‘If I Ride Properly, He’s Just a Genius’ – Riders React to Their Tokyo Cross-Country Rounds

Through all the blazing excitement of Tokyo’s cross-country session, we had the chance to debrief with riders after they came through the finish — and they were happy to talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly. Read on for some snippets from throughout the day — from surprises against the clock to tack malfunctions on course, frangible devices to pressure from the public, nothing was off the table.

Oliver Townend and Ballaghmor Class. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

Oliver Townend – Great Britain (1st overnight with nothing to add)

Oliver was second out of the start box after having to wait an agonising few moments for the course to be cleared after the trailblazer, Arinadtha Chavatanont’s fall. He sailed home five seconds under the optimum time to deliver the first of Great Britain’s three clears inside the time, and was able to move from second place into the lead after Michael Jung picked up 11 penalties for activating a MIMclip. 

“Anyone that watches eventing knows [Ballaghmor Class] is special. He’s tough; he digs deep. Early on, I thought he was slightly away with me. In fact, a couple of places I thought, ‘he’s in control, I’m not.’ But I sat behind him and helped find good distances for him, and once I got into the course I started picking up very good, quick, big, fast distances – almost racing distances – to the straightforward fences, and he answered beautifully. He’s tough in every aspect of life. He’s quirky, but he’s tough. And the bottom line is he wants to do his job more than most horses.”

Oliver and Ballaghmor Class had a slightly sticky jump over the hanging log into the first water, and had to rally to make the line and distance work. 

“Clearly the distances didn’t happen quite how I imagined, just in the first two waters. But having said that, they were very comfortable distances and I have a lot of trust in Derek di Grazia’s courses. I think the man’s one of the, if not the, best in the world at what he’s doing and even when I think a distance is one way I know that even if it isn’t, it’s going to be a safe distance.”

On the time:

“When you start, you look at the terrain, you look at the intensity more than anything – if you get a couple of bad shots, you’re losing time. You’re behind, obviously, at your first minute with six jumping efforts. And I thought it was going to be tough, but then I convinced myself last night by myself that it wasn’t.”

On finding the fun in top-level courses:

“I don’t enjoy these things until I’m on the plane on the way back home. And then I can enjoy it more than you can ever imagine.”

Julia Krajewski and Amande de b’Neville. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

Julia Krajewski – Germany (2nd overnight with 0.4 time)

Julia rode one of the less experienced horses in the field, who has stepped up to the plate following the retirement of Julia’s Rio mount, Samourai du Thot. In the end, her heart won out over her inexperience.

“She was a little bit surprised with the surroundings in there. At the first fence, she had a little spook. We didn’t warm up so much, because we thought [that due to the heat,] maybe they shouldn’t be too much used before. And this moving camera in the middle of the course, she was a bit distracted. But generally, she just told me what a cool mare she is. She was jumping super, galloping. Even if here and there she was a little bit off the line, like maybe in the long route at the coffin, she would just try. She has the biggest heart and she’s the biggest lion and a huge fighter. I would like to say it was all fun. Three quarters [of the course] was real fun, then it was a bit of work! At the end, it’s a very intense course. And they get a bit heavy and maybe not so adjustable. Time is achievable, but you have to be on it – but you don’t have to chase them all the way.”

Julia has previously had problems on cross-country at the 2018 WEG and Rio Olympics, which has led to some negative appraisals from punters. But she hasn’t let that get to her — because all competitions, she explains, come with pressure, both internal and external. 

“I said to the TV [interviewer] that I know that there are quite some people who say, like, ‘she doesn’t get it right at championships anyway.’ It’s not so much in my head actually because for me, something like Luhmühlen or Saumur is also at that moment super important. Today I was even less nervous maybe than at other important shows or events. But this year – after the winter, with Sam retired in the end, and my father[‘s death] at the beginning of the year… he would have, well he truly is proud to see me, and us, doing well. And all the people at home I know who only wish for me to to do well. It’s a great relief and I’m happy that I’ve made it happen so far.”

