Like a triathlon on horseback, three-day eventing requires a variety of equestrian skills, says Zara Tindall, as she prepares to head for the “unmissable” Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials
Growing up surrounded by horses, a career in eventing was perhaps the natural progression for Zara Tindall. From a good grounding at Pony Club to second place in her first four-star competition at just 22 years old, Zara Tindall shares her sporting story.
I was very lucky to be surrounded by horses when I was growing up. I always knew I wanted to ride and I can’t imagine what life would have been like without horses and riding. Why eventing? It was probably a natural progression for me, seeing as both my parents had successful eventing careers. But actually it goes deeper than that – eventing is the ultimate test of horsemanship. It combines three very different disciplines and so a horse and rider have to have a variety of skillsets to be successful. It’s quite like triathlon in that way.
Out of the three disciplines, cross-country has always been my favourite. In the UK, horse-trials venues are often at country estates, such as Blenheim Palace, Blair Castle and Chatsworth House, so as a competitor you get to gallop and jump around some of the most beautiful parts of the British countryside. The cross-country at the London Olympics was an amazing experience and one that I will never forget – going round the course I couldn’t even hear my watch beep as the noise from the crowd was so intense. Not only is it a buzz, it’s completely addictive.
The Pony Club gave me a good grounding when I was growing up. You are taught the importance of the horse coming first, which is what eventing is all about. Horses are so good for kids. It’s a great way for them to get outside, get used to animals and have something physical to look after. Competing for fun as a child gave me the foundations to build a career on. As a teenager, I progressed up the levels and I always knew this was what I wanted to do.
The real turning point was competing at my first four-star competition, which was the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials in 2003. I was 22 years old and riding what turned out to be my horse of a lifetime, Toytown. I had been going to Burghley ever since I was small, often watching my parents compete. But riding there myself – jumping the famous fences such as the Cottesmore Leap and Discovery Valley – was amazing. I came second and from that moment onwards there was no turning back.
In eventing, you are only as good as your horses and I was very lucky to have found Toytown as early as I did in my career. After we came second at Burghley we had another successful four-star, coming second at Luhmühlen in Germany before going on to win the 2005 European Championships. A year later we won the World Championships in Aachen. I owe him the world.
High Kingdom is my other very special horse. I won team silver on him at the London 2012 Olympic Games and then two years later we went on to win team silver at the World Championships in 2014, which secured Team GB’s place at the Rio 2016 Olympics. He’s 16 years old now but still going strong, having come third at the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event earlier this year. There is still plenty more to come from him.
As with most sports, eventing requires a lot of hard work and dedication if you want to be successful. Not just the hours of training but caring for the horses. All those extra bits need to be done not just for their health but to create that trust and partnership.
There are plenty of opportunities to have a go at eventing without having to take it too seriously. There are loads of unaffiliated horse trials for all levels throughout the UK, organised by riding clubs. British Eventing puts on grassroots competitions specifically for newcomers where the jumps start as low as 80cm. If you have a horse, a one-day-event is a really fun challenge to take on and a good way of developing your riding skills.
Whether I am competing or not I never miss the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials [31 August to 3 September]. If I am not competing I will usually be working with Land Rover, for which I am an ambassador. Land Rover has been supporting eventing ever since I can remember and has become synonymous with the sport – not just as a sponsor but through providing vehicles to transport vets, doctors and officials around the cross-country course. It’s great to have a sponsor that gets actively involved.
TOP TIP: Be prepared. Make sure you have thought about the course, your schedule, how you are going to deal with certain elements of the event and so on. But, most importantly, enjoy it and it’ll all flow from there.