Tokyo in the Rearview: The Horses, Riders, and Moments that Moved Us Most

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

“The important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win, but to take part; the important thing in life is not triumph, but the struggle; the essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”

Those were the immortal words of Pierre de Coubertin, the father of the modern Olympics — and though we’re delighted to have left many of Coubertin’s dodgy ideals in the dust (he famously dismissed the idea of female athletes, calling them ‘impractical, uninteresting, unaesthetic’) — we do quite like where this little quip is going. Though we’ve been moved to tears and thoroughly inspired by our medal winners at Tokyo, there have been so many characters and so many stories, that have made just as significant of an impact through the week. Read on to find out some of Team EN’s horses, riders, and moments of the week — and then slide into that comment section and let us know yours.

TILLY BERENDT

Has anyone ever seen Oliver Townend jump for joy before?! A historic moment, indeed. Photo by Shannon Brinkman.

Moment of the week: The Brits taking gold

It’s an obvious one, and frankly, it never even got my heart rate up on the final day because it felt so assured, but Great Britain’s first team gold since 1972 (isn’t that mad?!) was particularly special. The Brits went into this Games as the firm favourites, but in eventing, there are so many variables at play that that doesn’t act as a guarantee of anything. Each rode spectacularly, despite all being Olympic debutants, and when they all sailed home sans time penalties on cross-country day, it was a truly exceptional moment. That they won it on the lowest-ever finishing score in Olympic history is just the cherry on top of one heck of a cake, and it’s a testament to the strength of the British system and the superb leadership of Chris Bartle and Dicky Waygood. As a German citizen who was born in England and has lived in the US and France, I’m never sure which lane I’m in at a championships, but not for the first time, I felt so proud and privileged to live in this remarkable hub of equestrian excellence.

William Fox-Pitt, Keiko and Kazuma Tomoto after Kazu’s showjumping rounds. Photo by Sally Spickard.

Person of the week: Kazuma Tomoto (Team Japan)

Blimey, it’s hard to narrow this one down, isn’t it? My heart was beating so fast for Julia Krajewski — who’s been through so much and never let the smile fall from her face — that it sounded like a marching band had invaded my cottage, and I couldn’t imagine a better woman to be our first (official) female individual gold medalist. But through the week — and, actually, over the past four years — my allegiances have been firmly with Japan’s Kazuma Tomoto, who finished in an exceptional (though no doubt frustrating) fourth place. Kazu’s story is one of extraordinary sacrifice, hard work, and overwhelming positivity, and it’s a testament to that old adage that teamwork makes the dream work. Formerly a top-class showjumper, he swapped over to eventing in 2016 because the Japanese jumping contingent was already so strong. He left Tokyo, where his wife Keiko and young daughter have remained, supporting him from afar as he put in the hard graft in the UK, where he’s based with William Fox-Pitt. Within one year of picking up his new discipline, he came within a hundredth of a second of winning the eight- and nine-year-old CCI4*-S at Blenheim, which is always packed to the rafters with top-class riders and horses. That same month, he made his team debut in the Nations Cup at Waregem. Within two years of starting his eventing career, he was part of the fourth-placed Japanese team at WEG, and in 2019 — less than three years after swapping disciplines — he won three four-stars on three different horses, made his Badminton debut, led the first phase at Luhmühlen CCI5*, and qualified four horses for Tokyo. It’s all enormously impressive, but what makes Kazu one of the greats for me is who he is as a person. I’ve seldom known anyone so positive; even when he was struggling with the language barrier he always found kind words for everyone, and he’s universally adored and admired on the British and European circuit. His kindness passes on to his horses, and William says he’s never seen Kazu lose an iota of patience with any animal. The past few years must have been so tough on him, particularly through the pandemic when he likely wasn’t able to see his family at all — but Tokyo, he’s always said, is the one chance he and his teammates have to get the Japanese public into the sport and secure its future. His is a noble cause, and his fourth place finish was a wonderful one — I just so wish it could have been a squeak higher for him. I’ll admit that I cried with joy for him several times through the course of the week — but never more so than when his wife, Keiko, who lives just down the road from the Baji Koen equestrian park, was finally granted accreditation and she and Kazu were reunited.