Laura Collett and London 52. Photo by Shannon Brinkman.

Laura Collett – Great Britain (3rd overnight with nothing to add)

Laura and London 52 have become one of the world’s most consistent partnerships since the tail end of 2019, when they won the CCI4*-L at Boekelo after a season full of learning experiences for the gelding, who had been thrust into the spotlight early on due to his extraordinary talent. Though their learning curve in 2019 was very public as a result, so, too, have been their victories ever since, including taking the win at Pau last season on the gelding’s five-star debut. Now, Laura makes her Olympic debut in fine style, despite feeling some disappointment with her dressage score of 25.8. 

“I was disappointed with the test, and luckily it ended up not being too bad. And looking back on it, not having the pressure of going out there in gold medal position individually was probably a blessing in disguise. It’s all about fighting for it now and trying to climb up that leaderboard. I’m not really sure I’ve got any words for it, to be honest. I’ve always said he’s a superstar, and he just went out and proved to everyone just how good he is. I’m just so relieved; I did my job to be selected on this team this year — and everyone at home will understand this — we’ve had to fight for our place here. He’s just proved to everybody he well and truly deserved it. And I can’t tell you how proud I am of him.”

Winning at Pau likely helped the horse, as it, like Tokyo, is a twisty track that’s been described as a ‘go-kart course’. This suits the rangy Holsteiner, though. 

“He’s a big horse, but he’s so adjustable. He rides like a pony like that, you know, he’s got so many gears and he listens and he was foot perfect. [The course was so quick –] blink and you missed it. There was no time to dwell on anything; you were at the next question before you knew it. There were the odd bits that you thought was a bit of a galloping stretch and then suddenly you were like, ‘Oh my God, the fence is there!’ Coming up to fence 12, he winged around the corner and I was like, ‘Oh Lord, there it is’.”

These days, Laura says that the most remarkable thing about London 52 is that he finally believes what she’s always known: that he’s a champion.

“Look, I just do the steering, and on a horse like that it’s about not interfering with him. He knows his job now, and yes, we’ve had our ups and downs in the past, but it’s been a learning curve. And ever since Pau last year, he’s just changed. And he’s come out here at the Olympic Games with all the belief — he’s just a phenomenal horse.”

Tim Price and Vitali. Photo by Shannon Brinkman.

Tim Price – New Zealand (4th overnight with 1.2 time)

Tim and Vitali only came together as a partnership in October of 2020, and the horse hadn’t actually competed in an FEI event since September of 2018, when he’d made his CCI4*-S debut with James Avery. This was just his second-ever CCI4*-L and this partnership’s third-ever international run.

“It felt fast and furious with lots of big jobs just around the corner. It just hits them in the face, which is why it was always a little bit of a risk for young horse because they come up the hill, and even though you’ve warmed up over some fences, it sort of dawns on them that this is actually a cross country day — it’s not another training day – and it looks like it’s a pretty serious day at the office. So they’ve got to absorb that in about two minutes before you start, and [you’ve got to] hope that they get it and compartmentalise it their minds, and off we go. And he did all that. For a young horse, I couldn’t be more proud of how he dealt and coped. Because especially with a young horse, but on any difficult track, you want to set out on the course and give them a little moment or two at the beginning, [let them] find themselves, their rhythm, their breathing, their jump, their scope. Out here, you just have to keep squeezing just because with 7 minutes 45 you haven’t got time to give them an easy couple of minutes. So I’d asked quite a lot of a young horse in the first couple of minutes, it felt like. He was super.”

“He coped with it remarkably well. That’s why I had the faith in him and the confidence in him. He was like, ‘well, this is quite tough’, and I’m like, ‘yep, and there’s another one, and now we’ve gotta gallop’ and he was just, like, ‘right’. He’s an athlete and with everything he is, training-wise and experience-wise, it’s athleticism that keeps coming to the fore every time. So he just gets on with using himself and doing what’s in front of him and having belief that what I’m asking him is doable.”

