Pioneering Aussie eventer “Bunty” Thompson dies at 92

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Australia's 1956 Olympic eventing team of Brian Crago, Ernie Baker, David Wood, John Winchester, Bert Jacobs, and, at far right, Wyatt "Bunty" Thompson.
Australia’s 1956 Olympic eventing team of Brian Crago, Ernie Baker, David Wood, John Winchester, Bert Jacobs, and, at far right, Wyatt “Bunty” Thompson.

Wyatt “Bunty” Thompson, the last remaining member of Australia’s 1956 Olympic eventing team, has died at the age of 92.

Thompson, who died on December 15, was inducted into Equestrian Australia’s Hall of Fame in 2012 with 1956 team-mates Brian Crago, Ernie Barker, and David Wood, and section manager Alec Creswick, and team trainer Franz Mairinger, an instructor from the Spanish Riding School in Vienna.

He outlined the team’s exploits in his Trailblazers: Australia’s First Olympic Equestrians, published in 2008.

Team members did not know what eventing was when they started on their Olympic journey. “I had no concept of what Eventing was. For us it was solid fences and going flat out. More high jumping than show jumping. I didn’t know what dressage was,” Thompson once said.

With only one dummy run on a real three-day event before the Olympics – the Badminton Horse Trials no less – the boys from the backblocks were not really seriously thought of as medal prospects. But they came tantalisingly close.

The Australians finished fourth behind Britain, Germany and Canada, and Thompson was 14th individually. Crago was the best placed individual, in 11th.

It was a brutal contest, with 11 teams eliminated of the 19 taking part. At one jump alone – the dreaded fence 22 – 12 horses fell, 28 refused and three were eliminated.

Wyatt "Bunty" Thompson and Brown Sugar at the 1956 Olympic Games, the equestrian events of which were held in Sweden.
Wyatt “Bunty” Thompson and Brown Sugar at the 1956 Olympic Games, the equestrian events of which were held in Sweden.

“I could feel tears of triumph and humility. I had fought for Australia in the war and now I was battling again for my country in sport. In all my dreams and ambitions, I had never imagined achieving such a great honour,” Thompson said.

Thompson was considered a great all-round horseman. Born in the saddle, he could rough ride with the best of them, work draught horses, handle a spirited stock horse, compete in rodeos and camp drafting and fly around the course at picnic races.

Soon after his return to Australia, Thompson retired from high level eventing competition and took on a role with the NSW committee of Australia’s equestrian federation and also the council of the Royal Agricultural Society of NSW. As a technical delegate, he began assisting with the planning of one and three-day events and designing courses.

In 1960 he married Winsome and together they founded ‘Millah Millah’ Angus Stud near Bathurst. They had two children, Jane and Ross, and five grandchildren. Thompson continued as a judge and administrator for groups ranging from pony club to a role as an Olympic selector in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

In remembering Thompson, Equestrian Australia Chair Judy Fasher said: “Bunty Thompson was a true trailblazer for eventing in Australia. His gentle humour and kindness pervaded our first Australian eventing team. He retained his love for our sport all his life and was particularly delighted to have attended both Adelaide International Three-Day Event and Sydney Three-Day Event in recent years.”

Accepting the Hall of Fame awards are, from left, Graeme Barker (son of Ernie Barker), David Mairinger (grandson of Franz Mairinger), Wyatt "Bunty" Thompson, Chris Wood (son of David Wood) and Charles Creswick (grandson of Alex Creswick).
Accepting the Hall of Fame awards in 2012 are, from left, Graeme Barker (son of Ernie Barker), David Mairinger (grandson of Franz Mairinger), Wyatt “Bunty” Thompson, Chris Wood (son of David Wood) and Charles Creswick (grandson of Alex Creswick).

 

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