10 of the most influential equestrians in the Cotswolds

PUBLISHED: 10:53 29 April 2016 | UPDATED: 10:54 29 April 2016

Zara Phillips riding High Kingdom at Blenheim ©  Fiona Scott Maxwell

Zara Phillips riding High Kingdom at Blenheim © Fiona Scott Maxwell


From top eventers to polo players, racehorse trainers to dressage stars all based in the Cotswolds, this list could go on forever, says Debbie Graham

Where do we start? As the equestrian capital of the UK the Cotswolds have more than its fair share of top and influential equestrians. All three of the victorious 2012 Olympic dressage team came from Gloucestershire, not to mention a certain silver medal winning event rider… We therefore decided to focus on those who have influenced the sport for the better, as well as achieve greatness within it. Here is our top 10, in no particular order.

Zara Philips on Gold Cup Day during the Cheltenham Festival at Cheltenham Racecourse © Joe GiddensZara Philips on Gold Cup Day during the Cheltenham Festival at Cheltenham Racecourse © Joe Giddens

1. The Phillips family

As horsey families go they don’t get much better than the Phillips. Captain Mark Phillips is one of the world’s top cross country course designers, is a former Olympian, has won Badminton four times and organises the annual Festival of British Eventing. While his former wife HRH Princess Anne has been a former president of the FEI (Fédération Equestre Internationale), and is president of the British Olympic Association.

Their son Peter works in sports management and marketing and brought showjumping’s highly prestigious Longines Global Championship Tour to London where it has been for the last three years (although it is not here in 2016). Peter’s sister Zara is one of our top event riders, winning a team silver medal in 2012.

Ian Renton at Cheltenham Racecourse © Nicky GoddingIan Renton at Cheltenham Racecourse © Nicky Godding

2. Ian Renton

As a man who is responsible for the country’s greatest National Hunt festival in March Ian Renton, from West Oxfordshire, is definitely worthy of being on the list.

He took over the role from Edward Gillespie in 2012 and his official title is Regional Director Cheltenham & The South West. Since he started he has overseen the development of the new grandstand with capacity for 6,500.

“I am immensely proud of the role that Cheltenham Racecourse plays in Gloucestershire and British horseracing - The Festival brings in over £100m to the Gloucestershire economy,” he says.

Yogi Breisner ©  Liz HewittYogi Breisner © Liz Hewitt

3. Yogi Breisner

Yogi Breisner is the world-class performance manager and chef d’equipe for British Eventing. He was appointed in 2000 and just eight months later the team won silver in the Sydney Olympics, their first Olympic medal for 12 years. The British team have subsequently medalled at all the Olympic since then and have also won two individual medals.

A former top eventer he was a member of the Swedish Eventing team from 1976-1987, and won European team gold. Yogi also trains National Hunt jockeys and horses to jump.

Desi Dillingham ©Desi Dillingham ©

4. Desi Dillingham

Based near Tetbury Desi has perhaps done more to shake up British Dressage than anyone else. Her vision, passion and business sense helped turn its fortunes round under her British Dressage, of which she was chairman of from 1998 to 2007. Under Desi’s leadership the sport began to flourish and now has a membership of 40,000, compared to just 5,000 when Desi took over the helm.

She is one of the sports staunch supporters and regularly produces dressage demonstrations in her usual vibrant style, including one at the Festival of British Eventing, bringing young dressage riders to the eye of the public.

Carl Hester and Valegro at home in Gloucestershire © Debbie GrahamCarl Hester and Valegro at home in Gloucestershire © Debbie Graham

5. Carl Hester

Carl is so much more than one of the world’s top dressage riders and an Olympic gold medallist. He has trained and mentored the current Olympic champion Charlotte Dujardin, as well as countless of our other upcoming riders, and gives them chances of a lifetime. ““If I can get them to win a championship I can set them up for life. They can make it a career”, he says. “I like watching them.”

He is also a breeder of top horses, and one exciting prospect is … out of Valegro’s full sister (Charlotte’s 2012 Olympic partner) by Utopia (Carl’s 2012 Olympic ride) Originally from the Island of Sark, he learnt to ride on a donkey and is proof that through talent and hard work you can achieve your dreams. He is an outstanding ambassador for the sport and will be inspiring generations for years to come. His influence on British Dressage is immeasurable.

Jacqui and Jonjo O'Neill at the Gatsby Ball at Cheltenham College © Carl Hewlett/TWMJacqui and Jonjo O'Neill at the Gatsby Ball at Cheltenham College © Carl Hewlett/TWM

6. Jonjo O’Neill

A relative newcomer to the Cotswolds having before trained in Cumbria, he moved to the famous Jackdaw’s Castle and is now one of the most successful racehorse trainers in the UK, if not of all time. His racing career started as a jockey and he was champion jockey twice ad won the Cheltenham Gold Cup on Dawn Run before turning to training in 1986, the year he was diagnosed with cancer. But with undisputable spirit he fought on and not only beat cancer, but also triumphed in two careers, becoming the first person to win 100 races in a British season as a jockey and a trainer.

10th Duke of Beaufort outside Badminton Hall © Allan Warren10th Duke of Beaufort outside Badminton Hall © Allan Warren

7. Duke of Beaufort

He, and his family, has to be included for without them the world famous Badminton Horse Trials wouldn’t exist and our area would be derived of one of the greatest sporting spectacles in the world. The idea for the horse trials came to the 10th Duke after he watched the British team’s dismal performance at the 1848 Olympics. He decided to hold a three day event in the park so British riders could train for future international competitions. The first one was held in 1949 and there were 22 starters from Britain and Ireland.

8. Hugh Thomas

As the area is home one of the world’s top horse trials and one of the biggest sporting events in the world it is only right that three people connected to Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials makes it onto our list. The second, Hugh Thomas, has been the event’s director since 1989 and was the previous course designer, retiring from this job after the 2013 event. He is also a former top event rider, competing in the 1976 Olympic, and was chairman of the British Equestrian Federation for three years.

Mike TuckerMike Tucker

9. Mike Tucker

The voice of our third Badminton man, former top eventer Mike Tucker, will be familiar to millions across the UK as he is the regular commentator for Badminton Horse Trials, and other prestigious events including the Olympic Games and Horse of the Year Show. Based near Tetbury he had been on the British Eventing board for six years until 2005,and has served on the International Safety Inquiry for Eventing in 1999 and 2000, and 1995 – 1999 served on the international standing committee for eventing for the FEI. If that’s not enough, he is also a successful course designer, and has designed courses at Chatsworth, Bramham, and Burghley three day events.

Claire Tomlinson in action at the Three Choirs charity event at Beaufort Polo Club ©  Chris FairweatherClaire Tomlinson in action at the Three Choirs charity event at Beaufort Polo Club © Chris Fairweather

10. The Tomlinsons

Claire and Simon Tomlinson re-established Beaufort Polo Club in 1989, where the Princes William and Harry learnt to play. In 1993 Claire instigated and set up a coaching system for the H.P.A. (Hurlingham Polo Association – polo’s governing body), which have influenced how players are taught ever since. She is also the former England team coach and her sons Luke and Mark Tomlinson have made up half the English team for more than a decade.

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