When Zara Tindall was pregnant with her first daughter, Mia, we talked about how she would fit motherhood around her decidedly unsocial schedule of competitive horseriding, which involved her travelling all over Britain and overseas, sleeping in her horse truck. “We’ll just carry on as normal,” she told me, explaining that eventing kids just have to fit in with their parents. After all, that’s what she did with her mum Princess Anne, Zara added.
That was five years ago and now I am back in her Aston Farm home, in the heart of Britain’s green and pleasant Cotswolds, and on the face of it not much has changed. Zara and husband Mike both have a full schedule of work commitments and they’re still laughing, joking and sparking off each other like comfortable romantics.
Outside, three of Zara’s horses – Cracker, Showtime and Socks (named for his four white socks) – are exercising in the stable yards and one-year-old boxer Blink is one of many family dogs running in and out. But hanging in the air around this energetic outdoor life, there’s definitely a warm glow of slightly frazzled domestic order. For it was just 18 months ago that Mia’s sister, Lena, arrived as the latest addition to the Tindall clan.
So, as I settle down to chat to Zara and Mike about their new world of parenting, I’m wondering how the ‘business as usual’ plan panned out.
Zara breaks into a broad smile. “I’m still eventing,” she says, laughing. And do the girls come with her? “Mia is at school so she can only come on weekends and it depends how far away it is, but yes, they’ve been to a few this year. It also depends on how many horses we’ve got with us. I think Mia just likes the camping – it’s probably more like glamping – in a truck. I don’t think she bothers about watching me too much.”
But while Zara is determined to stay very much in the saddle, she concedes it’s not quite been as easy as chucking the children in with the horses and driving off into the – more often than not, rain-soaked – great outdoors. And whether she brings her girls with her to competitions or leaves them at their home (which is down the road from her mum’s residence in Gatcombe Park) involves a lot of variables. “The logistics are much greater. You can’t just drop everything anymore. I do have to plan my season around the kids and what they’re up to.
“They’re very much part of our lives and what we do anyway. But I have to work out how to fit everything in. You look back and realise how much time you used to have before you had kids and then wonder, what was I doing with it? We make sure we’re looking after the kids properly and then our jobs come alongside. It’s about putting everything into place,” she explains.
Fortunately, so far Mia and Lena are loving their mother’s horsey life. “They both ride,” says Zara, looking rather pleased. “Lena is in a little basket on the saddle, purely a passenger. But we just bought Mia a new pony called Magic.”
“Should be called Magic Millions, right?” jokes Mike, name checking the Australian race carnival Zara has been the ambassador of since 2012 (which we’ll come to later).
I ask Mike if he thinks Mia is a chip off her mother’s equestrian block. “She can be,” he muses. “She’s going through that period where she thinks she knows what to do so we have someone teaching her. Her cousins, Savannah and Isla, and [their father] Zara’s brother, Peter Phillips, all ride as well and they go riding together.”
Zara is thrilled their girls are enjoying hanging out with the horses, but she also wants to make sure they find their own paths. “I love that they have the opportunity of working with animals, being outside, all the traditions that you learn with treating an animal – looking after your stuff, looking after the animals and learning good balance, all those skills you learn – but I think Mia will probably want to do her own thing anyway.”
Mike, who no longer plays rugby – he retired from the professional game in July 2014 – but is still heavily involved in the sport, is relishing the new pace of family life.
“I think it’s superb. Mia is a fantastic bundle of energy and that challenges you as well and keeps it interesting. Lena is just starting to find her feet, but we’ve enjoyed every minute of it. You hope that’s what kids do to you and it’s been great.”
The 1.87m burly Yorkshireman has now found himself in a house full of women and he couldn’t be happier. “Three female dogs [and] my three girls. Plus we have lots of girls on the yard working with Zara … at least I’ve got Pete, my brother-in-law. And Andy, who works on the farm as well,” he jokes.
Before Mia and Lena came along, Mike confesses he did think he might like a son, but now he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I was so happy with how Mia was as a girl that I wasn’t really bothered either way and when Lena was coming along I wasn’t bothered at all [about] what we got. I was just happy to be having another child,” he says.
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