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A View from the Stands – Part 4

A Pair of Chaps

The Pak is across the pond and the action is officially underway in London. In this blog series, SmartPakers Sarah and Colby will be sharing stories about the people they meet while watching the action live in the stands (and on the XC course) in Greenwich.

Today we were back in the stadium for the final portion of the team and individual eventing competition – show jumping. The local fans were out in full force to support their hometown heroes, William Fox-Pitt, Mark King, Zara Phillips, Tina Cook and Nicola Wilson, as Great Britain tried to overtake Germany in the quest for the gold medal.

British flags waiving in the crowd.

Everyone at the equestrian venue, from the staff to security to spectators, has been absolutely lovely to meet and chat with, today we really lucked out. After Colby and I sat down, two young ladies with rather…large and unruly hair sat down in the row right in front of us. I was dismayed because, as a short person, this meant I’d need to sit straight up at the edge of my seat and raise and angle my camera to get shots of the ring. Obviously this is fine to do for awhile, but for six hours? Slightly less fun.

Fortunately, not more than ten minutes later, a lovely woman (with quite tidy blonde hair) arrived with her two adorable sons, and straightened out that those were in fact her seats, and the two girls were off by one row. As they took their seats and unfurled their Union Jack (the UK flag) and chatted happily amongst themselves, I was convinced I couldn’t have been in better company. After mom started explaining some of the details of the day’s competition, one of the boys exclaimed “I want to see William Fox-Pitt!” An entire family of horse-knowledgeable Brits? Colby and I exchanged a glance and instantly knew this would be today’s View from the Stands interview.

Davina, Fergus and Theo enjoying the last day of Eventing.

I approached them during the lunch break and at first mom (Davina) laughed and immediately wanted to be sure I didn’t expect her to pose for a photo (though I don’t know why she was concerned. To say she was beautiful would be an understatement). I assured her there were no modeling requirements, and we set off.

The boys accents were absolutely adorable. I recorded our chat in place of taking notes, and I’m kind of tempted to take a clip of Theo (the older brother) and turn it into my ringtone. Here’s hoping you understand that’s because his eight-year-old British accent was so darn cute, and not because I’m insane.

As always, my first question was, “Do any of you ride?” To which mom replied, “We all do!” According to Theo, Davina started riding back when she was two years old, and she learned to gallop when she was three. Davina’s smile indicated that those facts may not have been entirely accurate, but she did say that she’s been riding nearly all her life and used to event herself. She still rides these days, but mostly just taking her boys, Theo (8) and Fergus (6) out for hacks and small jumping trips.

Fergus and Theo showing their British pride.

Theo and Jack have a 13hh chestnut pony named Ellie, and they love her. Theo told me that Ellie recently had a bought of laminitis, which Davina quickly noted she had fully recovered from. I think she was trying to reassure Theo more than me, but I’ll be honest, I was really glad to hear it. See, by that point, I’d already had a mental image of Theo cantering Ellie across the field and giggling all the way, and I really wanted to preserve that delightful scene in my mind.

I asked them who there favorite riders were, expecting to hear William Fox-Pitt from both boys (and perhaps mom, seeing as he is quite handsome), but to my surprise Theo picked Mark Todd. Thinking about it now, I can understand the appeal. Fox-Pitt seems, without knowing him, to be more of a proper gentleman – very dapper and handsome, but a little more subdued. Todd, on the other hand, seems to be a lot more rough and tumble, down and dirty – a real man’s man, so to speak. It’s a little bit like asking an eight year old if they’d rather be Jude Law or Bruce Willis, in my mind.

William Fox-Pitt and Lionheart.

Davina picked Mary King, and when I asked her why, she noted, “She just rides so beautifully. I think we all aspire to ride like her – very quiet, elegant, soft control, she’s got everything.” Davina did also go on to note that the whole family loved William Fox-Pitt, because everyone does. And because he’s handsome.

Mary King and Imperial Cavalier

Mark Todd and Campino

Fergus was much more interested in picking his favorite flavor of Fanta, rather than talking about his favorite rider, but if I were a six-year-old British boy, I wouldn’t want to talk to a stranger with a weird Yankee accent either.

Last but not least, I asked the gang to each give me one word to describe riding. Theo thought for just a second and replied, “sort of calm.” Davina’s face was priceless. I’m not sure if there’s a word in the world she would’ve been more surprised to hear come out of her son’s mouth. With a sound and thoughtful answer like that, and the confidence and boldness he displayed in our chat, I wouldn’t be surprised to be watching Theo accept an eventing medal in the 2024 games.

After recovering from the surprise of Theo’s response, Davina replied, “I’d say exhilarating.” After watching the morning’s competition, and especially coming from a former eventer, I couldn’t agree with her more. We truly do participate in a fabulous sport.

Finally, all eyes turned to Ferg, who was less than thrilled to be in the spotlight. Mom suggested “emotional” and Theo suggested “elegant” (twice), but Fergus finally settled on “fun,” and I think he, too, was spot on.

Before I left to meet Colby for a bite to eat, I asked the boys to pose for a quick picture. They were so far beyond cute that if I didn’t enjoy Davina so much, I’d have been tempted to simply wrap them up in the flag and be off with them. But my luggage was only 3/4 of a kilo under the weight limit on the way here, and I don’t want to be hunted by Interpol, and so for all those reasons, I snapped the picture, thanked them for their time and went on my merry way, with my life just a little bit more awesome for having met them.

