Equestrian: Team chemistry helps fuel Frith's drive to the summit

Hat-trick of European equestrianism titles is within grasp of a Surrey pharmacist.
Click to follow
AT FRITH PHARMACY in Wallington the talk is not so much of pills as of ponies. Many regular customers of the Surrey chemist are aware that on Thursday their 29-year-old pharmacist, Georgina Frith, will be in Saumur, in France, where she will begin the defence of her two successive victories in the European Driving Championships for teams of four ponies.

"My customers are wonderfully supportive, some of them just drop in for regular updates," Frith said. She works in the shop (which, as the name suggests, is a family business) five days a week, so is normally on hand to give the latest bulletin herself.

Though championships for horse teams date back to 1971, the pony equivalent was not introduced until 1995 with the first of the European Championships which are now held every two years.

So far Frith has a monopoly on the individual title (having won the first two) and she admits to feeling under serious pressure as she prepares her dynamic Welsh ponies for an attempted hat-trick. Hordes of people are gunning for her, among them her loyal supporters at Saracen Horse Feeds, which provides fodder for the team.

Last week the ponies were already as fit as they needed to be and Frith wanted to keep them at that level: "With headstrong fizzy Welsh ponies, it would be easy to go over the top," she said. So she has been concentrating on "fine-tuning" the dressage, which will be the first phase of the event that runs from 8 to 11 July.

The 20km marathon, which is the second phase, ends with the crucial section containing eight maze-like hazards, usually with at least one of them through water. It forms an exhilarating test of daring, manoeuvrability and team-work.

Frith needs to be in tune with six other minds - those of the four quick- witted ponies in front of her and of the two people behind her - Sara Coombe, the navigator and time-keeper, and Andrew Simmons, the "back-step man" who uses his weight as ballast to stop the vehicle from tipping over.

Frith's two lead ponies recognise their names and, whenever one is called, they instantly turn to their particular side - Bella to the left or Lucy to the right.

"That makes it easier for me, because I'm not much good at telling my left from my right," Frith said with a laugh.

If she holds the lead after the marathon (as she has at the past two championships) Frith says the most vital thing is "holding your nerve and concentration". Titles can be won or lost on the five penalties incurred for a displaced cone.

Having mixed potions by day, Frith trains her ponies in the evening ("often in the dark, so it's a good job they're white") at her parents' farm near Dorking. She has the use of "an antiquated sand school and inadequate floodlights", so it is always a relief when the clocks go forward in spring to provide lighter evenings.

A defeat at Windsor in mid-May did nothing to dent Frith's confidence, though it must have been a morale-booster for her Belgian conqueror, Mia Allo. Frith was then without her star performer - the 22-year-old mare, Bella, who had contracted mud fever two weeks earlier at Brighton.

"I've been driving for 16 years and this was the first time I've competed without her, it was quite a shock to the system."

With Bella, Lucy, Lucetta and Jester to whisk her through the hazards, Frith believes that she has the best team she has ever driven - "as long as they're not too quick for me". Given the luck which she says is always needed to win a championship, she could achieve a unique record by becoming the first driver to win three consecutive European or world titles.