Inside Piggy’s world
After my sister declared I looked like Piglet as a baby, the name stuck. I was adamant at school that Piggy was my name. Mum initially ordered name tags with Georgina on them, but I wasn’t having any of that, so they had to be changed. It’s such a silly name, but I was clearly comfortable with it.
When I was 16 and about to go into the great wide world, I did wonder if that was the time to be known as Georgina, especially when registering to compete. It was my mum who said, ‘But darling, your pony wouldn’t know who you were’, which was ridiculous but it convinced me to stay as Piggy.
Growing up, my sister and I were lucky to have a pony each, but I was never any good. We were very involved in Pony Club and we’d fly around the place on our ponies with our mates. We never did anything serious like horse trials; it was just great fun.
We had the ponies we could afford – Mum always had a great eye – including Lloyds Gamble, a horse that changed everything for me. He didn’t cost much money and when Mum went to try him, he stopped twice at a crosspole but she liked him, so he came home with her. She could see real potential and I was more scared of her than any naughty horse, so I threw myself into training him.
Lloyds Gamble and I spent years together getting our confidence up as a partnership and, sure enough, he turned out to be a very, very good horse. Together we started entering events and winning them, including Pony Club Championships and Junior Regional Novice Championships.
FINDING THE KEY
This success ignited a passion in me to try and find the good in every horse. Each one will have a key to getting the best out of them; you just need to find it. I approach every event knowing that the time and training I’ve invested in the horse will pay off. I think, ‘this horse is my friend and my teammate. We go to battle together. He trusts me and together we do our very best’. If the horse is happy, confident and does his absolute best, that’s just as wonderful as a win to me – that’s definitely how I get my thrills.
I’d never planned a career with horses, but they were all I ever thought about. I was hopeless at school and failed every exam. I only ever wanted to write an eventing diary or read an eventing magazine. I still can’t read a book from front to back unless it’s a biography of a rider or sportsperson.
I left school and went to college but felt I was wasting time and begged my parents to let me work instead. I got a job mucking out stables at Justine Ward’s yard and rode whenever I could. I was never going to be a groom – it’s real craftsmanship and I didn’t have the skills – but I knew I wanted to work with horses. I loved training them, seeing what made each horse tick and to help them believe in themselves and share your goals.
I was incredibly fortunate to have stables at home and I slowly began to build a small business. Mum was always there and an incredible source of information and support. She was an excellent horsewoman and taught me so much.
During this time, I also got going in eventing and loved it. I also had my first painful reality check – selling Lloyds Gamble. It was clear he wasn’t going to go any further as I moved out of Juniors. I was devastated as he was my friend and I wanted to keep him forever, though I knew it had to be a business and I needed the money from his sale to invest in another horse.
When I was 17, a friend went to university and asked me to keep her horse, Flintlock, ticking over while she was away. Together we gave Novices a go and that went well. Then we tried Intermediate and we just kept on moving up. He was my first horse to get to 5* and we did Burghley twice and Badminton once – he was unbelievable. None of us had thought he had it in him. He was a very sweet Irish bred, not fancy, not a mover or even a jumper, but I was hungry and when I gave him a kick, off he went.
From there, things just went from strength to strength with a silver individual medal at the Senior Europeans in Fontainebleau in 2009 followed by team appearances in 2010 at the World Equestrian Games and at the Europeans in 2011.
I’ve never had a masterplan for my career. I live in the moment and I think this is a good trait to have. In fact, I wish more young people had it too. It’s all too easy to win regional competitions and then focus on the World Games, but it’s too big a jump and far too much pressure to put on yourself. Eventing is so unpredictable and if and when things don’t go to plan, the disappointment can be crushing.
While the highs of the sport are extraordinary, the lows can be incredibly hard to deal with. When I missed out on the London Olympics in 2012 because my horse, DHI Topper W, was injured, I was completely heartbroken. It still hurts now. I think back to that time and I feel like I have knives in my belly. A home Olympics is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and the disappointment of missing out on such an incredible event will never fade.
It took a really long time to recover from that. Immediately afterwards, I put pressure on myself to prove that I was good enough, but the harder I tried, the more things went wrong. It quickly became a downward spiral and I lost sponsors and horses and all I could hear was negativity. There were a lot of black clouds at that time. It can be easy to lose your motivation, but I knew this was my life and my business and I had no option but to keep riding other than giving up, which was never going to happen.
I didn’t know that things would improve. I’d stopped being known as an elite rider and was becoming known more for producing young horses. I knew I needed to find my mojo again, but I’d really lost my fire.
I felt empty and lost for a long time. It was during this time that I met Thomas, my husband. He met me at my worst and he’s been incredible for me. He quickly became my best friend – a teammate I could trust and who was always there and looked out for me. Eventing can be a lonely sport and he made a very big difference to my confidence and my mindset and, essentially, he helped me relax a little.