The serious heat meant that riders had to reconsider how they warmed up for cross-country day:

“It’s really tough, actually. You have your routines, and you stick to you routines because you know they work ,and they work with your systems. And here you have to break that down and work out the science behind your routine that works, because I can’t just go and walk in the corner, I have to go and stand still – which feels like the wrong this to do once you’ve jumped some cross country jumps – and let his temperature come down. So that’s quite weird. But it’s important, because we needed to get up here [to the start] ready to go in the heat with their tempatures as low as possible, so they can withstand it and then go back and cool down again. So the heat has been a definite factor, but it’s been amazingly managed by all the teams and the facilities we’ve been given to use.”

Kazuma Tomoto and Vinci de la Vigne. Photo by Shannon Brinkman.

Kazuma Tomoto – Japan (5th overnight with 1.6 time penalties)

If anyone knows pressure, it’s Japan’s trailblazer Kazu: he and his team have worked extraordinarily hard to be able to mount a significant challenge for a medal at their home Games. 

“It was not quite fast, maybe too smooth. But as the first player around the course, I have to collect information to get the details to the rest of the team, and I think I did what I expected today. [Trainer William Fox-Pitt said] don’t panic, don’t come rushing home to get inside the time — just do it as normal and usual. So I tried to make myself relaxed and normal.”

British-based Kazu regrets the lack of spectators — but even more importantly, that his friends and family, including his wife and young daughter, who he hasn’t been able to see due to the pandemic, can’t be at the venue. 

“I’m sorry we have no audience today. But then, I also receive constant messages from all over the world as well as from all over from Japan. So I feel like it’s an honour to be here. My family actually lives like a one-minute walk from the main stadium park but I can’t see them. But I still can receive all the messages from my daughter and family.”

Tom McEwen and Toledo de Kerser. Photo by Shannon Brinkman.

Tom McEwen – Great Britain (6th with nothing to add)

As the anchor for the British team, Tom had a huge amount of pressure on his shoulders: both his teammates had jumped clear inside the time, and so it fell to him to do the same and secure the gold overnight for Great Britain. And that’s exactly what he did, producing a sterling clear inside the time to ensure that Britain stayed on top and added nothing to its aggregate first-phase score. It also allowed Tom to move up into the top ten after he found himself in 12th place following a dressage mark of 28.9, which is slightly above the pair’s norm.

“[Toledo de Kerser] was incredible, absolutely incredible. He was relaxed, very keen, and I think, if Burghley were on, we’d be ready for Burghley in a couple of weeks. He’s come back and he’s not too hot — he was just phenomenal. He was so straight, he’s wanting to jump every fence as he can do. He’s prepped and ready, and yeah, I’m just really pleased that I could give him the ride that he deserved after sort of messing up a couple things yesterday and not quite putting us in a place. But the team has been phenomenal and more importantly, I think, beyond what you’ve seen on TV from our three riders — obviously we’ve got huge strength and depth to get here, but actually the whole team support behind us, with the National Lottery and the funding we get, has really provided a great team support. We’ve got the stables [decorated] and yeah, it’s everything that’s done behind the scenes that’s why all three of us can show up on the scene.”

Tom took an unplanned long route at the final water. 

“The trakehner [at 19, just before the water] wasn’t the biggest — I saw such a great shot, and I thought, ‘this is a really bad idea; I’ve got so much time that I don’t need to go flying into the water’. I had it in mind — I had everything in mind — but he was so comfortably easy with the time and with the course, so I thought it was just a risk that really wasn’t worth taking. And maybe a nice, suppling S-bend will supple him up for tomorrow!”

All the riders on the British team are Olympic debutants, and through the week, they’ve worked together to find the best method for tackling the course. 

