Sheila Willcox is a British born eventer who won many national and international three-day events, including Badminton Horse Trials and the European Championships. However, she is famous for winning Badminton over three consecutive years from 1957–1959.
Sheila was born in 1937 and began riding when she was a child and an active member of the Pony Club being seen in many show rings during the early fifties. In 1955 at the young age of eighteen, she rode her first three-day event with her Arabian pony cross, High and Mighty. In the same year, she rode this super little pony around Badminton and was thrilled to come second! This was the start of a formidable eventing career and in 1957, Sheila and her wonderful High and Mighty won Badminton Horse Trials with a 22 point lead after dressage and an impressive 47 lead by the end of the event.
With this cracking Arabian pony, she went on to compete later that year in the European Championships earning both team and individual gold medals. This led to another team gold for the pairing in 1959. Hard to believe now but women were not allowed to compete in eventing in the Olympics, so she sold High and Mighty to Ted Marsh hoping that he would be selected for the team. Sadly this was not the case.
Sheila returned to Badminton in 1959 with her new but inexperienced horse Airs and Graces. She won the dressage but had a steady but slower cross-country run due to the ground conditions. A rail down in the show jumping ring by fellow rider David Somerset saw her to victory winning Badminton for the third consecutive year! To this day, she is the only rider to have won Badminton three years running. This was not the end of her successes at Badminton as she won Little Badminton in 1964 riding Glenamoy.
Sheila Willcox went on to have a hugely successful eventing career winning eight major titles. After a terrible fall in 1971 at Tidworth Horse Trials which left her partially paralysed, she gave up eventing and focused on dressage. She went on to gain success in this equestrian sport as well, reaching Grand Prix level on Son and Heir. Sheila sadly passed away in 2017 aged 81. However, she will be forever remembered as a pioneer for women in the sport of eventing.
by Samantha Hobden
Image source: Sheila Willcox from her book The Event Horse