Dispatches From The North

Tania Kindersley lives in the North East of Scotland with two amiable lab collie crosses and one very grumpy Gloucester Old Spot pig. She co-wrote Backwards In High Heels: The Impossible Art of Being Female, with Sarah Vine.

Shining silver

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Tuesday, 31 July 2012
The sun shines gently in Scotland as I collapse in a heap after four days of watching the Olympic three-day-event. I rush up to the field and gaze at my own dear mare, who, despite her stellar breeding, would laugh in my face if I asked her to do a flying change. The discipline of three day eventing never fails to amaze me. The horses are trained to a peak of fitness, so that they can last four miles across country, but are then expected to dance into the ring and perform the delicate, controlled movements of dressage. After the hurly burly, the exhaustion and the mad dash of the event course, they must then take flimsy show jumps seriously. Even the best riders sent poles crashing at this stage, so much had been demanded of their concentration and stamina.

Dear old Team GB could not quite get past the mighty Germans, who were in danger of confirming all their national stereotypes with a performance of such efficiency and accuracy that it was hard to believe they were executing it on the unpredictable animal that is the horse. But the Brits were magnificent, and Olympic silver is a stunning achievement.

I got especially excited about Mary King, who is fifty-one years old, competing in the only Olympic event where men and women go up against each other on equal terms, and for whom age is no obstacle. Fifty-one is not old in life, but in any athletic sport it is positively geriatric. Yet there she was, glittering and shining for her country, showing the young ones how it is done. I found something inexpressibly moving and inspiring about that, especially when all the media tells the older ladies is that they have too many wrinkles and must rush at once to the Botox needle.

Mary King patently does not give a stuff about Botox. She is absolutely brilliant at what she does, and has more important things to think about than the lines on her face.  My suspicion is that her only vanity may come in the perfection of her extended canter. She should be driven round the country as a role model for young girls, a perfect example of why it is better to be a brilliant athlete, fulfilled in your chosen field, than to get your face stretched by a surgeon’s knife.

The real beauty of the four days lay in the horses themselves. I say their names again, before they retire to their dim stables, and the spotlight shifts onto the next Olympic hopeful. High Kingdom, Miners Frolic (who fell sick with colitis last year, and was within an ace of being put down), Opposition Buzz, Imperial Cavalier and Lionheart sparkled and shone for Britain. The British grooms certainly won my prize for best turned out. The great equines were brought to their crest and peak, coats gleaming, muscles rippling, eyes clever and bright. I’m not sure there is any other Olympic sport that involves so much sheer aesthetic loveliness.

Amid all the excitement and pride, there were of course carpers. Little ungenerous corners of Twitter suggested that one should not get too thrilled by posh people on horses. I’ve never, ever understood why class matters in the face of Olympic achievement. (There were a couple of thoroughbreds in the team whom I do admit were probably very posh indeed, but I think the critics were concerned about the humans.) The thing is: I don’t care what class any of them were. I care that they were so brave. They did everyone who watched them, and hoped for them, and cheered them on, very proud indeed.

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