Why Oliver Townend deserves more credit

By Charles Taylor on |

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He has represented Great Britain in major championships, he has won Badminton and Burghley in the same year on different horses and he is currently eventing’s world-ranked number four rider, but does Oliver Townend really get the credit he deserves?

Ever since I first interviewed him in the lounge of his stunning Shropshire farmhouse more than five years ago, I have tended to think that Townend receives a raw deal.

To my mind, he is the finest British eventer since William Fox-Pitt, with potential to become one of the all-time greats.

To my mind, he is the finest British eventer since William Fox-Pitt, with potential to become one of the all-time greats.

Townend’s drive and ferocious will-to-win underpin his exceptional talent, and I would have no hesitation mentioning him in the same breath as Fox-Pitt, Andrew Nicholson and Michael Jung. He is that good.

For the avoidance of doubt, I am not manager of the Oliver Townend cheerleader troupe, just a chronicler and follower of a sport in this country that should feel lucky to have him.

During our chat in September 2009, Townend told me: “I think there is a certain perception of me within eventing, which upsets me.”

During our chat in September 2009, Townend told me: “I think there is a certain perception of me within eventing, which upsets me.

“I’ve never really spoken about it before now, or had the opportunity to speak about it, but I made myself into a person that I really, really didn’t like or want to be.

“I had to be tough. I knew exactly where I wanted to get to, and if anyone was going to get in the way, they were going to get squashed, trodden on or whatever it would have taken. I didn’t care because I was so, so desperate for whatever reason to prove that I could make a living out of eventing.

“People used to tell me I should get a proper job, and not just a hobby, all that kind of rubbish. That’s where the drive started from. It’s a reaction to people saying to me ‘no you can’t, no you can’t, no you can’t’.”

Much has happened since then, of course, with Townend riding at the 2009 European Championships and 2014 World Equestrian Games, making a bid for eventing’s ‘Holy Grail’ – the Rolex Grand Slam – that ended with a crashing fall from Ashdale Cruise Master and Townend being airlifted to hospital, while he continues to win with remarkable regularity.

 This season Townend has already posted more than 30 top three-finishes, including victories at the likes of Burnham Market and Ballindenisk.

The current eventing season began less than two months ago, yet Townend has already posted more than 30 top three-finishes, including victories at the likes of Burnham Market and Ballindenisk. At Badminton next month Townend and Armada will aim to go one better than last year’s runners-up position.

I detect, though, via the horse whisperers – those who talk behind their hand, rather than shout it loud in the open – that there are still people who want merely to accept Townend’s achievements, rather than acclaim them. Why is that?

If he has the horse power, then to me it is a no-brainer that Townend goes to the European Championships at Blair Castle later this year and the 2016 Rio Olympics. Granted, equestrian port is not an exact science, but to win, you need winners, and Townend would be in my team every single time.

Townend does not waste his words, but that is also one of his endearing qualities. He says what he thinks and he is not afraid to say it.

A straight-talking Yorkshireman, Townend does not waste his words, but that is also one of his endearing qualities. He says what he thinks and he is not afraid to say it.

Personally, I have always found him approachable and amenable, while he rarely – if ever – gives a poor interview. How refreshing to deal with a sportsman at the top of his game who will give an honest opinion, rather than hide behind banal cliches.

Townend is his own man – always has been – and I can only hope that those who refuse to recognise his genius wake up and smell the coffee.

Better still, go and share a cuppa with him. You might be pleasantly surprised.

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