Northallerton event rider Nicola Wilson, looking for golden times ahead
PUBLISHED: 18:24 27 June 2011 | UPDATED: 19:37 20 February 2013
One of Yorkshire's most successful horsewomen is preparing for the Olympics. Chris Titley catches up with her in Northallerton Photographs by Joan Russell
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Nicola Wilson has spent a lifetime around horses. Some of her earliest memories are of riding alongside her mother Mary. Rightly or wrongly, whether it was safe or not I dont know, I used to sit on a cushion in front of the saddle. Because there was no one to look after me I went out exercising with her, and thats how it all really started when I was 18 months old, said Nicola.
Her parents said she couldnt have her own pony until she was old enough to look after it, so thats why I was four when I first got my pony when I could lead him around and do little bits and pieces with him.
Riding around the family farm near Northallerton kept her amused for hours. The Pony Club taught the young Nicola how to care for horses and gave her a grounding in different disciplines including dressage.
It also gave her a taste for competition. Aged 13 Nicola took her first horse, which shed nurtured and coached from Pony Club days all the way to four-star level, to Burghley Horse Trials.
He finished tenth. That would be the first exciting moment that gave me the bug to start eventing seriously, and make it more of a career rather than a hobby.
She jokes that her parents tried very hard to dissuade me so I could get a proper job, although theyve always supported her sporting endeavours (she was also an excellent athlete and considered the pentathlon but I was hopeless at fencing).
She gained a degree in sports studies and business management as something to fall back on in case the career with horses was a disaster and didnt come to fruition.
But it did big time. In 2009 she won the Team Gold Medal at the European Championships at Fountainebleu, France, followed by Team Gold at the 2010 World Equestrian Games in Kentucky, USA.
It was a dream come true, she said. It was fantastic to be involved in such an experienced team with William Fox-Pitt, Tina Cook and Mary King. To come home with Team Gold was an amazing feeling.
Now she has set her sights on the Olympics. Shes hoping that with her leading horse Operation Buzz shes done enough to catch the selectors eye in April they came seventh at Badminton.
In August shes expecting to compete in both the British Open Championship at Gatcombe and the European Eventing Championships in Luhmhlen, Germany then attention turns to London 2012.
It will be an extremely exciting Olympics, she said. Therell be a lot of pressure, a lot of hype and a lot of media excitement. It would be fantastic to think that I could be part of that.
Well keep working away, and hope that our hard work and dedication over the last few years pays off, we have a bit of luck and we get there.
Although the spotlight falls on Nicola and her horse when they arrive in the competition ring, shes keen to point out that this is a team sport without the support of the horse owners, her head girl Lynn Swift and the rest of her team she could not compete at the highest level.
Thats why the medals mean so much. Its exhilarating. Its lovely when all the hard work that everybody puts in the owners, the grooms comes off. Theres a huge sigh of relief as much as anything and just sheer joy that its all gone right and everyones very happy.
To get to the top of any sport takes dedication and eventing is no different. Work begins in the stable yard every morning at 7am when the horses are fed and mucked out.
Nicola will then school one of the horses on the flat or over fences, or do some fitness work. Its important to vary the training, she said, to keep the horses engaged. And every one of them is different.
Some are reserved, some are very outgoing horses that have that wow look at me factor, others are quite timid and you have to coax the character out of them.
Nicola spends countless hours building a relationship of trust with a horse. A strong partnership between horse and rider is essential to competition success and minimises the risks of things going wrong. But sometimes they do, despite all the preparations.
Her worst accident took place when she represented Great Britain in the under-21s in Italy. The horse fell, pinning Nicolas leg to the fence while sending the rest of her tumbling over it.
My leg got squashed between the fence and the horse and my body went over the fence so my knee was twisted at 90 degrees, she said. Cross country riding is dangerous.
Serious ligament damage kept her out of the sport for a while, but she bounced back to forge a career as a world class rider.
Yorkshire should be proud of Nicolas successes. My top horse, Opposition Buzz, who was part of the European and World Equestrian Games Team Gold, is Yorkshire-owned and Yorkshire-bred. We have a Yorkshire ridden, owned and bred horse.
Now 34, and almost all those years spent in the saddle, Nicola still has a passion for horses and riding. Theres the scope to keep going while the determination, focus and drive are there, she said. And theres no sign of any of those waning.