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

Horse of the week: Don Quidam, Ferreolus Lat, and DSP Fighting Line

I love putting these team review posts together; truly, I do. ‘I want you to pick your favourite thing for each category,’ I tell the team in the group chat. ‘Really put your heart and soul into explaining why that ONE THING is special.’ Then I open the text file, put fingers to keyboard, and merrily list half the field of entries over the course of approximately 3,000 words. In the words of our lord and saviour Britney Spears, that’s my prerogative, baybay. So let’s chat horse(s)! They’re all superstars, really, but a few certainly joined my tick-list of ‘horses I’d quite like to steal without consequence.’ (This list, I should add, exemplifies a dream world in which any top-level horse will go well for me, despite the fact that most days, I ride with the competence of someone who couldn’t pick a horse out of a field of cows.) Kevin McNab’s Don Quidam has been high on that list for a long time — I adore this game, catlike little horse whose ears are always hunting out the next challenge, and although it’s always horrible to see someone relegated to the bench, I admit I did some air-punching with joy when this duo got their call-up after the first horse inspection. To see them then win a silver medal for their efforts was truly special: Don-Don helped give Kevin the accolades he’s long deserved. Two other horses who particularly caught my eye were Miloslav Prihoda’s ten-year-old Ferreolus Lat and Lea Siegl’s DSP Fighting Line. The first is a horse I’ve never seen before, which is a serious novelty to me, since I spend my life trawling from event to event. While he was one of those thrown out of contention by an activated MIMclip at 14C — the very same that cost Michael Jung the gold medal — he impressed me so much with how obviously he loves his job and his rider. At just 10, he’s learned a huge amount over the course of the week and I’ll be excited to see him — and his double-size forelock — on the pathway to Paris. I also adored Lea Siegl’s 15th-placed DSP Fighting Line, who always lives up to his name and packs a real punch out on course. I doubt he’s particularly easy to ride but he and gutsy 22-year-old Lea look perfectly suited, as though they dare one another the whole way around. In both cases, these horses represent countries well outside the ‘Big Six’ — the Czech Republic and Austria, respectively — and they’re a tangible reminder of how much higher the standard has gotten over the last few years.

MAGGIE DEATRICK

Laura Collett and London 52. Photo by Sally Spickard.

Moment of the week: Laura Collett’s dazzling clear across the country with London 52

Watching Laura Collett cross the finish line of the cross-country was a tear-inducing moment for me. She caught my attention when she made such a splash at Badminton in 2011 and I’ve kept my eye on her since. Rather than being a flash in the pan like so many of these precocious young riders who break onto the stage with a top finish at an early career five-star, Laura seemed well on her way when getting derailed by a severe cross country accident that put her in a coma for six days and destroyed her vision in one eye back in 2013. To come back and represent your country in such style, earning a team gold medal….I have no words.

Kazuma Tomoto (JPN) and Vinci De La Vigne. Photo by Sally Spickard.

Person of the week: Kazuma Tomoto (Japan)

I keep waffling back and forth between Kazuma Tomoto and Julia Krajewski. Ultimately, I am going with King Kazu, who set a goal of representing his country in their home Olympics, switched disciplines to do so, endured months and months away from his young child and wife and persisted through a pandemic to perform absolutely beautifully in all three phases . I so wanted him to get a medal but was absolutely delighted to see how thrilled he was with what can be the most painful position at the Olympics: just off the podium with a fourth place finish.

Andrew Hoy and Vassily de Lassos. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

Horse of the week: Vassily de Lassos 

Vassily de Lassos, like Amande de b’Neville, didn’t come into this competition with huge hype behind him. His dressage scores weren’t sub-25 so he wasn’t on the tip of everyone’s tongue, in the US at least. But this French-bred showed why eventing is a three phase sport (or a four phase for the Olympics) by climbing to silver on the merit of finishing on his dressage score, the only horse to do so. Just like that, the ability to finish on that first-phase score remains the centerpiece of the sport.

