It’s a well-known fact that Olympic team silver medalist Zara Tindall is one of Britain’s top eventing athletes. How Tindall got to the pinnacle of the sport—and who most inspired her journey along the way—is less well known. Here, a closer look at the four key figures (human and horse, alike) who have had the biggest impact on Tindall’s rise to the top, courtesy of Rolex.

Inspired By a Legend

Pat Smythe was eventing sport’s first international equestrian icon and the greatest female show jumper of her era. In 1957, she became the first rider to forge an auspicious partnership with Rolex, becoming the brand’s first equestrian Testimonee. Her groundbreaking career at the top of the sport paved the way for other female riders—a mantel carried forward today by Tindall, who Rolex welcomed into their family of equestrian Testimonees in 2006.

  “I think the best advice I had was to try and build up a strong bond with your horse.”

“I can remember reading about Pat Smythe when I was a child,” recalled Zara. “She was highly regarded in Britain and the inspiration for a lot of young women who went on to become top riders. It’s incredible to think that she was the first Rolex Testimonee all those years ago. She was one of the first to establish a path for women in the sport and to prove that equestrianism had the global popularity to be massively successful.

“I think young riders always look for a role model like Pat, especially at a young age,” said Zara, who was a Great Britain team silver medalist at the 2012 London Olympics and the individual champion at the World Equestrian Games in 2006. She also helped Great Britain secure a silver medal at the World Equestrian Games in 2014.

Daughter of Olympians 

Zara’s inspiration for the sport naturally derives from her parents, who are both accomplished riders. Her mother Anne, the Princess Royal, won European eventing gold in 1971. Her Royal Highness also rode for Team GB at the 1976 Olympics, where she became the first member of the Royal Family to compete at an Olympic Games.

Zara’s father, Captain Mark Phillips, won team gold at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. “With my parents excelling in equestrian sport, it was probably inevitable that I would end up involved one day,” she says.

Zara first came to the attention of the eventing world with her victory as a junior rider at the Under 25 Championship and an individual silver medal at the European Young Riders Championship. In June 2003, at the age of 22, she finished as runner-up at the Burghley Horse Trials in the UK. It was her first Rolex event. “I think the best advice I had was to try and build up a strong bond with your horse. Over the years, this has helped in my career and it is still relevant today.”

Toytown just excelled in every area and we went from strength to strength.

A Once-in-a-Lifetime Horse

Tindall’s career blossomed with the handsome chestnut gelding, Toytown, a competitive partnership that lasted until 2011. The pair won individual and team gold medals at the 2005 European Eventing Championship in Blenheim, UK. The following year, Tindall went on to win individual gold and team silver medals at the 2006 FEI World Equestrian Games in Aachen, Germany, and was the reigning Eventing World Champion until 2010.

“Toytown was a once-in-a-lifetime horse. He wasn’t the most natural eventer at the start, but as our relationship grew, success followed. You ride horses and hope they have the potential to make it—Toytown just excelled in every area and we went from strength to strength.”

After winning at the FEI World Equestrian Games in Aachen, Zara was voted 2006 BBC TV Sports Personality of the Year—an award her mother also won in 1971. It was also in this year that Zara became a Rolex Testimonee, joining an elite roster of sportsmen and women.

Crowning Achievements 

Zara was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2007 New Year Honours List for services to equestrianism. Her career continued to flourish and she was selected to ride Toytown for Great Britain at the Beijing Olympic Games in 2008.

Disappointment followed when Toytown suffered a training injury and the pair was forced to withdraw. Today, Tindall remains pragmatic about the setback. “There are more low points than highs with horses, so it makes the high points even more special,” she says. “Injuries happen all the time and there’s very little you can do about it.”

“I was very lucky I had Toytown when I was young. Not every horse is as good as he was. The horses that get to the top are pretty unique and exceptionally hard to find.”

Toytown was retired in 2011, allowing Zara to ride her new horse, High Kingdom, at the 2012 Olympic Games. “Riding in London was very special for me, especially in front of a home crowd. Great Britain won team silver and I was presented with the medal by my mother, due to her role as President of the British Olympic Association.”

“There are more low points than highs with horses, so it makes the high points even more special.”

The Next Chapter 

Tindall finished second at Luhmühlen Horse Trials 2013 in Germany on High Kingdom. Then, at the World Equestrian Games in August 2014, the pair were also part of the British squad that won team silver. It was a miraculous achievement, considering that her daughter, Mia, was born in January 2014, just seven months before the Games.

“What surprised me about having a baby is losing all your fitness and how tough it is to get it back to a high level again. I do have help with Mia, otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to ride. Eventing is physically demanding, but I try to do extra exercise, like swimming and cycling, to stay fit.

“The eventing circuit is great for children and families, so I expect Mia will grow up with horses around her—just like her mum.”

– Photo credit: Ashley Neuhof/Rolex.