“We’ve been walking [this course] for, I don’t know — it feels like a month! But actually, it needed it — it’s only just stuck in my head from yesterday, really. It’s a new place, a new course, and […] it’s just about remembering which bank you’re coming up and over! But the other two gave me the most amazing feedback: I think it was just more the confidence that the lines we’d been walking were the correct ones. It’s not often that you get someone like Oliver going out and making it all look quite so easy so early on — and I’m not sure whether that makes it easier or harder, when you’re on their team! But just to have the confidence in what we’re doing [was so helpful]; we were behind in the first two minutes and made it all up later on. The course rode amazingly, and exactly as we thought. It was nice to actually have a few positive, open distances. I think the one thing we’d all take away is that at the first water, we all thought it was going to be three [strides] — but barring one or two I saw this morning, everyone’s done four, which is very interesting. But everything rode really well and on lovely distances. It’s so well produced and in front of you and clear for the horses. It’s been a great, great, great show.”

Michael Jung and Chipmunk FRH. Photo by Shannon Brinkman.

Michael Jung – Germany (10th with no time penalties but 11 for an activated MIMclip)

Michael, who led after dressage, delivered one of the rounds of the day as the penultimate rider out of the start box. It looked like a solid bid to win the Olympic gold for the third time in a row, until the unthinkable happened: he activated the MIMclip safety device at the open corner at 14C, which had broken seven times throughout the day. Although his horse, Chipmunk FRH, didn’t appear to do more than tap the fence, and the rail remained up until some strides after Michi had cantered away, the ground jury awarded him an indisputable eleven penalties, plummeting him to tenth place.

“I’m very happy about fischerChipmunk — he was very good, and put in a very good performance. He galloped nice, and jumped everywhere very good, so I’m very happy with him. We had a little mistake [at 14C], and I actually did not really realise that it had fallen down. After, when I galloped away from the fence, I heard the sound — and it was quite a surprise for me. But everything else was really nice to ride, and it was a very good course.”

Michael found the weather conditions better than expected — and better than they’d been on his previous trip to Tokyo to compete in the test event with fischerWild Wave in 2019. 

“It was much better than the test event, so I think we’re quite lucky with the weather. I felt nothing bad. We are used to sport, and getting wet — it was not as strong as we thought [it would be]. With the wind, now, I think [the course] was easier than I thought before.”

Boyd Martin and Tsetserleg. Photo by Shannon Brinkman.

Boyd Martin – USA (13th with 3.2 time penalties)

Boyd was the last rider out of the box for Team USA, which had logged two clear rounds with a smattering of time already — so he knew that he had to deliver, and he had to try to do it as quickly as possible. Perhaps in the back of his mind was his last FEI run with Tsetserleg, also over a Derek di Grazia course, when the diminutive gelding had a highly uncharacteristic tumble on course at Kentucky. 

“It’s a big sigh of relief, getting around well. Thomas tried his absolute heart out. It wasn’t a course that suited him that well, with the twists and turns and back and forths, but he dug deep. In hindsight, maybe I should’ve pushed him a little harder — I thought we were good on the time, but then those last seven jumps seemed to take two minutes. But he finished well, and I’m very proud to be American and have three American horses finish clear today.”

As team anchor, Boyd was able to use feedback and observations to make some decisions about his route through the course. 

“I was in the mindset of taking different paths on three of the fences, and [after] just sitting back and watching and chatting with Doug and Phillip and Erik [Duvander], I ended up going the slightly longer way at the second water, which wasn’t that much longer. I got to take the fast ways on the other ways I wanted to go. I’m just pleased, and relieved, and still dialled in for tomorrow.”

Though the American horses were widely considered to be the most likely to cope with the heat, even Tsetserleg felt struck by it. 

