Humble beginnings for some British Olympic medalists

Scott Brash was one of several British medalists who do not come from an equine background. With Hello Sanctos, he was part of Britain's gold-medal winning showjumping team at Greenwich Park.
Scott Brash was one of several British medalists who do not come from an equine background. With Hello Sanctos, he was part of Britain’s gold-medal winning showjumping team at Greenwich Park. © Kit Houghton/FEI

Several of Britain’s Olympic medalists have turned the perception that horse sport is an elitist pursuit “on its head”.

The British Horse Society, the country’s largest equine charity, said that equestrianism had traditionally been thought of as a sport “only for the wealthy”.

In joining the country in celebrating the equestrian teams’ on their Olympic success in all three disciplines at London 2012, BHS Chairman Lynn Petersen said: “Today all across the UK there are young people who are learning to ride at a BHS Approved Establishment with BHS Registered Instructors … and one day, some of these riders will represent Great Britain at the Olympics. These Games have indeed inspired a generation.”

Britain brought home five equestrian medals: Silver in eventing soon followed by Gold in showjumping, and two Golds and a Bronze in dressage – the first time an Olympic British team has ever achieved a medal in dressage.

The BHS pointed to Charlotte Dujardin, the 27-year-old who broke two Olympic records to take dressage individual and team gold, and who has been featured heavily in mainstream press which has noted her comprehensive education [state school] and background as a stable girl after leaving school at 16.

“Neither was Charlotte’s mentor, three-time Olympian Carl Hester, born with the proverbial equestrian silver spoon in his mouth. Carl’s first ride was bareback on a donkey at the age of nine on the Channel Isle of Sark before moving to England at 16 to train for his BHS qualifications.

Meanwhile, eventer Mary King had been growing up in another non-horsy family without the money for her own pony. After leaving grammar school at 16, Mary took on a string of less-than-glamorous jobs to fund training for her dream of becoming an eventer, which she realised countless times, including four previous Olympic Games before her success at London 2012 at the age of 51.

“A young light in show jumping, Scott Brash has also been providing inspiration for aspiring British riders. The 26-year-old builder’s son from Peebles showed unrivalled talent as a child, competing at the Pony Club Open Show Jumping Championships at just 10 years old,” the BHS said.

The BHS also noted the fact that past BHS President Desi Dillingham MBE took on the chairmanship of British Dressage back in 1998, “and began the rebuilding process that resulted in our Gold medals in 2012”.

“The roar of the Greenwich crowds has drowned out any scepticism about our amateur status and replaced it with proof of Great Britain as an equestrian nation at the top of its game.”

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