An eventful life – William Fox-Pitt
Harry Bucknall visits William Fox-Pitt at his Hinton St Mary home to talk about Dorset, London 2012 and Rio
Published in April ’14
William Fox-Pitt strides into the room, apologises for being late as he has had to look after children Thomas and Chloe while his wife, Alice Plunkett, the Channel 4 racing presenter, has taken her horse out hunting with the Blackmore Vale. For someone so visibly successful – and this rosette and trophy festooned room is a testament to the thirty years he has spent at the top of British and World three-day eventing – he is instantly charming and unassuming.
‘Actually, you have come at a good time’, he explains, ‘we finished last year on a high, with a win on Seacookie at Pau in France, the last major event of the calendar and then try to take much of November and December off’, which is an understatement considering William thinks little of getting on his first horse at 7.30 and finishing his last ride at 6pm. ‘We are just beginning to gear up for the 2014 Season, which starts on 1 March, appropriately, at Moreton.’
He has a very open mind about 2014 and the one day event in particular, where he will ride five different horses, ‘Moreton is always a challenge – the horses are fresh and for the young ones it’s their first outing so they’re jumping out of their skins. Frankly, I am glad to come back in one piece. You never know what’s going to happen that day. But that’s the joy of it!’ Unfortunately, just after Dorset Life visited William, Moreton was cancelled owing to the weather hampering preparations. Eventing, even when it is not affected by the weather gods, is an exacting sport, unlike any other. In many respects, it is the ultimate team event as it is not only the rider that has to be in top condition, but the mount too. If either is not up to standard, then it’s a no show in the British Team.
‘Next week is our first visit from Team GB when Yogi Breisner, the performance manager, and Liz Brown, our vet, will come by to see how things are progressing.’
Of the fourteen horses William has in training at present at his Wood Lane Stables there are four for whom he has high hopes, Parklane Hawk who he rode to victory at Burghley, Bay My Hero, Seacookie, Cool Mountain and the twice Bramham Horse Trials-winning, Chilli Morning; while to many 2014 may seem a bit of an ‘in-between’ year, for William its focus is the World Equestrian Games at Deauville later in the summer. Although the build-up to Rio 2016 is also under way.
‘Everything after London,’ says William referring to the Olympics, ‘is a bonus as I see it. We went for broke in 2012. If we get to go to Deauville, great, but if not, well, c’est la vie,’ he shrugs. For this remarkable sportsman, twelve times British Number 1, three times World Number 1, who has ridden at every Olympics except Sydney since 1996, bringing home two silvers and a bronze medal, this self-effacing relaxed attitude is all part of the game. The consummate professional, there is a greater chance of Christmas being cancelled than William Fox-Pitt not appearing at Normandy this year.
When talk turns to Rio, he shrugs his shoulders again. ‘It would be a huge excitement to be there, of course, but next time round I’ll be 47 and I have to assume there will be better riders and horses coming up by then. But yeah, Rio would be fantastic and I would like to think I have a good chance, but if I end up watching it on TV I might also be saying “good on you guys, go for it”. It’s too early to call.’
The inescapable fact is that William is still very much at the top, although there is a distinct sense of a light at the end of the tunnel now – even if the tunnel clearly is a very long one.
‘I don’t feel like retiring. Yes, I have slightly fewer horses now, but of no less quality and I am able to work on them with greater intensity. It feels very good. But things have changed, I have a family and other interests,’ he says referring to, among other projects, Hinton Hydro, a renewable energy operation that provides electricity which was set up by Alice.
‘I like the idea of training horses for National Hunt racing; it would combine well with Alice’s expertise. But the key is our owners, without them – and the support of our sponsor Jeep – this business would be nothing; and it is a business. I see it as a bit like a boarding school, I am both head master and teacher, trainer and jockey. It is a great position to be in, a real privilege but as a rider you have to know yourself too – what horses suit you and which horses don’t. Many of my owners are now good friends and I don’t want to encourage any of them to spend money where there’s no hope in the same way that I don’t want to waste my time on a lost cause either. My owners are Fox-Pitt Eventing and very important to me’.
Eleven years ago, not long after his marriage, William built a state of the art stable complex on the site of a run down dairy just outside Sturminster Newton. The stables are also the base for his Fox-Pitt Eventing Club, which he set up to run open days, give cross-country course walks and talks, to offer an insight into the world of three-day eventing that people wouldn’t otherwise be able to enjoy: ‘I wanted to make the sport accessible to everyone and especially young riders and Pony Clubbers’.
‘Dorset,’ he continues, ‘has always been a special place for me. As a child, we used to come here a lot to see my grandparents [his grandfather, General William Fox-Pitt, was one of the founding officers of the Welsh Guards in 1915] at Bishop’s Caundle. After ten years in Oxfordshire, moving here was just the natural thing to do. There is a terrific feeling to this county, we love it and it’s our home now.’ ◗