Jewish couple's bid for Paralympic horseriding

How a Jewish couple running a Buckinghamshire stud could bring Olympic glory to Israel

By Simon Rocker, April 29, 2010
Showjumper Ben Maher

Showjumper Ben Maher

If Britain wins an equestrian medal at the next Olympics, the country may well have cause to thank Emma and Mike Phillips. The couple, together with leading showjumper Ben Maher, co-own champion steed Robin Hood.

But their aspirations go beyond Olympic glory: they are trying to mobilise support to ensure that Israel is represented in horse-riding at the 2012 London Paralympic Games.

In just six years, the couple have established a world class horse-breeding and Olympic-standard training centre at Quainton Stud, a few miles outside Aylesbury.

Mrs Phillips, 40, an ex-JFS pupil, has been a keen rider since childhood. "After school, my original plan was to go to kibbutz, but I was too young. I was reading Horse and Hound and I saw an advert for a training instructor in Netanya," she said.

She spent several years in Israel, and volunteered with a riding for the disabled programme, started by an English immigrant, Anita Shekdi.

Mike and Emma Phillips

Mike and Emma Phillips

Mike Phillips, 47, who attended Carmel College, is an entrepreneur who runs a successful property enterprise. In 2004, he bought Quainton, a disused racing stud set in 300 acres, not far from one of the Rothschild grand houses, Waddesdon Manor.

"We were looking for somewhere outside London, quite local, for a place to keep a horse and a weekend getaway," Mrs Phillips explained. "Mike's theory was that we had the land and stables - if we could breed and raise horses, we could have some activities that would help running costs."

Last summer they relocated sons Jake, 12, Harley, nine, and daughter Lili-Kitty, four, from north-west London to the fresh air of the Chilterns.

At any one time, Quainton may have 60 to 100 horses on site. Some have been raised there and belong to the family; others have been brought in for foaling in the fertility centre - "our Lindo Wing", says Mrs Phillips - while others are part of visiting international teams which rent space for training.

Eighteen months ago, Mrs Phillips attended a talk by 2012 Olympics chairman Lord Coe, which touched on the Paralympics. Not far from Quainton is Stoke Mandeville Hospital, which specialises in spinal injuries. It was a neurologist from the hospital, Sir Ludwig Guttmann, a German-Jewish
refugee from the Nazis, who founded the Paralympics.

"It was one of those lightbulb moments," Mrs Phillips said. "What were the chances of a Jewish couple with an Olympic training camp and horses, with connections to Israel?"

She re-established contact with Anita Shekdi, who by now had set up the Israel National Therapeutic Riding Association (Intra) and put forward the idea of Israel entering a team for the 2012 London Paralympics.

"Anita said it would be a dream come true and would galvanise the riders," Mrs Phillips said.

Quainton recently hosted one young rider from Intra who came to train locally for competition. Another potential rider is an Ethiopian immigrant who was badly injured in a bomb attack in a market and who had never ridden before taking it up as therapy.

If the Israelis are to make the Paralympics, they will need sponsorship to provide them with the right horses as well as enough practice at international events prior to the Games.

"What an achievement it would be for Israel to put a team into the Paralympics," said Mr Phillips. "With help, it can happen."

Last updated: 3:18pm, April 29 2010