Question for all the riders out there – did your parents ride? As the child of two non-riders, my introduction to riding was very different than Theo and Ferg’s, but I’ve always wondered what it’s like to be “born into” riding. If your folks were riders – did you love it instantly, or did it have to grow on you? Do you have siblings who rode when you were younger and then stopped? Do you think you would’ve become a rider if your parents hadn’t been riders? Discuss! I’m super-curious!

Stay up to date on the latest London happenings by following @SmartPakerSarah and @SmartPakerColby on Twitter!

Sarah Paull

Sarah Paull is a lifelong rider and SmartPak’s Brand Manager. You may know her better as the life-size foam finger from the London Olympics, the host of USEF Network’s Live from London coverage, or “that girl from the Stuff Riders Say videos.” Prior to joining SmartPak in 2008, Sarah worked as a Veterinary Technician at B.W. Furlong & Associates in Oldwick, NJ, and obtained her degree in Equine Science from Centenary College. Sarah is the proud mom of Cody, a semi-retired, 23-year-old Quarter Horse gelding, and she’s currently looking for an eventing partner to help her get rid of all the extra time, money and energy she doesn’t actually have :-) If you're interested in her often-horsey, always-odd musings, follow @SmartPakerSarah on Twitter.

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9 comments on “A View from the Stands – Part 4
  1. Lee says:

    By the time I actually started riding, neither of my parents rode. But Mom took me riding with her when I was 1-2 years old, and before she retired her gaming horse. I didn’t know it for years, but Dad used to do morning training for a harness racing farm in upstate NY. So both my parents were horse people, and I guess I didn’t fall so far from the tree!

    I think you have to be a lot more dedicated to the sport if you come from a non-horsey family. Non-horsey people will try to support you, but there always seems to be that perception that you’re just a little bit nuts, and they are just indulging your craziness. One of my friends has a non-horsey family, and she always kind of feels like the black sheep!

    • SmartPakerSarah SmartPakerSarah says:

      Thanks for sharing your story, Lee! As a rider from a non-horsey family, I definitely get what you mean about feeling like your insanity is being indulged 🙂 I can still remember explaining to my parents that I was going to have $3000 worth of surgery done on my then 21-year-old horse when I was just a year and a half out of college, and had virtually no savings. But I wouldn’t do it any other way.
      Fortunately for me, I have a super-supportive family, and a mom and two sisters who were heavily into ballet, another “you’ve gotta be a little crazy” activity.

  2. Shula says:

    Neither of my parents are at all horse minded. I grew up in England and learnt to ride there, but didn’t get to own my horse until I came to America. My parents came out last Christmas though and met my horse, they think he’s wonderful, and I am inclined to agree!

    Enjoy the rest of your time in England.

    • SmartPakerSarah SmartPakerSarah says:

      Aw, Shula, I love that your parents got to meet your horse! It’s such an important part of your life, and like any committed relationship, you always hope your parents will approve, and love the other person (or horse) just like you do 🙂

  3. Tras says:

    Not only did my mother ride, but my grandparents did too! My grandmother and grandfather met foxhunting, and my mom grew up riding and hunting as well. I was fortunate enough to learn to ride at the very same stable she did, and we even shared two instructors, nearly twenty years later.

    I loved horses from the moment I knew what they were, but my parents made we wait until I was eight before starting real lessons. I believe even without coming from a riding family, I would have pursued the equestrian life.

    • SmartPakerSarah SmartPakerSarah says:

      I LOVE that your grandparents met while riding – that’s, as they would say over here, absolutely brilliant! Also very cool that you got to share instructors with your mother. Definitely a unique experience.

  4. Amy says:

    My mother didn’t ride at all and my father rode very little by the time we were old enough to ride, but I think my dad secretly loved horses and indulged us by trading old tires and hogs to provide us with trail horses. I know he did ride horses for fun and cattle work when he was younger. I also have pictures of my father’s parents in jodhpurs and tall boots, unusual in rural Alabama where country folk wore cowboy boots and hats. But my grandmother passed away long before I was born, and my grandfather, consumed by grief and depression, stopped riding. However, my grandmother evidently passed down the horse loving gene since my sisters and I have been life-long equestriennes. We are bringing up a new generation of riders in my nieces and nephews. The only sad note is that my only child has no interest in horses or riding. But I am thankful for my own horsey heritage and the opportunities our father provided for us to ride.

    • SmartPakerSarah SmartPakerSarah says:

      Supportive fathers really are one of the greatest gifts in the world, aren’t they? My dad knew nothing about horses when I started riding (save for that one trip to a dude ranch in Montana where his team won the team penning competition – I still get reminded about that :-D), but he was always incredibly supportive, loving and encouraging. He and my mom worked harder than I can ever be properly grateful for, to give me all the opportunities I’ve had. Having good parents will take you really far 🙂

  5. Katie D says:

    My parents knew nothing of horses. My mom talks about how her family once went on a trail ride and her horse was in the back of the group and turned and walked back to the barn. haha! I’ve been riding now for over 15 years, owned my since passed horse for almost 10 years. She would hold him but would always tell me “where ever he wants to go, we are going.” I’d frequently come out to find her halfway across the arena with him happily munching on grass giving me that “what?!” look. I do have to say, my mom is incredibly supportive. Shes an animal person so shes always understood the bond and emotional ties, if nothing else. When DA got hurt last september she made a point to come see me and him, it ended up being her last time seeing him and “petting his little nose” as she says. She told me she was so thankful that he was the first horse she got to know and love. She may not have been a rider, but she more than understood what riding is really all about.

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