3:14pm Friday 6th September 2013
PIGGY FRENCH will return to four-star international eventing at this week’s Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials after a demoralising spell in her career when she considered quitting the sport.
French was in blistering form approaching last summer’s Olympics, having finished as Badminton runner-up behind Mark Todd the previous season and won the London 2012 test event.
She was among the first names on Great Britain boss Yogi Breisner’s Olympics team sheet, selected alongside William Fox-Pitt, Zara Phillips, Mary King and Tina Cook for a concerted gold medal assault at Greenwich Park.
But no sooner had the British combination been announced than French was forced to withdraw because both of her top horses – DHI Topper W and Jakata – were ruled out through injury.
It proved a crushing setback for French, whose place in the team was taken by Northallerton’s Nicola Wilson as Britain went on to finish second and kick-start an equestrian medal rush that saw the host nation’s showjumpers and dressage riders enjoy a golden Games.
Fast forward to this summer, and 33-year-old French was picked for the European Championships in Malmo aboard her exciting newcomer Tinkas Time.
Again the team was chosen, again French’s horse suffered an injury, and once more she was left cursing cruel luck.
Pippa Funnell, who replaced French in Sweden last weekend, said she could ‘‘weep’’ for her colleague, such had been the seemingly endless run of misfortune suffered by a rider who arrived on the big stage through winning an individual European silver medal four years ago.
French, though, is on the way back, starting at Burghley, with her sights already trained towards next year’s World Equestrian Games and having a full string of horses available for selection.
‘‘Definitely, without doubt,’’ French said, when asked had she debated throwing in the towel.
‘‘But you can’t. I have got a very big business, and it is my livelihood.
You can’t even walk away for six weeks and go and do something else.
‘‘I have a lot of staff and a lot of horses – it is a big responsibility – and I have got a lot of support from owners, who all have very nice up and coming horses, so it is not fair on them.
‘‘No, I have not coped very well.
It all seemed to happen for me in one go, but life goes on.’’ French’s return at Burghley will be on Westwood Mariner, a horse she guided to victory at last month’s 2014 World Equestrian Games test event in France and that was previously ridden by Great Britain international Polly Stockton.
The Burghley field is headed by world number one and defending champion Andrew Nicholson, who rides last year’s winner Avebury, along with six-time Burghley champion Fox-Pitt and two members of Germany’s 2013 European Championship gold medal team in Ingrid Klimke and Andreas Dibowski.
The action started yesterday.
Former leading amateur jockey Eamonn McIntyre will compete at Burghley after winning the four year old qualifier at The Border Union Show, Kelso riding Burnlea Ericantos.
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