King swaps sad­dle for Roar­ing For­ties

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - Mar­cus Army­tage

Hav­ing lost its big five Bri­tish three-day events, Bad­minton, Bramham, Gat­combe, Burgh­ley and Blen­heim this sea­son, event­ing fi­nally re­turns at a na­tional level at

Twe­sel­down to­day. If there is one ath­lete in this coun­try whose spirit you could bot­tle and sell as a tonic for the times then you would be pushed to im­prove upon event­ing’s Mary King, 59, who will be at Twe­sel­down with four horses.

As soon as King first sat on the lo­cal vicar’s pony at age six, she knew horses would be her life, and de­spite com­ing from a sport­ing but non-horsey back­ground she spent three decades at the top of the tree. Apart from win­ning Bad­minton twice, Burgh­ley and Ken­tucky, she was also world No 1 in 2011.

In what is es­sen­tially an in­di­vid­ual sport she has been the ul­ti­mate team player, rep­re­sent­ing Bri­tain at six Olympics. Along the way she over­came nu­mer­ous ad­ver­si­ties, in­clud­ing a bro­ken neck.

But she has al­ways con­quered fear by trans­lat­ing it into thrill. Nor­mally when you get to a cer­tain age, have chil­dren or one too many falls it is fear which fin­ishes you. But when oth­ers gri­mace, King still, in­vari­ably, smiles.

How­ever, my ad­mi­ra­tion for her has risen to a new level, not only be­cause I have seen the mono­liths they jump at Bad­minton with­out a sec­ond thought, but be­cause dur­ing the win­ter she sailed the South­ern Ocean leg of the Clip­per Round the World Race.

To nav­i­gate the South­ern Ocean, over waves as big as houses, is not every­one’s storm in a cup of tea and, with an ir­ra­tional fear of drown­ing, I can­not think of a worse way to spend 24 days.

The near­est most even­ters come to any width of wa­ter is the Trout Hatch­ery at Burgh­ley, but as the daugh­ter of a lieu­tenant com­man­der in the Navy, and with a sea view from her Devon home, King has al­ways han­kered af­ter the ocean waves. Sail­ing round the world, one ocean at a time, has been on her bucket list.

Be­tween leav­ing school and get­ting locked into horses she did a cou­ple of voy­ages on the tall ship Sir Win­ston Churchill, but she put se­ri­ous sail­ing on the back-burner un­til two years ago, when a friend asked her to help crew a sail­ing boat across the At­lantic.

The fact that even­ters spend half the sum­mer in the liv­ing quar­ters of a horse­box meant that she was half­way there when it came to hot bunk­ing in damp beds in the South­ern Ocean, as the waves crashed over her con­veyance, Seattle.

With 22 peo­ple on a yacht (20 ama­teur crew, a skip­per and first mate with 10 sleep­ing and 10 sail­ing in four-hour stints), she joined Seattle in South Africa.

Un­able to sail be­low 45 de­grees lat­i­tude be­cause of ice­bergs it was bit­terly cold, there was al­ways snow in the air and the howl­ing wind was a con­stant re­minder of why that part of the world is called the Roar­ing For­ties.

“These boats do not cap­size, they bob around and right them­selves if they do, so I found the whole thing very ex­cit­ing,” she said. “I was never fright­ened. There was no point. Once you’re out there you’re com­mit­ted. If some­thing goes wrong it goes wrong. We had a freak wave which ripped out the lower helm [steer­ing] sta­tion. I couldn’t be­lieve wa­ter could do that.

“I think some peo­ple were quite scared and we could have lost the steer­ing, which I hadn’t re­alised, so ig­no­rance was bliss to an ex­tent, but I like a bit of ex­cite­ment.

“But it was also quite nice to reach Aus­tralia. We hadn’t washed for 24 days, you sleep at tremen­dous an­gles and it was so nice to lie in a clean dry bed with ev­ery­thing still!”

The ex­pe­ri­ence has not put King off. “I still want to do the Pa­cific but I’d like to stop off at the odd is­land and take my time,” she said. “At the end of the day, though,

I still pre­fer the four-legged va­ri­ety to white horses.”

‘I want to do the Pa­cific but, at the end of the day, I still pre­fer the four­legged va­ri­ety to white horses’

Farewell: Mary King de­parts Cape Town for Fre­man­tle in the Clip­per Round the World Race and (be­low) at her home in Devon

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