Zara Tindall’s career has been shaped by leading names – from athlete Pat Smythe, to her parents, Captain Mark Phillips and Anne, Princess Royal, and her long-time partner Rolex. We meet the equestrian legend to find out more.
Rolex’s association with those excelling in their field can be traced back to the very origins of the company. The development of the first waterproof wristwatch, the Rolex Oyster, in 1926, was a golden opportunity to prove that founder Hans Wilsdorf had succeeded in creating a wristwatch which was both precise and beautiful, so he equipped a young English swimmer, Mercedes Gleitze, with one when she swam the English Channel a year later in 1927.
The watch emerged from more than ten hours in the water in perfect working condition and Gleitze became the first Rolex Testimonee – a witness to the watch’s uncompromised performance. Since that pivotal moment, an elite selection of the world’s top athletes and artists have joined Ms Gleitze in becoming the standard-bearers of the brand – among them Zara Tindall. Zara’s love of horses and equestrianism all started with an inspiring icon. Pat Smythe was the sport’s first international equestrian star and the greatest female show jumper of her era. In 1957, she became the first rider to partner with Rolex, becoming the brand’s first equestrian Testimonee. Her ground-breaking career at the top of the sport paved the way for women riders – a mantle carried forward today by Zara, who became a Testimonee in 2006.
“I can remember reading about Pat Smythe when I was a child,” recalls Zara. “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.” Zara has mirrored Pat Smythe’s achievement as a Rolex Testimonee to become one of the world’s greatest Three-Day Event riders, winning a silver medal for Great Britain at the 2012 London Olympics. 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, rode for Team GB at the 1976 Olympics, and was the first member of the Royal Family to compete at an Olympic Games. Zara’s father, meanwhile, won team gold at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. Zara first came to the attention of the eventing world with 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 just 22, she finished as runner-up at the Burghley Horse Trials in the UK, her first Rolex event, explaining “I think the best advice I had was to try and build up a strong bond with your horse.” Her career blossomed with the handsome chestnut gelding Toytown, with the pair winning individual and team gold medals at the 2005 European Eventing Championship in Blenheim. The following year she 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,” she says. “He wasn’t the most natural eventer but, as our bond grew, success followed. You hope each horse has that potential: he 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 in this year that Zara became a Rolex Testimonee, joining an elite roster of sportsmen and women.
Zara was awarded an MBE for services to equestrianism in the 2007 New Year Honours List, and her career continued to flourish as she was selected to ride for Great Britain at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. But disappointment followed when Toytown suffered a training injury and the pair was forced to withdraw. “There are more low points than highs with horses,” she says. “So it makes the high points even more special. Injuries happen all the time and there’s very little you can do about it.” 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.” Tindall finished second at Luhmühlen Horse Trials 2013 on High Kingdom, then, at the World Equestrian Games in August 2014, the pair was part of the British squad that won team silver. It was a major achievement, especially since her daughter, Mia, was born just seven months prior. “What surprised me about having a baby was losing all my fitness and how tough it was 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 so I try to do extra exercise, like swimming, to stay fit.” In 2015, just over a year after Mia was born, Zara attended the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event – a competition which attracts the world’s best riders – with her prized horse High Kingdom, but due to an unfortunate injury they were forced to withdraw. Nevertheless, Zara is set to compete in the 2017 Kentucky event and is looking forward to a successful return.