“The heat knocked him around, for sure. I’ve felt like at Kentucky, where it’s cold and spring weather with a little bit of rain, they’re fresh ’til halfway [around] — I felt like he was a bit winded by the second minute [here], which is unusual. But he didn’t get worse; he stayed in that mode the whole way around and never dropped a bit; he just got a bit lower over the last few fences.

This is Boyd’s third Olympics, and the only one he’s competed at which has used a shortened course [we also saw one in Beijing in 2008, but Boyd didn’t compete at that Games].

“I’ve been lucky enough to be at London, and Rio, and here — and they’re all just different. I still think it showcases the best horses and riders, and some horses and riders are suited to bigger, longer courses and some are suited to these kind of go-kart courses. I think you’ve just got to try to master all types of course, because it’s great to ride at these championships and they’re all very different. Like, I think the WEG next year will be back to a big, brave five-star course. Initially, I was hoping for a longer course because my horse’s best attribute is his endurance and stamina, but saying that, he was pretty empty at the end, so I’m glad it wasn’t a minute or two longer — it would have been ugly.”

Lea Siegl and DSP Fighting Line. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

Lea Siegl – Austria (16th with 2.4 time penalties)

22-year-old Lea is the youngest rider in the competition, and impressed with her fast, gutsy round with the bold Fighting Line, who lives up to his name. 

“I don’t feel pressure because I’m the youngest; I think I don’t have any pressure [precisely] because I’m the youngest. I still have time to get experience, and I’m happy to be here. I’m happy I got the chance to compete here for Austria, and so I’m cool — I say I don’t have to be nervous or anything like this, because I’m the youngest and I still have the time to get experience.”

Felix Vogg and Colero. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

Felix Vogg – Switzerland (21st with 0.8 time penalties and 11 for an activated MIMclip)

Felix was one of the first riders of the day, and he scorched around the course with his experienced partner Colero. He was one of several riders to be awarded eleven penalties for activating a safety device, but unlike many, his didn’t come at 14C — instead, it was 18B that caught him out at the ‘coffin’ complex. 

“I had a bit of a stupid start when I had not-so-good distances from number one to number four. But then we found each other, and he just went like a beast. He was tired, of course, but he was so, so honest and he tried really, really hard. I think no one expected that he can be two seconds over the time, but I know him and I know he can be really slow or really fast. If I ride him properly, he’s just a genius. With the pin, Andrew [Nicholson] came to me last night and we decided that I should ride it on four strides. I always wanted to ride it on five strides. I said I will ride it on five; this morning, he came again and said I should ride it on four. I think that was the wrong decision. Otherwise, it was a great course, and I’m really happy that Derek diGrazia made it.”

Felix received feedback at the start about how Oliver Townend was faring against the clock, which helped inform his barometer of the speed on course. 

“I had the information at the start that Oli was ten seconds over in the first minute, and 12 over in the second. I actually was always on the point, but I was expecting that it would get worse. Usually when you have the first minute, though, it’s fine — and the first minute, I think, was the hardest one. I didn’t expect that I would be so close to the time because Beijing and Rio, we looked all that up, and everyone talked about how it would not be possible.”

Doug Payne and Vandiver. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

Doug Payne – USA (23rd with 6.2 time penalties)

Doug and Vandiver left the start box as Team USA’s pathfinders, which meant they were third to go and had no course intel to use – other than the knowledge that the first rider hadn’t completed. But their sensible, occasionally conservative decision-making allowed them to come home clear and pass valuable information to their teammates. 

“Oh, it’s incredible. I’ll tell you right off the bat, I couldn’t be happier to have ‘Quinn’. He’s got probably the biggest heart of any horse I’ve had the opportunity to work with and although a bit unconventional times, he tries his heart out. That’s really all you could ask for on a course like this.”

