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Equine: Bridget Parker, Olympic hero

PUBLISHED: 17:10 10 May 2016 | UPDATED: 17:10 10 May 2016

Helen West jumping in the arena in front of Southfield House at Nunney International Horse Trials

Helen West jumping in the arena in front of Southfield House at Nunney International Horse Trials

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Lucy Johnson meets the woman who will play an intrinsic role in any British success at this year’s Olympic Games

Bridget parker with the committee outside Southfield HouseBridget parker with the committee outside Southfield House

A glimpse around Bridget Parker’s home near Frome reveals a snapshot of the life of an extraordinary woman who has devoted her life to the sport of eventing.

From winning team gold at the 1972 Olympic Games at Munich to playing an intrinsic part in the choosing of British teams as a member of the Olympic Games Selection Panel, she is a stalwart of eventing and part of the foundation upon which the sport is built.

Bridget is a lynch pin of the modern era, whose experience and integrity provide a corner stone within which participants flourish. It was 65 years ago that she first competed at Pony Club championships and since then she has given back as much to the sport that she loves as she has gained. “I’ve made tremendous friends since I’ve been involved, and travelled to many places,” she says.

Having passed her 70th year, Bridget is happy to say she is 77, there’s no sign that she’s about to slow down and this year she has taken over as organiser of Nunney International Horse Trials, which takes place from 17-19 June and this year is supported by Kingairloch Highland Estate.

Sam Jennings and Coleplay CIC2* winnersSam Jennings and Coleplay CIC2* winners

It’s an event that has grown in stature and reputation since it moved to its current location at Angela Yeoman’s Southfield House near Nunney from Longleat in 2012. But she says the decision was easy given the fact that its committee members have decades of experience between them with the knowledge and know-how to run an event like clockwork.

“I was very pleased to have been asked by the committee to take on the role of organiser and it was an easy decision to say yes,” she says. “It’s a marvellous committee who have been together for a very long time. I am just there to help them make the event as good as possible,” she says.

Bridget is adept at slotting in and helping. In 1972 she went to Germany as travelling reserve for the Olympic Games in Munich. At the last minute she was called into the three-day event team, after Debbie West’s horse went lame.

Riding Cornish Gold, she was placed 10th individually and was the third scoring member of the British team that won gold. It’s the high point of a long and illustrious career and today a picture of Cornish Gold jumping into the deep lake at Munich adorns her kitchen wall.

“The water was so deep then and came to the top of my boots, and half way up his side, rather than the normal 18 inches these days,” she recalls.

It’s another of a myriad of changes that have happened in eventing since those days when fearsome fences were there to be jumped, and never in any way modified. It’s a point that brings about an air of nostalgia as she laments the changes to the sport, and equestrianism as a whole, since those heady days when you quite literally kicked on.

Horsemanship, she says, is what made it such a special sport, and the requirement of a rider to have a deep knowledge and understanding of the horsepower beneath them.

“When we went to Munich, we had a five minute steeplechase and our second roads and tracks was 10km and that was before we went cross country,” she says.

Today, just three phases, dressage, cross country and showjumping, make up the CCI format.

“The sport and riding horses just isn’t the same and everything about it is different. We used to be able to hack to Longleat from where we live but we can’t do that now, as the roads are so busy.”

Quietly spoken but with a strong sense of no nonsense about her, horses are her life and through them she has built an enviable reputation both as a breeder of future champions and as an unwavering voice of reason within the sport of horse trials.From Cornish Gold’s line, Bridget has bred a succession of great horses.

A busy few months are in the offing. The final selection for the Olympics will be made on the Monday before Nunney. Bridget will be keeping a close eye on the results. There will be team training to attend and she will be at Badminton and Belton.

Bridget will also be adding her input to ensure Nunney International Horse Trials continues to flourish.

“We will constantly look at ways in which we can make Nunney the very best we can, to attract the top riders, and provide spectators with three great days out in the countryside. By constantly upgrading and improving it attracts more sponsors and riders,” she says.

Indeed the report from British Eventing following last year’s event was so exemplary that even the loos were awarded top marks! Bridget and her team have a lot to look forward to as Nunney International Horse Trials and the Rio Olympics approach.

Flat racing at Bath

Tactics, speed and skill will come to the fore at Bath Racecourse with its summer season of flat racing. The horses come under starter’s orders on 26 April and then on 2 May, there’s Big Bank Holiday Fun for all the family with swing boats, a bouncy castle and Shetland Pony racing. There are fixtures every month from April to October. bath-racecourse.co.uk

Cross country thrill

Pontispool Equine Sports Centre near Taunton hosts three days of eventing from 28-30 May when world class competitors are sure to be in action at the Wychanger Barton-sponsored competition. Spectators can enjoy the grace of dressage, the accuracy of showjumping and the thrill of cross country. A £10 charge per car on entry will be donated to a local charity. pontispool.co.uk

North Somerset Show

There’s something for everyone this year at the North Somerset Show, which takes place on 2 May. In the main arena the demonstrations include the Avon & Somerset Constabulary’s mounted section, a parade of livestock and a hunt relay. Showjumping and showing classes are all in the schedule and in the Countryside Area there’s a variety of attractions including heavy horses, terrier racing and a dog scurry. Tickets cost from £13 person, with a child’s ticket (14 and under) £5. nsas.org.uk

Collective Equestrian

Collective Equestrian at Chew Magna has celebrated its official opening. Led by International Grand Prix dressage rider Jonny Clarke-West, Collective Equestrian delivers quality training and impeccable first class care to the local dressage community. Whether it is a bespoke full livery package, or simply private tuition with a highly qualified dressage trainer, the staff ensure that horse and rider harness their full potential whilst maximizing enjoyment of the sport.

Glenda Spooner Farm

Around 65 horses and ponies are cared for at World Horse Welfare’s Glenda Spooner Farm Rescue and Rehoming Centre near Somerton where visitors are welcome every weekend between 2pm and 4pm. A guided tour of the stables will take you behind the scenes to see the work of the charity, or you can take a walk around the paddocks and enjoy stunning views of the Somerset Levels.

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