Actress and comedienne, Jennifer Saunders, is one of a growing number of women keen to re-kindle their childhood passion for horse riding. Not someone content with half measures, Jennifer intends to train towards one day competing in the sport of eventing – an adrenaline-fuelled equestrian triathlon in which Britain has very real medal chances at this year’s London Olympic Games – and nor is she alone, it seems. Whilst many women returning to riding might be content to hack sedately around the leafy lanes and bridle-paths of rural Britain , British Eventing, the Governing body for the sport of Eventing in the UK , has seen a rise in the number of women who want to compete in this most challenging equestrian sport.
53 year old Jennifer Saunders, is currently making a documentary about her love of horses (two parts to air in August) and will follow British hopefuls such as Eventers Piggy French and Lauren Shannon.
Jennifer has admitted that she is keen to return to competitive riding and will attend the Mitsubishi Motors Grassroots Championships at Badminton Horse
Trials in Gloucestershire in May this year. Although she rode and competed as a child, and still rides regularly, Jennifer has never ridden very competitively.
In a society where age is often seen as a barrier to success, the sport of Eventing is proof that age, experience, horsemanship and teamwork are assets to be highly valued and that women of all ages: from schoolgirls, right through to grandmothers, can compete on equal terms with their male counterparts in a sport where every event is pro-am.
Proving that age is no barrier in this sport, one event rider hoping to compete in her sixth Olympic games is 50 year old Mary King. Born in 1961, just nine years after women first participated in Olympic Eventing at the 1952 Helsinki Games, Mary is likely to be one of the oldest competitors at London 2012 but would still have some way to go to catch-up with the oldest female Olympic athlete: Lorna Johnstone of Great Britain was 70 years old when she competed in individual dressage at the 1972 Games in Munich. She finished 12th and was the leading rider on the British team.
King’s daughter Emily has her sights set on the Rio Olympics in 2016 and it’s not completely inconceivable that mother and daughter could end up rivals in the race for a place on that Olympic team. Last year Mary and Emily made sporting history to be the first mother and daughter to compete for their country in the same sport in the same year .
Commenting on the increasing popularity of the sport of Eventing, British Eventing’s Chief Executive and International cross country course designer, Mike Etherington-Smith said: “Many women want to challenge the perception that growing older means you have to slow down; the sport of Eventing allows them to do just that. It also means that lots of younger women in the sport who are perhaps juggling their passion for Eventing with a full-time job or motherhood have some really positive role models. Female riders can continue their competitive career well into their 60’s and even their 70’s and that is an attractive prospect for many women.
“Horse riding can be a relaxing hobby or a challenging sport. Not only is it a way of keeping active but it is also a highly sociable pastime. Whichever way you view it, riding can be enjoyed by women of all ages and we have a mixture of women who are involved in the sport of Eventing: from a Corporate Financier with six children right through to television personalities like Jennifer Saunders.”
An equestrian triathlon, the sport of Eventing features three distinct phases throughout the competition: dressage, which illustrates the harmony and communication between horse and rider; cross-country riding, which requires speed, power and nerve; and jumping, which calls for precision, agility and impeccable technique. The combination tests every element of horsemanship, and offers the spectator plenty of excitement along the way.