On the tough-to-catch time:

“You know, we expect to always be down at the first minute. We came through all those good. He was quite strong up through sort of two, three and then I thought we were going to be able to catch up a bit faster than we did when we were able to. But you know, at the end we were totally on empty. So you know, it’s all you can ask for really. I’m sure it’s gettable – the first minute you just have to accept that you’re gonna be down. And then it’s just how sort of how efficient, how quick can you dare to be, and how they feel. But a clear is, I think, probably the most important thing here with no drop score.”

Jesse Campbell and Diachello. Rafael Mamprin Losano and Fuiloda G. Joanna Pawlak and Fantastic Freida. Huadong Sun and Lady Chin V’T Moerven Z. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

Jesse Campbell – New Zealand (27th overnight with 14.4 time penalties)

Jesse’s horse, Diachello, was one of several horses to tire over the final minute of the course in the tough conditions, and so Jesse slowed the pace down and gave a masterclass in sympathetic, nurturing riding to get his horse home safely and happily. 

“The round up to about five minutes was exactly how I’d planned it. We all knew we’d be down on time, but that we could then have some galloping stretches. I nearly got back on my five-minute marker, but then the heat just hit my horse and we literally went from the full tank to not much. With three on the team, it’s really important that we finished, so I just had to nurse him as best I could to get home, and keep jumping as good as I could. We were always going to go long at the coffin [18ABCD], so that was fine, but it was just about putting the jumps in front of my horse and giving him as much support as possible. It wasn’t the prettiest round that I wanted to have, but but I had to get the job done.”

Susanna Bordonne and Imperial Van De Holtakkers. Rafael Mamprin Losano and Fuiloda G. Joanna Pawlak and Fantastic Freida. Huadong Sun and Lady Chin V’T Moerven Z. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

Susanna Bordone – Italy (28th overnight with no time penalties but 11 for an activated MIMclip)

Like Michael Jung, Susanna sailed home inside the time – but fell foul of the same open corner at 14C, where her horse activated the safety device.

“I had a great ride, and he jumped every jump really well. I had a little doubt when I was setting off for the coffin near the end [18ABCD] whether I was going to go the long route, but then I noticed I had a pin, which was very strange because I didn’t even hit it hard. I didn’t get the hit that you get underneath — he just lightly touched it. So then I thought, ‘well, I already have those faults, so I’m not going to go round — I’ll go straight.’ He was clear inside the time — I had 7:41. I was just a bit unlucky. My dressage was unlucky as well, because he just needed to wee before the dressage, so he got in and was really tight — so it’s all okay, but let’s just say that luck is not on our side this time. I’ve never had a pin before, but I think the logic behind it is to avoid the falls — but you don’t want to be too far off. You want to get a bit closer to it, and then if they touch it, okay.”

Part of Susanna’s decision to take the straight options, even though almost everyone in the field went long at 18, came down to her horse, Imperial van de Holtakkers, who she tells us is perfectly suited to this twisting track:

“On two combinations I thought I was going to go a bit wider and add a stride, but actually, it flowed to stay a bit tighter. I looked at both options and decided to stay tighter and do one less than I’d anticipated. It was very nice, and for my horse it was good, because he’s not very fast in the galloping but he’s very balanced and he doesn’t pull, so you can keep going. This course is a bit like a derby, really: turn here, turn there, up, down, and it’s perfect for him. He would be less a Burghley horse, where you go uphill for one minute with one fence, but here, where it’s turn and go, it’s perfect because he always comes back to me.”

Sam Watson and Flamenco. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

Sam Watson – Ireland (31st with 2 time penalties and 11 for an activated MIMclip)

Sam Watson was on track for a superb round for Team Ireland, but he, like six others, was caught out by the safety device at the open corner at 14C.

“It’s fine margins in the modern sport, and those devices are there to look after us. I fully approve, not just because they do that, but because they make you ride precise and accurate. It’s the one time I let adrenaline just go, ‘there’s the fence and the inside line’, and I just got there a fraction too early. But it’s like me missing my change; if your timing’s off, if you rush a little bit, if you don’t keep your head 100% relaxed, you make mistakes. And you don’t want to make mistakes at the Olympics. I’m deeply, deeply frustrated because he was ready for this, and he was really, really good. He loves it, and he kept his ears pricked and he just enjoyed doing his job the whole way.”

