Monday, 10 January 2011

The Man Behind The Mike

Mike Tucker's voice will probably be more familiar to you than his face, so much so that I've struggled to find a photograph of the man. As far as horse sport on TV goes, Mike Tucker is the voice behind it all, commentating on everything from Badminton Horse Trials to the Shetland Pony Grand National at Olympia, and 4 Olympic Games so far - he's covered it all. This is a man that can effortlessly hold court on any subject, serious or frivolous, and leave you smiling at his charm, intellect and wit. Once you get to know him, commentary seems such an obvious vocation for Mike, yet belies the breadth of his talents.

Our paths have crossed several times over the last decade, at Badminton, during his time at British Eventing, and at a host of other places along the way. Earlier last week I spent some time with Mike sat by the fire at his family farm in the Cotswolds, and I was surprised at how much I'm still learning about the man behind the mike.

Commentary just scratches the surface of Mike Tucker's talents. He is an accomplished horseman, a prolific course designer, is proving a shrewd business man, and has a talent for dodging dodgy dogs on horseback! From his early days at Pony Club learning from legends like Col. Frank Weldon, his time down under with the great Roycrofts of Australia, and on to grooming for gold in the Mexico Olympics, Mike has been inspired by many of the best the sport has ever known.

That inspiration led Mike onto bigger and better things, riding for his country where he met his wife Angela, finishing second in 'the local gymkhana' we affectionately call Badminton on his home bred horse, and on to some serious work in the sport, like course designing and running a safety committee during some testing times. He has designed cross country courses across the globe, including the 2002 WEGs in Jerez, Spain, along with plenty of courses in the US, Europe & Australia. He in turn is an inspiration for the next generation.

Safety & The Change Of Format
Safety has dominated the headlines in the sport over the last year, and been high on the agenda for the last dozen years, ever since a number of fatalities in the UK in the late 1990s, during which time Mike chaired the safety committee, and he has been fully immersed in much of the progress since then. Mike has some very insightful views on how the short format has changed the sport, and what this means for riders entering the sport today, compared to 10 years ago. Here's what he had to say:

"One in the Kisser, Two in the Guts"
It's a phrase Mike borrows from Frank Weldon to illustrate how eventing has changed over the years, but it also illustrates the cheekier side of Mike and the fun he's had in the sport. As with anything in life, things change, adapt, and move on. In the video below Mike reflects of how the sport has changed and provides some refreshing thoughts on how riders will need to adapt and change in order to make it to the very top . Like many of us, he also puts great store in the thoroughbred and the influence the breed will continue to have on the sport through its constant evolution.

Whilst others in the corridors of power have been empire building Mike Tucker is one of those quietly influential people working in the background to get things done for the good of the sport. He helped the New Zealand authorities bring their cross country courses up a notch or two and in line with other main stream eventing nations, thus providing a good training ground for nurturing home grown talent. He brought about actionable change in the field of safety, has actively encouraged more people into the sport as volunteers, and still spends a lot of time speaking at training events across the globe for eventing officials.

Farming is Mike's first love and he is the third generation Tucker to farm cattle at Church Farm, albeit no longer the once familiar dairy herds. These days he is spending more time at home on the farm, developing his next venture, breeding the rare Japanese Wagyu cattle for a chain of up market restaurants about to open here in the UK.

For me Mike will always be "the voice of eventing", the Peter O'Sullivan of our sport, and one of the true friends of eventing. Having seen him literally turn a disappearing crowd around on its heels at Barbury Castle Horse Trials during the puissance class , it's little wonder that he loves his job - he's so good at it, even when he's just teasing me in the trot up at a local CIC** as he calls the horses and riders up in front of the ground jury.

If you are ever going to hold the eventing dinner party to trump all dinner parties, you could do no better than to invite Mike Tucker. He's not only an unsung hero of the sport with a wealth of experience, he's one of it's hidden legends. There aren't many who have ridden 12 or more times round Badminton, he'd have some stories to tell!

1 comment:

  1. Mike Tucker and Jamie Hawkesfield brought eventing alive for me when I had never seen a competition in person. Their frank and funny commentary on the good, the bad and the ugly showed me what the sport was supposed to be and was not supposed to be.
    Thanks you for posting these videos. I enjoyed them a lot.