maher in action
Ben Maher in action

Ben (33), is based in Hertfordshire. He took up show jumping at just eight years old and spent some time training with Liz Edgar and then Beat Mandli. He was ranked No 1 in the world in 2013. Ben also competed at the 2008 Olympics on Rolette. He has only recently taken over the ride on Tic Tac from Leslie Burr-Howard. The pair won the CSIO5* at Rome in May. Tic Tac is a 13-year-old stallion by Clinton out of Panama du Seigneur, by Darco.

John Whitaker and Argento
John Whitaker and Argento, but he will be taking Ornellaia to Rio

Legendary show jumping brothers John and Michael Whitaker won team silver at the Los Angeles Games in 1984. John, aged 60, is back at what will be his sixth Olympic Games and will ride the Holsteiner mare Ornellaia. John, from West Yorkshire, began riding when he was six; his mother ran a riding school and his father used horses on the farm. He and Michael used to deliver milk by horse and cart before they went to school. He is married to Claire and has three children (Louise, Robert and Joanne).

Michael, the younger of the two brothers at a mere 56, will be at his fifth Olympics and will ride Cassionato, an 11-year-old grey Holsteiner stallion by Cassini I from Perle (Quidam de Revel). No longer living in Yorkshire, Michael is based these days in Nottinghamshire and married to Melissa, with three children, Jack, Molly and Katie. His outstanding career dates back many years, and in 1980, aged just 20, he became the second-youngest person ever to win the Hickstead Derby, riding a horse called Owen Gregory.

The travelling reserve is 20-year-old Jessica Mendoza on Spirit T.

Eventing

The eventing team has nowhere near the age or experience of the show jumpers, with two  exceptions: William Fox-Pitt and reserve Pippa Funnell. The other three are new Olympians who have been performing very well and the team should be a force to be reckoned with.

William-Fox Pitt with his daughter Chloe Pic : Lorraine O'Sullivan
William-Fox Pitt with his daughter Chloe (Image: Lorraine O’Sullivan)

William Fox-Pitt returns for his fifth Olympics. The 47-year-old has won three team medals (silver in 2014 and 2012 and bronze in 2008), but has yet to win an individual one. He will be riding Chilli Morning. William was very badly injured in a fall in France nine months ago and has made a miraculous recovery. He was unconscious for a fortnight, and had to work hard to regain his health and fitness: a regimen that included twice-daily sessions with an opthalmologist to restore his vision. “He got me better in four months when he had been told it would be a year before I could see normally.” William and his family did harbour thoughts of him retiring. “I have had my doubts, I’ve had thoughts about calling it a day, but I love riding and I love horses. It’s what I do.” For more of William’s road to recovery, you can see a video on this link.

William has won over 50 CCI titles and five of the six CCI4* events, including Badminton 2015 on Chilli Morning, the first stallion to triumph there. The 17hh ‘Chilli’ is by Phantomic out of Koralle and is owned by Christopher and Lisa Stone.

Kitty King on Ceylor LAN at Chatsworth May 2016 (Image: Libby Law)
Kitty King on Ceylor LAN at Chatsworth May 2016 (Image: Libby Law)

Kitty King, aged 33, is based in Wiltshire and her horse is Ceylor LAN (aka ‘Sprout’). “It’s probably the best phone call I have ever had; it’s something I dreamt of as a child,” she commented after her selection was confirmed. Kitty first represented GB in the Pony European Championships and has gone up through the ranks in Junior, Young Rider and Senior eventing teams. In 2015 riding Persimmon, she led the British team to a team silver, placing fourth individually, at the European Championships in Scotland. Sprout is a nine-year-old 16.3hh bay gelding by Vernon out of Winanda LAN. Kitty has only completed two four-star events: Badminton in 2009 on Boondoggle, finishing 32nd and in 2005 on Five Boys where she finished seventh.

Izzy Taylor, also aged 33, is Oxfordshire-based and will be taking Allercombe Ellie. The pair were eighth at this year’s Badminton. Izzy’s other completions at four-star level include Badminton in 2015 and 2014 on Thistledown Poposki, (42nd and 18th) and on Briarlands Matilda she was seventh at Burghley and 17th at Badminton in 2014.

Ellie is a 13-year-old 16hh brown mare by Jumbo out of My Last Edition.