“I rode it like an ERM, like a short format. You don’t waste anything; don’t waste any energy, don’t waste any ground, don’t waste any time, just be 100% ruthlessly efficient. That’s what I tried to do. There’s a couple of places, like the second water, he took off a mile off. I thought he’d chip a stride in, but he didn’t — but he was magic the rest of the way through it. He just loves the game. I knew in the start that there was a chance he could be a little bit bold on me early on, because he really wanted to get going. He’s been in quarantine acclimatising, and he wanted to let loose. I’m really proud of him and god, it would be some privilege to have the ride on him in Paris in three years, because he’s still young enough. I thought in his test, and out there on cross-country, that he’s got so much more to give and there’s a huge result in there.”

Huadong Sun and Lady Chin V’T Moerven Z. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

Huadong Sun – China (40th with 42 time penalties)

Sun — or Alex, as he’s known to his friends — is part of China’s historic first-ever Olympic eventing team. The team orders were straightforward: come home safe.

“This is the first time for the Chinese team at the Olympics, so I don’t go fast, I just want a clear round with my horse. A nice round. It’s okay for the team, and we made a plan to make the long lines so we could keep jumping. It’s also better for my horse; she has a big stride so really, it’s better to take a longer line and not always hold her so much.”

Alex is a relatively new convert to eventing, and is based with teammate Yingfeng Bao at Tim Lips’s stables in the Netherlands. 

“I started eventing in 2013, and I like doing this so much. And this is special for our country. I think people in China don’t know this is a sport so much, but I think for us to have a team of riders competing in Tokyo will be good for the young riders and the Chinese people to get to know it, and to learn to love this sport.”

Joanna Pawlak and Fantastic Freida. Huadong Sun and Lady Chin V’T Moerven Z. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

Joanna Pawlak – Poland (41st with 20 jumping penalties and 25.2 time penalties)

Joanna makes her Olympic debut while contributing to some exciting history for Poland — and her determination, and that of her horse, Fantastic Frieda, carried them home when things got a bit tricky after the mare lost a shoe halfway around the course.

“At number 14 my horse lost a front shoe, and so I was a little bit afraid of quick turns. At fence number 18 I jumped the first fence a little bit off and I couldn’t turn, so we had a problem, but generally I’m very happy because for the first time in 70 years, we have a Polish team, and me and my friend [Malgorzata Cybulska], we are the first women in a senior Polish eventing team. It’s a pleasure for me; I’m feeling really glad about this. We made history and that’s why I really wanted to make my best, but there was this one moment, one mistake.”

Arinadtha Chavatanont (Thailand) and Boleybawn Prince. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

Arinadtha Chavatanont – Thailand (did not complete)

Arinadtha had the unenviable task of being the day’s trailblazer, and after a polished, committed effort over the first few fences, she had a seriously unlucky tumble when her horse pecked on landing over the first hanging log into water at around the one-minute mark. This saw Thailand eliminated as a team, as they didn’t have a reserve pair. Both horse and rider were unharmed in the fall.

“Even last night, I have a really good sleep. In the morning I wake up really fresh – I’m here! And to start the training my horse was really in front of me; it’s like he knows his job. He’s really ready to do it. I could feel a sense of pride in the canter – I don’t need to wake him up at all. In the start box he wasn’t excited, he was so calm and really ready to ride with me. First fence, second fence, everything went really well. I was really, really happy at the way he started and I have all the fences clear in my mind. Like, it’s really in my nerves to do it. I have all the straight routes, except for one of the fences I took the option and I was really looking forward to doing it. He’s a quite fast horse, and the first [long route,] I wanted to do it. We did it nice and the accident was not the pressure at all, really – I think it was an accident. It was not [because of] my stress or his stress. It was a pity for me and for him as well, since he’s a really good cross country horse.”

