Olympian Zara Tin­dall re­flects on her suc­cess­ful ca­reer as an eques­trian ath­lete, her once-in-a-life­time horse, Toy­town, and the women who have in­spired her. By Selina Den­man

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Eques­trian ath­lete Zara Tin­dall on the women who have in­spired her; and five gad­gets from the Wear­able Tech­nolo­gies World Cup Se­ries 2017

Even mem­bers of the sport­ing elite need role mod­els. And for Zara Tin­dall, one of Bri­tain’s top eques­trian ath­letes, that role model was Pat Smythe. “I can re­mem­ber read­ing about Pat Smythe when I was a child,” Tin­dall re­calls. “She was highly re­garded in Bri­tain, and the in­spi­ra­tion for a lot of young women who went on to be­come top riders. She was one of the first to es­tab­lish a path for women in the sport, and to prove that eques­tri­an­ism had the global pop­u­lar­ity to be mas­sively suc­cess­ful.”

Smythe was the first woman to travel the world com­pet­ing in­ter­na­tion­ally, win­ning ma­jor Grand Prix events on her own horses in more coun­tries than any man or woman had ever done be­fore. In 1956, she be­came the first woman to ride in an Olympic showjump­ing event and the first to win a medal. In ad­di­tion to blaz­ing a trail for fe­male ath­letes, in 1957, Smythe also be­came the first eques­trian Rolex Tes­ti­monee – a fur­ther mark of her suc­cess. The con­cept of Tes­ti­monees came about in 1927, when Mercedes Gleitze crossed the English Chan­nel wear­ing a Rolex Oys­ter, the world’s first wa­ter­proof wrist­watch. Since then, Rolex has cham­pi­oned ath­letes across a range of sport­ing dis­ci­plines.

There is a neat sym­me­try in the fact that Tin­dall went on to also be­come a Rolex Tes­ti­monee, in 2006, the same year that she won an in­di­vid­ual gold and team sil­ver at the World Eques­trian Games in Aachen.

One of the other unar­guable high­lights of Tin­dall’s ca­reer was win­ning a team sil­ver at the 2012 Lon­don Olympics. In this, she fol­lowed in the foot­steps of not only her idol Smythe, but of her own par­ents as well. Her fa­ther, Cap­tain Mark Phillips, won team gold at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, while her mother, Princess Anne, daugh­ter of Queen El­iz­a­beth II, rode for Team Great Bri­tain at the 1976 Olympics, be­com­ing the first member of the Bri­tish royal fam­ily to com­pete in the Olympic Games.

“Rid­ing in Lon­don was very spe­cial for me – es­pe­cially in front of a home crowd,” Tin­dall re­calls. “Great Bri­tain won team sil­ver, and I was pre­sented with the medal by my mother, due to her role as pres­i­dent of the Bri­tish Olympic As­so­ci­a­tion.”

Given her pedi­gree, Tin­dall’s cho­sen ca­reer path is hardly sur­pris­ing, she ad­mits. “With my par­ents ex­celling in eques­trian sport, it was prob­a­bly in­evitable that I would end up in­volved one day.”

She first came to the at­ten­tion of the event­ing world with vic­tory as a ju­nior rider at the Un­der-25 Cham­pi­onship and an in­di­vid­ual sil­ver medal at the Euro­pean Young Riders Cham­pi­onship. In June 2003, at the age of just 22, she fin­ished as run­ner-up at the Burgh­ley Horse Tri­als in the United King­dom.

As with many lead­ing eques­tri­ans, Tin­dall at­tributes much of her early suc­cess to her horse at the time, a hand­some chest­nut geld­ing called Toy­town. “I think the best ad­vice I was given was to try and build a strong bond with your horse. Over the years, this has helped in my ca­reer, and it is still rel­e­vant to­day.

“Toy­town was a once-in-a-life­time horse,” she con­tin­ues. “He wasn’t the most nat­u­ral even­ter at the start, but as our re­la­tion­ship grew, suc­cess fol­lowed. You ride horses and hope they have the po­ten­tial to make it – Toy­town just ex­celled in ev­ery area and we went from strength to strength.”

Of course, as with any sport­ing ca­reer, there have been as many lows as there have been highs – most notably in 2008, when Tin­dall was se­lected to ride for Great Bri­tain at the Bei­jing Olympic Games, but was forced to with­draw when Toy­town suf­fered a train­ing in­jury. “There are more low points than highs with horses, so it makes the high points even more spe­cial. In­juries hap­pen all the time and there’s very lit­tle you can do about it,” she says.

Toy­town was re­tired in 2011, leav­ing Tin­dall to ride a new horse, High King­dom, in the 2012 Olympic Games. The duo went on to win team sil­ver at the World Eques­trian Games in Au­gust 2014 – a par­tic­u­larly im­pres­sive achieve­ment given that Tin­dall’s daugh­ter, Mia, was born in Jan­uary, just seven months be­fore the games.

“What sur­prised me about hav­ing a baby is los­ing all your fit­ness, and how tough it is to get it back to a high level again. I do have help with Mia, oth­er­wise I wouldn’t be able to ride. Event­ing is phys­i­cally de­mand­ing, but I try to do ex­tra ex­er­cise, like swim­ming and cy­cling, to stay fit.

“The event­ing cir­cuit is great for chil­dren and fam­i­lies, so I ex­pect Mia will grow up with horses around her – just like her mum.”

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