By Ellie Kelly
(Reuters) – Two British riders are hoping the insight and perspective they say parenthood has provided will give them the edge over the field at the World Equestrian Games (WEG) this week.
Tina Cook and Georgina ‘Piggy’ French are both serious medal prospects in eventing at the WEG in North Carolina, which began on Tuesday and will run until Sept. 23.
Cook, 48, is one of the longest standing and most successful athletes in Britain, with 16 championship medals since her first appearance in 1987.
The 2012 Olympic silver medallist, who is a single mother of two children, Isabelle, 13, and Harry, 11, says there is crossover between her parenting and her horsemanship.
“You have to be sympathetic but black and white and you can’t bully them,” she told Reuters of her approach to her horses.
“They need to understand the difference between wrong and right. For each individual, there might be a different way of approaching that. It is the same for bringing up children.”
Although there is a crossover in philosophy, she says compartmentalising her roles is the key to success.
“When I am competing in a dangerous sport I don’t want to be thinking ‘I hope the kids are ok’. When I am at home, I put my children first,” she said.
Cook’s second pregnancy was physically and emotionally challenging after carrying twins full term before losing one.
Yet returning to her career gave a focus to Cook, who will compete on Billy the Red at the WEG.
“When you do a sport professionally and deal with animals, it makes you resilient. I am a softy as much as anyone but I can focus and look forwards when I need to.”
French’s dream of a medal in the 2012 Olympics was foiled by injuries to her best horses.
“It was heartbreak for me,” the 38-year-old told Reuters. When another horse was injured weeks before the European Championships in 2013, French was ready to give up, saying she had lost her self-belief.
It was finding new love in partner Tom March and the birth of their son Max, which helped restore her passion for eventing.
“Tom was my rock through hard times then having a baby was the best thing that happened,” she said. “I had hit rock bottom but since being a mother, I think ‘what will be will be’.
“When I was young, I was hell-bent on that final result, you spend your life dreaming and then working towards that dream. I had stopped enjoying it but I have come back to it with a different head on.
“It has brought results because I am more relaxed.”
French will be hoping her new-found and more relaxed approach will see her standing on the podium this Sunday when she competes on Quarrycrest Echo, but if things do not pan out, she says she is better able to deal with it.
“Tom and Max are my world. We have our little bubble and we are very happy in it,” she said. “We just bundle along and do our thing and if some horses take us places then that is amazing.
“If not, then we are all quite happy to keep doing what we do at home and enjoying life.”
(Editing by: Toby Davis)