French craves Olympic selection to complete career

Eventer Piggy French is ranked third in the world but is still waiting for her Olympic debut

Despite riding high at the top of the eventing world, Piggy French admits her career won’t be complete until she finally makes an elusive appearance on the Olympic stage, writes Peter White.

The 39-year-old followed up GB team silver at this month’s FEI European Eventing Championships by claiming her second runner’s-up spot in three years at the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials.

And having missed out by the narrowest of margins to Pippa Funnell in Lincolnshire – after being crowned champion at Badminton in May - French currently sits among the globe’s most feared riders.

But despite her presence at the top of the equestrian charts, she has yet to grace her sport’s biggest stage.

French had been selected to compete at London 2012, but injury to horse DHI Topper W ruled her out of contention and kick-started a period of disillusionment with the sport.

But having returned to eventing after taking time out to start a family, the FEI world number three believes an appearance at Tokyo 2020 would help make her career complete.

“I’ll be really sad if I retire without managing to represent my country at an Olympic Games,” she said. “It’s the top end of our sport.

“There’ll never be another home Games while I’m still competing, so while that will always be very sad the Olympics is still very high on top of my list and I’ll do my best to get there.

“They have had the test event over in Japan recently which had nothing but good reports. It’s going to be very hot over there, but the venue and the facilities are second to none and it would be great to be part of that next summer.”

With only three British spots up for grabs in the eventing team for next year’s Games, French is focused on retaining her current form to give her the best chance of making the plane.

She said: “I think the selectors want to see horses performing consistently at the five-star level so good results at events like Badminton and Burghley can only stand me in good stead.

“But with so few spaces and the amount of eventing talent we have in Britain, I think it’s going to be really hard to get chosen.

“I’m just going to stay in my zone, try to keep the horses fit and healthy and if it’s good enough then great. There are plenty of good combinations and what will be, will be.”

Unlike most other sports, Olympic eventing spots are open to both men and women with gender largely considered irrelevant in the equestrian world.

French believes her top-two finish at Burghley alongside Funnell showcases the strength of women’s sport, but admits competing against men and women is all she’s ever known.

“As riders your success is more about the partnership you have with your horse than anything else, so it really makes no odds whether you’re male or female,” she said.

“We all compete on the same level and I’ve always performed against men. It’s the way it should be, and I can’t imagine it being any other way.”

The multi-award winning Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials (September 5 - 8) has been established as a major international equestrian and social event in the Autumn Sporting Calendar for over 50 years. For more information visit burghley-horse.co.uk