Obituary: Tim Stockdale, showjumper, trainer, commentator and TV personality

HICKSTEAD, ENGLAND - AUGUST 01: Tim Stockdale of Great Britain riding Fresh Direct Kalico Bay win   The Longines King George V Gold Cup during The Longines Royal International Horse Show at Hickstead showground on August 01, 2010 in Hickstead, England.  (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/ Getty Images)
HICKSTEAD, ENGLAND - AUGUST 01: Tim Stockdale of Great Britain riding Fresh Direct Kalico Bay win The Longines King George V Gold Cup during The Longines Royal International Horse Show at Hickstead showground on August 01, 2010 in Hickstead, England. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/ Getty Images)
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Tim Stockdale, showjumper. Born: 12 August 1964 in Nottinghamshire. Died: 14 November 2018 in Roade, Northamptonshire, aged 54.

Tim Stockdale, the popular showjumper, trainer, commentator and television personality has died after a short fight against cancer. He was 54.

Thousands have left heartfelt tributes on social media to the man described variously as a legend with a heart of gold, equestrian royalty and a true ambassador for the sport of showjumping. Stockdale was highly respected in the equestrian community as a consummate horseman and loved for his enthusiasm, his direct manner and his ability and willingness to pass his ­knowledge on through his clinics, demonstrations, books and training videos.

After an unpromising start – the young Stockdale didn’t like the idea of riding because it hurt and the ponies smelled – his career took him to the very top levels of the sport. He was a member of Team GB at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games riding Fresh Direct Corlato. The team just missed out on a medal, finishing fourth.

He represented his country at more than 50 Nations Cup events, competed at the World Equestrian Games in 2002 and at the European Championships in 2009. These were the highlights of a star-studded career and out of his many successes Stockdale considered winning the ­coveted King George V Gold Cup at the 2010 Royal International Horse Show with Fresh Direct Kalico Bay as the height of his achievements. It was the fulfillment of a lifetime’s dream.

In Scotland he was a regular attendee at the Royal Highland Show. The showjumper was declared the show’s leading rider in 2015 and competed there every year since.

A minute’s silence was held in memory of Stockdale at the Premier Winter Classic show at Morris Equestrian in ­Ayrshire at the weekend. The hustle and bustle of the show faded into the distance as ­competitors entered the arena on foot and everything went quiet. The silence was broken only by the occasional neighing of horses outside. It was a fitting tribute.

Stockdale’s friend, Kilmarnock-based George Babes, a well-known figure in the showjumping world, led the memorial. He said: “A few weeks ago we were in France and we were sitting having lunch with Tim and we were having a laugh and he seemed as large as life. He seemed absolutely perfect and here we are a few weeks later and poor old Tim has passed away.

“Tim was one of the best ambassadors for the sport. He promoted the sport for the last 25 years on TV, radio, at the shows. He was always the man to do the interview. And he was always full of enthusiasm. Always there with a word of encouragement to anybody who was having a tough time – a very knowledgeable man and a great horseman.”

Timothy Mark Stockdale was born in 1964 along with his twin brother, Ivan, to ­Nancy and Geoffrey Stockdale. The two boys joined three ­older brothers at the family home in Retford, Nottinghamshire. A sixth sibling, their sister, came later.

Although he was intelligent, Stockdale preferred practical subjects at school. He was good at sport, especially football and cricket. It wasn’t his talent on the sports field that gave him his start with horses, however, but his aptitude for building and repair inherited from his father who was in the construction business.

At the age of eight, Stockdale began helping out at the local riding school as a handyman in the school holidays and was rewarded for his efforts with free riding lessons. His big breakthrough occurred one night when he was riding ponies out to pasture. He was encouraged to canter and was understandably nervous, but then everything changed. Fear turned into exhilaration and he was hooked.

Stockdale went to Pony Club and further inspiration came at the age of 12 when he watched showjumper Mike Saywell and his horse Chainbridge win the 1976 King George V Gold Cup. After leaving school he took his first steps in the horse training and dealing trade before landing a job with his hero Saywell. This led to Stockdale being recruited by former Olympian Graham Fletcher. In time he began to attract owners and eventually set up his own yard in Chesham, Bucks. It was here that he met an enthusiastic horsewoman called Laura Cocklin.

Romance blossomed and the pair worked together in Chesham before investing in a property in Northamptonshire in1996 which they developed into a home and top-class showjumping yard.

The couple were married in November that year and went on to start a family. Their first son Joseph was born in 1999. The second, Mark, arrived five years later. Disaster struck in 2011 when Stockdale broke his neck in three places in a fall when he was trying young horses. It was feared that was the end of his riding career but intensive medical care and the showjumper’s determination saw him back in the saddle after three months and ­competing again at top level soon afterwards.

In 2012, Stockdale published his autobiography. Its title There’s No Such Word As Can’t was the maxim he lived by. As Fletcher wrote in the book’s foreword: “In the ­history of showjumping, it is only a small number who have had the ability, tenacity and willpower to keep achieving at the highest level. One of those is Tim Stockdale.”

As well as a star of the showjumping arena, Stockdale was a dedicated ambassador for his sport. He served as chairman of the British Showjumping Association marketing committee; was awarded the British Equestrian Federation Medal of Honour; became a Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) Gold Medal holder; and received an Honorary MSc degree from Nottingham Trent University. His communication skills made the rider a tv personality. He was the subject of the Channel 4 documentary Cutting Edge and a trainer in the Faking It reality show. Tim promoted showjumping by training celebrities for the BBC ­programme Only Fools on Horses in aid of Sport Relief. He commentated for the BBC and until recently for Sky Sport.

Fellow commentator Clare Balding paid tribute: “Tim was a brilliant show jumper, a great coach, a wonderful team-mate on the TV, a warm, funny and hugely supportive human being.”

Stockdale was competing in the UK and abroad before he became too ill and was diagnosed with stomach cancer at the beginning of October. He is survived by his wife Laura and sons Joseph and Mark.