When I didn’t have a horse that was suitable to be in the running for Rio, I decided to take a year out and this proved to be the best thing I’ve ever done. I was exhausted from the hamster wheel. I loved escaping the mental pressure and it cleared space for me to move past the disappointment of London and focus on what I wanted to do. It was then I fulfilled another long-term goal of mine when I became a mother to my son, Max.
Having Max helped to reignite my fire for competing. I had a few nice horses for really lovely people and that made it great to go back out and enjoy the sport once more. I wanted to show Max that you don’t give up on your goals. If you dream it, you can achieve it. I wanted to show him that I could still compete at Olympic level and that I pursued my dream. After all, what better example could I set?
And sure enough, 2019 proved itself to be the most amazing year. Hot on the heels of a team gold medal at the World Equestrian Games in 2018 came an incredible season. I achieved a record 15 international wins at every level, from 2* to 5*, and then topped it off by winning Badminton.
Winning Badminton was one of the best days of my life. The pride I had in Tilly Bean (Vanir Kamira) was indescribable. That little horse had given me everything and it was amazing to know that you’ve given your all and it’s all come together in that incredible moment.
After we’d jumped clear and come out of the arena, Max was brought over. I hadn’t seen him for a week as I’d needed to focus on Kentucky and then Badminton and the moment where I could cuddle him is something I will never forget. Such love and happiness and then I discovered I’d won. What a moment. I just can’t describe it other than pure magic.
Then, of course, came the Tokyo Olympics and another disappointment as we were picked as travelling reserve. The right team was picked – they were all 5* winners and it was an incredibly strong year. I believe Brookfield Inocent would have been great had he gone but it was the right decision for him not to, although, personally, it was a real blow to miss out on an Olympics again.
At the time, I didn’t need anyone to tell me I was good enough. I didn’t want sympathy, I just had to feel all the feelings – disappointment, anger and heartbreak – and then move on. But it leaves a scar. I don’t know if I dare to dream again, although the Olympics remains the ultimate goal and I would hate to get to the end of my career without having competed at a Games. When anyone mentions Paris 2024, I immediately have to protect myself by repeating, ‘what will be, will be’.
Recently, I’ve been thinking more and more about the reality of the sport versus the highlights we see on social media. It’s important that we share the real-life ups and downs and not just the wins and celebrations. Whatever level you’re at, we all have good days and bad and we all share the same worries. I really want to be able to inspire and reassure riders so that it’s a healthier world for both our horses and riders.
I’d love to mentor young riders. I enjoy helping and I do enjoy sharing the things I’ve learned if I think it can help others and stop them feeling worried. Therefore I created Training with Piggy TV and I’ve had great feedback from it. I think it’s healthy for those just starting out to get ideas and try to keep the right mindset and remove some of the pressure.
My advice to any rider would be to remember to take your training to the event. Don’t go into competition thinking about your final score. Instead, stay in your bubble and keep riding the moment. If it’s good enough at the end, that’s brilliant but focus on being in the moment and take each step as it comes and do your best in each one. This is where real success lies.
Piggy tells all
Best holiday? “Our holiday in the Maldives”.
Favourite meal? “A good meal with a bottle of wine or bubbles will always go down a treat. I like everything – pig by name, pig by nature!”
Best way to relax? “I only really relax if I get off the yard but if that’s too tricky, I go to bed early and watch something like Vera.”
The ultimate treat? “To go back to the Maldives!”
My perfect day would be: “Spent with Tom and Max in the sunshine, relaxing with family and friends doing very little and just being with my favourite people. The simple things really are the best.”
We asked Piggy to describe her horses in just a few words
VANIR KAMIRA: Independent, likes her own space, a trustworthy friend.
BROOKFIELD INOCENT: Handsome, sharp, he’d be on your side if he likes you.
BROOKFIELD QUALITY: Scaredy-cat, an annoying but loveable friend.
COOLEY LANCER: Everyone’s friend, you could drink beer with him all day!
OUR OLD FELLA: Short, cute and with the gift of the gab.
HALO: The ultimate heartthrob.
BROOKFIELD FUTURE NEWS: He’s just the coolest guy.
DASSETT ARTHALENT: Good fun, though a little grumpy.
BROOKFIELD KEPT IN THE DARCO: Very sweet and innocent, everyone’s friend.
COOLEY ANYTHING YOU LIKE: Still quite childish, always at the party.
COOLEY KAN DO: A proper tomboy, she’d be a great mate.
Piggy’s career in numbers
EquiRatings runs over the stats to show how the decorated rider ranks as one of the top riders in the country.
15: How many international competitions Piggy won in 2019, the most successful season on record for any rider in the world.
23.3: Piggy’s best-ever dressage test at a championship with Brookfield Inocent in 2021 at the European Championships.
5: Golds at international championships, with the first on debut as part of winning team at European Young Rider Championships in 2001.
327: Cross country clear jumping rounds at international level since 2008.
In 2019, 2020 and 2021, Piggy has more wins than any other rider – 236 on home soil.
2019: The year of Piggy’s first CC15 win at Badminton with Vanir Kamira, having had 25 previous attempts at CC15 without a win.