Ian Stark’s greatest rides

Wednesday 7th - 11th May 2025

Ian Stark’s greatest rides

Triple Badminton winner Ian Stark, who was victorious on the occasion of Badminton’s 50th anniversary in 1999, looks back on his best memories of the event

Ian’s cross-country round on the powerful grey Murphy Himself, second in 1991, is remembered as one of the all-time great performances:

‘Murphy could flip from being quite normal to being a nutcase; he was always on that spectrum and if he was human I think would have been a nutty professor. But I thoroughly enjoyed my ride on him in 1991.

‘We were a bit behind on the clock as we came to the Centre Walk double of hedges, which most horses took on four strides, so I put my leg on. Afterwards I realised: “Oh my god, he took it in two”, yet it felt normal because he had such scope and power.

‘I didn’t carry a whip on him on the cross-country, but for some reason I had one in the show jumping that time. I threw it away, but it was too late because he shot forward and caught a fence and it cost us the win.’

Sir Wattie was the great horse that won back-to-back Badmintons in 1986 and 1988 (1987 was cancelled) as well as championship medals galore and double Olympic silver in 1988:

‘In 1986 it poured with rain and we were last to go across country. It was so bad that as I was on Phase C [roads and tracks] in torrential rain, I could see loads of people driving away and thought: “Hang on – I haven’t been yet!”

‘My wife Jenny had hunted Wattie that winter and hacked him in 18in of snow and it must have been good preparation as he produced the only clear cross-country round within the time.

‘The one-two (pictured) in 1988 [Glenburnie was second] was such a special thing and I must admit that I am pleased no one has ever matched it. I was being interviewed by Hugh Thomas for the BBC down in the stables and realised I hadn’t walked the course, so Dick Stillwell [trainer] had to talk me through it. When Hugh heard, he said: “Typical Stark!”‘

‘Wattie was a quarter Welsh Cob and when he got excited, his knees would come up in typical native action. When he retired I gave him to Henrietta Knight as a trainer’s hack; she had him for another 13 years and he was the yard mascot.’

In 1999, Ian won Badminton’s golden jubilee event on the Duchess of Devonshire’s New Zealand-bred Jaybee in the presence of Queen Elizabeth ll:

‘This was the most unexpected win. Not only was the horse technically an eight-year-old in New Zealand terms, but we were drawn number one to go.

‘The weather was absolutely terrible; myself and Mark Todd, who was second to go on another NZ thoroughbred, Word For Word, both incurred 25 time penalties [there was a new scoring system that year with one penalty per second] and we both thought we had better chances on our second horses. In the end, neither of us completed on our second horses and we ended up first and second.

‘The then Duke of Beaufort, David Somerset, brought the Queen to the stables and said: “Her Majesty would like to speak to you.” She asked me what I thought of the course and, because it was twisty, I said it would suit a cross between a show jumper and a polo pony. She asked: “Does your horse fit in?”

‘She was just lovely. What was special was that when I first rode at Badminton in 1984, that was her last visit until she returned in 1999.’

Ian, who became a course-designer, of international events such as Chatsworth, Bramham and Maryland, is still competing on the Duchess of Devonshire’s advanced horse Chatsworth Diamond and his own new five-year-old, a grey Connemara type that closely resembles Stanwick Ghost, the horse on whom he twice led the cross-country at Badminton.