This is a post I have considered writing for quite a while but struggled with how to get my message across. But after having had this same conversation with multiple people recently, I thought it was time to put pen to paper and broach this subject with the wider world. It is by no means a man hunt, just some ponderings as to why we, the wider equestrian community, don’t love Oliver Townend the same way we do other top riders.
Now we all have our favourites in the sport, I personally love the Kiwi riders, especially the power couple of Tim and Jonelle Price. But I do also love to see the British riders do well. But aside from my own personal favourites, in our community there are names who everybody loves to see do well. These typically include; William Fox-Pitt, Michael Jung and this year in particular Piggy French.
The riders we love to see do well are usually at the top of their game fantastic riders who seem to really care about their horses in their interviews. They are usually at the stage in their career where they are winning a lot, or they are coming back from injury/run of bad luck etc.
Now while I’m sure there are some huge fans of Oliver Townend, I have never known the equestrian community to really get behind him the same way they have for other riders. I for one am the first to admit that there is always someone I would prefer to see win. But I do think it is a shame we don’t get behind him.
When you look at the British riders in particular, they pretty much all come from horsey backgrounds or families with money. While none of this guarantees you anything in eventing, it certainly is a good stepping stone along the way. Oliver Townend doesn’t come from this background; his early life is probably quite similar to that of your typical horse owner or amateur eventer. I feel like he should be relatable.
I don’t think anyone would deny that he has worked incredibly hard and done extremely well to get to where he is now. Especially when you think about how many horses he has at top level. He is an underdog in the sense that he is coming from a normal background and should be one for the people. But for some reason, the people don’t connect with him.
I often wonder if the reason we don’t love Oliver Townend is because he doesn’t come across as well as he could do. Most of us have horses because we absolutely adore them and love riding them. While we may have our own competitive goals, these are usually a second thought compared to enjoying time with our horse. Now while I am not saying Oliver doesn’t love his horses; I have found his interviews in the past to almost feel a bit like he didn’t get enough from his horse and that he is disappointed in their performance. We all have bad days and will sometimes blame the horse, I certainly felt that his interviews lacked compassion or love for his horses. His warnings at Badminton last year also wouldn’t have helped this opinion of him.
However, I do think he has had some PR training as his interviews at Burghley this year gave a much better impression of him and he came across much more likeable. I do hope that he can find a way to win over the public as coming from a non-horsey family, I feel like I regularly have to justify the fact that not all horse owners are rich and that the vast majority come from humble homes. Oliver is pretty much the only example I can ever think of for a rider regularly riding at top level who bucks the publics stereotypical view of horse riders. So I do find it a shame that he often doesn’t come across very likeable. Hopefully he will continue to change our opinion on him as he really could be a great advert for getting more people into eventing by proving that you don’t have to be born into it.
Last Updated on 22/12/2021
Good friends of mine were at Badminton last year for 4 days and all were appalled by his behaviour to his horse after the x country phase.I agree that this year those actions don’t appear to have been repeated thankfully. In the past many of the European show jumpers were rightfully criticised for the excessive head carriage of their horses.In polo it was a pleasure to.have seen Carlos Gracida and his brother Memo riding as if they had cotton reins rather than all their weight on gag bits where the ponies were obviously NOT personally compliant.Over many years some of the unacceptable practices used in the breaking in process are beyond comprehension and should be rightfully condemned. Rant over!!
Excellent article – well thought through.
As a retired equestrian journalist – formerly in SE England but now in the USA – I’m less familiar with some of the top riders around now. Oliver was competing back when I covered events – 1994-2005 – but I never interviewed him. But I did find that the way riders related to the press, the public, and their horses varied, sometimes regardless of background. Yes, I had my favourites like William Fox-Pitt (and his sisters) – William always made a point of coming over to talk whenever he saw me. Tina Gifford was another, and some like Toddy, I could casually chat with at non-interview moments.Then there was was Matt Ryan. Back when Matt was with Nikki who always laid on superb lunches at events, I was a regular ‘supporter’ of them both. Yet, Matt was a rider some disliked for his treatment of horses – despite his background. Some riders who are successful, from horsey families, treat their horses well, had moments of being approachable, and other times were stand-offish, verging on rude. Perhaps, personality plays a crucial role whatever the background. I knew riders from non-horsey backgrounds, who were personable and positive. I encountered privileged riders, who could knife me with a glance – until they discovered my background.
I’ve discovered the pros and cons of my privileged background, but I used the advantages when I could. It’s harder coming up the other way, making your name when you have the raw talent but not the privilege or the winning personality. So, poor Oliver has a tough challenge winning fans as well as events. But I wish him luck for the future.