“I’m feeling fine – it’s like swimming!”

Rafael Mamprin Losano and Fuiloda G. Joanna Pawlak and Fantastic Freida. Huadong Sun and Lady Chin V’T Moerven Z. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

Rafael Losano – Brazil (did not complete)

Rafael and Fuiloda G had been having a positive round when the horse suddenly stopped two fences from home and looked in some distress, so Rafael opted to retire. He’s since confirmed that she’s doing well. 

“She started off great — jumping so well. She’s such a good jumper. But it’s hot, and I knew it was going to be tough on them, but the course was jumping so good that I let her go. That’s part of this sport, isn’t it? She came to the second-last jump and ran out of 100% of her stamina, so I had to pull up. [Of course it’s so disappointing –] there’s 100 people behind us, such a big team of people trying to help us do our best, but it can go one way or another. She’s 100% — in five minutes she was ready to go again, so it’s so frustrating, but I guess we have to go home and think about that one.”

Rafael praised the course, which he’d enjoyed riding around with his relatively inexperienced mare. 

“It rode great! Very forward-riding — we like that. It didn’t feel like a four- or four-and-a-half star; it just felt like a great course to ride. But I guess we never know how we’ll cross the finish flags.”

Rafael has been based with Mark Todd in the UK for seven years, but began his career in earnest around the Rio Olympics. He speaks about the progression from riding in Brazil to coming to Europe to train: 

“We don’t have many events at home, so it’s a great place to start. You can get the feeling of the sport, and then make your way – if you want to be a professional rider, and come out here, and do a little better than I did, you have to go to America or Europe to get some bigger tracks, and bigger jumps, and try to be competitive against good riders. I’ve lived in England for seven years now. There was such a big push for our sport [around Rio] — we had Mark Todd training [the Brazilians] and all of us young boys got really excited about it. Unfortunately I was the only one who came out of all this [still in the sport], but at least I’m here! I do my own thing and try to run my own yard in the UK now. Of course, it would be great if we had a team trainer so we could really push to try to be at the top of the leaderboard. I don’t think we’re far off; at the Pan-Ams we had a great result. Of course, here is a different level of the game, but we will get there. When I was a kid I did a lot of football, and I really wanted to be a football player, but then I started riding and I really loved it. Of course, we all want to do very well, and I said, ‘well, I’ll go to England for six months and see what I can do.’ And my career really started like that.”

Małgorzata Cybulska and Chenaro 2. Rafael Mamprin Losano and Fuiloda G. Joanna Pawlak and Fantastic Freida. Huadong Sun and Lady Chin V’T Moerven Z. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

Malgorzata Cybulska – Poland (did not complete)

It was a tricky day in the office for Gosia and Chenaro 2, who started off well but suffered a tack malfunction partway through the course. The 23-year-old student, who had surgery on her spine two years ago, gamely completed the course with one stirrup in order to help her team, but was later informed that she was technically eliminated for missing a fence — a problem that happened for four riders on this course. 

“What can I say? Everything that could happen, happened. In the warm-up arena, it was all the time delayed — from the training area, to the cooling area, back to the training area, and the cooling area again, [being herded] like cows a little bit. On the cross-country he wasn’t like my horse at all — he absolutely wasn’t my horse, so I don’t know what’s going on at all. Because of all this, I got really stressed out and nervous, because it’s really difficult to ride this kind of cross when you don’t have your horse. In all the stress I had a refusal, which has not happened too often in my life. And then I missed a fence — this is only my fault, and no one else’s, and I don’t want to make excuses because this is just sport. [Chenaro] came back well, but still, it’s worrying that he stopped fighting. And then I lost a stirrup, and the rest of the course I was riding without a stirrup. It was terrible — and it was not meant to be like this.”

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