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Zara Phillips – The Royal Champion

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For many people, she’s generally known as the daughter of Anne, Princess Royal, and consequently granddaughter to Queen Elizabeth and cousin to Princes William and Harry. But in the world of equestrian sports, her bloodline creates less of an impression than her outstanding performance as an eventer. In addition to being Individual World and European Champion, Zara Phillips has also won several team medals. Equestrio had the great good fortune to meet this beautiful, kind, passionate rider at the Royal Windsor Horse Show.


Your whole family is involved with horses. Is that how you started?

Everything began with my parents who were both in eventing. My brother and I grew up with horses and my parents were at the top of their sport at that time. My father, Mark Phillips, had won team gold in the Olympics, the Worlds and the Europeans and my mother had been individual European Champion in 1971. But as a child, I wasn’t really aware of my parents’ success. We went and watched the competitions and that was it. As my whole family is greatly involved with horses, equestrianism runs in my blood.


When and how did you decide to become a professional and therefore make a living from riding?

I think it was after I left school. I never worked really hard at school and all I did was riding. As I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, I thought I should try and see if I could be any good at eventing. It was the thing I was best at so I wanted to give it a try. Today I ride for owners and I have sponsors. It is a sport that requires a lot of support. Running a top-class horse is expensive as is all the traveling so I couldn’t do it without my sponsors or owners. Of course my parents are my biggest influence and they still teach me. But I have also surrounded myself with other people. For example, for flat work, I train with Carl Hester, who is a legend and a great person. He makes dressage fun and simple. It’s fabulous.


Winning a silver medal in London in front of your friends and your family must certainly have been a great reward for all the work you put in?

I do have some regrets because I think we should have won gold. High Kingdom was quite inexperienced going into London so we were still learning the hard way, even in the show jumping phase where we had a fault in the first round. It was a missed opportunity and I want to try to do better, which I will hopefully do in Rio. But even if you are disappointed with your performance, when your mother hands you an Olympic silver medal in front of your home crowd it makes it all worthwhile. I thought to myself: “Ok, you need to shut up and be grateful for what you have.” It was a very proud moment.


Given the amount of media attention you receive, is your approach the same as your mother’s in terms of promoting your discipline?

Maybe. If people get to know eventing through us than that is great. But what is more important to us is to be good enough at our sport. That is our main aim. If you are not good, then there is no point. We want to try to be at the top level and promote our sport that way. London was a great moment for that as well, as it put our sport in a great light. I also think that eventing should stay in the Olympics because it’s one of the oldest disciplines. It is a legacy and should stay as such.


You are married to professional rugby player, Mike Tindall. How do rugby and eventing go together?

Our seasons used to be completely opposite, so we could come and watch each other. Now that he is retired, it is quite nice because we can also train together, and go biking together. We love outdoor sports so it works really well. I love swimming and I used to play hockey. Growing up we sailed a lot. Last year, one of my sponsors, Artemis, did a sailing charity event in which we participated. I am lucky to be able to do many different things with my sponsors, like coming to the Windsor Horse Show with Land Rover.


Despite having won several medals, do you still dream of more?

I have always been around horses but I don’t remember saying that I wanted to win medals when I was little. I know I wanted to be good enough to compete at the top level but I had no dreams of titles. I would hope that I have a bit more left in me and that I might, for example, win another individual medal, and hopefully an Olympic one. There are many great riders today but I hope that I can make it to a few more championships riding at the top level for as long as I can.