Golden memories of Le Pin in the swinging '60s

In 1969 21-year-old British rider Mary Gordon Watson won an individual gold medal at the Haras du Pin European Championships. Today Mary (below), who went on to win World and Olympic medals with the same horse, recalls a long ago event in Normandy that was very different from today’s World Equestrian Games.

Golden memories of Le Pin in the swinging '60s
© PSV Photos

Were you a favourite to win at the 1969 Haras du Pin Europeans?

Goodness, no. I was just 21 and very inexperienced. My horse, Cornishman V, had been my father’s hunter. He was 17hh and it had taken me a long time to get to grips with his big jump. Earlier that year he had gone from novice to advanced level by winning just one event. That spring we completed Badminton. If I hadn’t messed up in the show jumping we would have finished second.

What are your memories of Le Pin National Stud in 1969?

It was a beautiful venue then as it is now and it felt very glamorous. All the riders were invited to receptions in the chateau. We kept our horses in the rather basic stables that belonged to the stud and as Cornishman V was so big we struggled to find one that would fit him!

The dressage took place in front of the chateau, which is being used as a car park for this WEG. The arena was made of sand, which was a luxury for us back then.

In those days you had phases A, B and C. The steeplechase was on the racecourse (as was the show jumping) and the roads and tracks ran through the woods. The cross-country, sited near the racecourse, had three big, naturally rounded banks on it and the riders had never seen anything like them before. We even had to cross a river.

How did the competition go for you?

Cornishman was crazy on arrival at Le Pin and I had to work him in in an indoor school for two hours to calm him down. It worked and he knuckled down to do a good test.

I got lost during the roads and tracks phase and it was lucky that I spoke French as one of the officials steered me back in the right direction. I lost so much time, though, I had to canter up the road at the end.

Across country I had the ride of my life. Despite the track causing many falls, Cornishman was fast and foot perfect but as we jumped the last fence I saw a dead horse lying beside the track. It was a Polish horse who had been killed in a fall.

What is the biggest difference between then and now?

The standard of the dressage and show jumping. They have altered beyond belief, as has the look of the cross-country.

What happened to Cornishman V?

After winning individual gold at the following year’s Punchestown World Championships and team gold at the 1972 Munich Olympics, he became a film star and appeared in the Dick Francis film Dead Cert and in International Velvet. He lived to be 27.

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