Tim Stockdale: 12th August 1964 - 14th November 2018
By Stephanie DeWitt Photos by Julian Portch
Born in Worksop, Nottinghamshire, Tim started showjumping at the age of seven with Grove Pony Club. His first job on leaving school was working at Mike Saywell's yard in nearby Retford from where he went as second jockey to Graham Fletcher. Tim first rode at the Horse of the Year Show at Wembley in 1982 when he worked for Graham and went on to represent Great Britain in 1988, the first of over fifty occasions he would do so. In 2010 Tim was presented with the BEF Medal of Honour in recognition of his outstanding services to equestrian sport.
In the 1990's, having set up on his own and riding under the Toggi banner, Tim had already earned himself a reputation as a consummate professional and articulate ambassador of his chosen sport. He received numerous plaudits for his appearance in a somewhat disappointing "Cutting Edge" documentary about showjumping.
"Show jumping needs to put itself back on the map in this country and re-invent itself as a popular armchair sport," said Tim at that time. "Showjumping needs to be revamped, set alight with more atmosphere, it needs more 'razz' and to do that we need to sell ourselves better, including the riders."
In the summer of 2002 Tim started to wear his trademark green jacket with an orange collar as he began a long partnership with sponsor Les Harris of Fresh Direct, his horses bearing the company's name as a prefix. Shortly after this, Tim was selected for the British team competing at the World Equestrian Games in Jerez partnered by the lovely grey Warmblood Fresh Direct Parcival. Thus, in the same year, Tim realised his ambitions of being part of a World Championship team and being the number one ranked rider in the country, for which he was presented with the Fred Harthill Memorial Trophy. However, latterly Tim was critical of the ranking system, in particular the World Rankings.
When the Horse of the Year Show moved to Birmingham's NEC that autumn Tim continued his run of successes. In the Accumulator, Tim and the 14 year-old, 15.2hh Fresh Direct Glenwood Springs set the standard early on with maximum points in a time of 45.08 seconds. Third last to go, John Whitaker and Lactic 2 had the audiences on the edges of their seats as they made an all-out bid to beat Tim's time; they failed by a mere 1/100th of a second!
Favourites to win the Puissance, Tim pulled Fresh Direct Wiston Bridget out of the competition after the second round with the wall at a height of 6'6". However, the climax of the show on Sunday evening belonged to Tim riding Colin Garrett's 10 year old gelding Fresh Direct Parcival (Percy) to victory in the Grand Prix in impressive style. Jumping a faultless double clear round they beat Ireland's Billy Twomey on Anastasia III into second place and Nick Skelton with John and Lisa Hales' Oldenberg stallion Arko into third.
As well as being a top rider, Tim was keen to pass on his expertise to others. To this end he produced a set of three videos in 2003, "Successful Show Jumping with Tim Stockdale", with an overall viewing time of more than four hours. With each video containing a section for trouble-shooting difficulties, the videos covered "Laying the Foundations", "Moving On, Moving Up" to "Advanced Show Jumping".
Tim served on the Executive Boards of the BSJA for several years and was partly responsible for the introduction of new, lightweight jackets for competitors which allowed flexibility, breathability and protection against the elements. These jackets became available in a variety of colours, an improvement on the basic black, navy, hunting pink or tweed. The new jackets were first seen in the BBC series "Only Fools on Horses" where celebrities wore them in training sessions.
Unex Towerlands in Essex was the setting for this 2006 celebrity reality programme in which Tim was given a month to train famous people, most of whom had never so much as sat on a horse before, to become competitive showjumpers.
"The worst bit of it," Tim said, "was interviewing each celebrity beforehand and telling them that showjumping was a relatively dangerous sport in which they could potentially injure themselves, break bones, end up in a wheelchair or, in the worst case scenario, die. I hated having these conversations!"
Having received two and a half thousand emails after the television series asking about his training methods, Tim set off to tour the length and breadth of the country. These tours attracted capacity audiences with whom he shared his knowledge and expertise with advice such as, "Let the stride do the work!"
Tim's natural abilities as a superb horseman and raconteur combined to make each demonstration the best entertainment to be had in the equestrian world. Even initial difficulties with his microphone didn't faze him: "This must be one of the only times you can walk out in front of four hundred people and turn yourself on!"
Although they didn't come home with any medals, Tim and Corlato were included in the British team in Hong Kong at the 2008 Olympics, alongside Ben Maher, John Whitaker and Nick Skelton riding Rolette, Peppermill and Russel respectively, finishing in 15th= place individually, the best of the Brits.
In 2009, after a tense jump-off in the King George V Gold Cup, it was Peter Charles on Murka's Pall Mall H who took top honours with Tim and Fresh Direct Corlato in second place posting a faster time but having lowered the poles on the final fence. Last of seven riders in the 2010 jump-off, Tim soared clear over this same obstacle on Fresh Direct Kalico Bay, a relatively inexperienced horse, to claim the coveted Gold Cup for himself.
"When I was twelve years old I watched Mike Saywell and Chainbridge win this trophy," said a triumphant Tim. "From that time on it has been my dream to win it for myself!"
Earlier that year Tim stood in as Chef d'Equipe for the British show jumping team in Abu Dhabi with excellent results. On being congratulated on this performance and how good he was in this role, Tim was modest and declared that, perhaps at some time in the future, he might consider it full time. But in the meantime he wanted to continue jumping and competing.
And so he did. At the All England Jumping Championships at Hickstead in September 2018 Tim was in the ribbons in the International Arena. Less than a month later he announced that he would take a break from competitions as he had been diagnosed with stomach cancer. But this last obstacle was one that Tim was unable to surmount.
Our thoughts go out to his widow, Laura, his sons, Joe and Mark, not forgetting his twin brother, Ivan, a well-respected equine dentist.
And, in memory of Tim, let us never forget his maxim:
"Canter, rhythm, line,
Gets it right every time!"