Great Britain's Gemma Tattersall on Chico Bella P at Houghton 2015 (Image: Libby Law)
Great Britain’s Gemma Tattersall on Chico Bella P at Houghton 2015 (Image: Libby Law)

Gemma Tattersall, aged 31, is based in West Sussex and has a choice of two horses: Chico Bella or Quicklook V. She has had a great year, being the best placed British rider at Badminton and winning the Bramham CIC3*. She was reserve for WEG 2014 and a member of the silver medal winning team at the 2015 Europeans on Artic Soul.

Chico Bella (‘Bella’) is 12 years old and 16.1hh The dark bay mare is by Chico’s Boy out of Hauptstutbuch Compita. Quicklook V (‘Pebbles’) is also a mare and also 16.1hh; an 11 year old grey by Urkel out of Unabresse M.

The travelling reserve is Pippa Funnell, aged 47, from Surrey, with Billy the Biz. In 2003 Pippa was the first-ever winner of the Rolex Grand Slam. She has been to two Olympic Games where she won an individual bronze and team silver on Pinmore’s Pride in 2004 and an individual silver on Supreme Rock in 2000.

An interview with Izzie and Gemma can be found on this link. Kitty’s interview is on this link.

Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro (Image: Bob Langrish)
Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro (Image: Bob Langrish)

Dressage

Charlotte Dujardin
Charlotte Dujardin

Charlotte Dujardin will be taking Valegro to Rio to defend their individual and team golds from London. Charlotte is 31 (born 13 July 1985) and is the most successful British dressage rider ever, winning all major titles and world records. As well as being a phenomenal dressage rider, she is also a Global Ambassador for The Brooke, an equine welfare charity that focuses on improving the lives of working horses, donkeys and mules. Charlotte has ridden since she was two year old and bought her first horse with an inheritance from her grandmother. She started working for Carl Hester in 2007 and is still based in his yard at Newent, Gloucestershire.

Born in 2002, Valegro is a Dutch warmblood and goes by the nickname Blueberry. He is by the legendary KWPN stallion Negro (by Olympic Ferro) from Maifleur (by Gershwin). It is common knowledge that Charlotte intends to retire him later this year, possibly at Olympia in December. We also understand that in all the years they’ve been together, she’s never fallen off Blueberry!

Carl Hester (GBR) & Nip Tuck - Grand Prix Freestyle - Reem Acra FEI World Cup™ Dressage - London International Horse Show - Olympia, London, United Kingdom - 16 December 2015 Pic Jon Stroud
Carl Hester & Nip Tuck (Image: Jon Stroud)

Carl Hester, aged 49 will ride Nip Tuck. He is looking forward to the challenge. “I am very lucky with my involvement, in part-owning two of the horses on the team; it really feels like a family affair.” He is also the coach of his three team-mates! Carl was born on 29 June 1967 on the Channel Island of Sark, but now lives in Newent, Gloucestershire, and this will be his second Olympics. He was also a member of the gold medal winning team at the 2012 Games and finished fifth individually.  Nip Tuck is by Don Ruto out of Irena (by Animo). He is a bay gelding.

Spencer Wilton is 43 and based in Reading. This will be his first Olympics. His horse is Super Nova II, a 13-year-old gelding by De Niro out of Walpurgis (Weltmeyer). He represented Great Britain as an individual at the European Pony Eventing Championships and has spent time as a working pupil for Lucinda Green and Mark Todd. He decided to switch to dressage as he “wasn’t good enough or brave enough” to stay eventing. Now team mates and friends, Spencer and Carl were in a relationship at one stage.

Fiona Bigwood, aged 40, is based in West Sussex and will take Atterupgaards Orthilia (‘Tillie’) to Rio. While this is her first Olympics, she competed at WEG 2010 and at four European dressage championships. She nearly gave up riding after incurring serious head injuries from a freak accident while riding at a local show in 2014. She had to ride with an eye patch for a long time afterwards, due to double vision. “Kind, honest” Tillie was the only horse she felt safe with, and kept her going. Fiona is married to Anders Dahl, a Danish Grand Prix rider, and the couple have three children. Tillie is a dark bay mare by Gribaldi from Atterupgaards Olivia (Donnerschlag).

The travelling reserve is Lara Griffith, aged 27, with Rubin Al Asad.