ABBY POWELL

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

Moment of the week: Julia Krajewski overcomes the odds to take gold

This feels like a bit of a cop out answer, but for me, it’s got to be Germany’s Julia Krajewski clinching individual gold and becoming the first female to ever do so in eventing. Despite having what can only be described as a craptastic time of things — losing two of her top mounts with the sale of Chipmunk FRH to her teammate Michael Jung (side note: imagine competing with and also against your former ride amidst this!) plus the retirement of Samurai du Thot after losing an eye, and then the devastating death of her father earlier this year — Julia found herself here at the Olympics after all on a young mare that rose to the challenge. And boy, did she put in one hell of a showing. Now, who’s buying the rights to this movie? Production companies need to get on this, stat.

Małgorzata Cybulska and Chenaro 2. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

Person of the week: Malgorzata Cybulska (Team Poland)

One of my favorite things about Olympic eventing is getting to know riders from other nations that I haven’t really heard of before because they’re not out there constantly contesting five-stars and don’t have a huge string of horses raking in results. One of those riders that stood out to me this year (though granted, there were a number of them) was Malgorzata Cybulska of Poland. She and teammate Joanna Pawlak also share the honor of being the first women to represent Poland on a senior championship team for eventing.

Not only is Gosia, as she goes by, one of the youngest in the field, but she’s also a full-time student of Psychology and, prior to the pandemic turning classes remote, commuted back and forth to Warsaw for class while balancing riding and competition. And just two years ago, she also underwent spinal surgery to reverse the damage done by a degenerative disc disease that she’d had since he was a child but had just kept powering through. Raise your hand if you can relate to sucking it up and ignoring your own body until you physically can’t anymore! Tilly wrote a short feature on her after the dressage, so make sure you catch that too.

With a technical elimination and losing a stirrup about halfway through the course, Gosia unfortunately didn’t have the cross-country round she had hoped for, but she was able to regroup and, under the new rules, complete the competition. Hats off to you, Gosia.

Andrew Hoy and Vassily De Lassos. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

Horse of the week: Vassily de Lassos

It’s always hard to choose just one, but as a member of the Vassily de Lassos fan club before these Games started, I’ve got to pick him. I’ve featured Andrew Hoy and Vassily in many of our afternoon video posts, thanks to Andrew’s dedicated use of his helmet cam, and every time I write one of those posts and check up on how the pair finished the relevant competition I’m just blown away by their competition record, as they turn in fast times and clear jumping rounds time and time again. Like any event horses, dressage has been Vassily’s weakest phase (though it’s still quite respectable indeed and absolutely nothing to spurn) but he’s getting better and better and you can tell by their scores that Andrew is putting the training in. The horse is an FOD (finish on dressage score) freak and he and Andrew proved that they can deliver those clear clean rounds even on the biggest stage. Watch out world — this horse is only 12 years old and I think there’s lots more to come from him yet.

 

SALLY SPICKARD

Canada’s Colleen Loach and Qorry Blue d’Argouges. Photo by Sally Spickard.

Moment of the week: Colleen Loach Completes Her Second Olympics

I’m going to go a bit off key here as I think the rest of the team has well covered the epic nature of moments like Julia’s individual gold and Laura’s triumph with London 52. Colleen Loach flies a bit under the radar here in the U.S., quietly collecting results and qualifications while staying mostly away from the spotlight that surrounds some of her counterparts. It’s no secret that Canadian eventing is a bit of a mess at the moment, and I can’t imagine the potential distraction that must come with not only disorganization on the federation front but also gossip on the internet front. Colleen put all of this chatter behind her and focused on her goal: a top 20 finish in her second Olympics. While she didn’t quite meet this goal, I personally wouldn’t classify it as the failure she described it as. I really enjoyed watching Colleen from the sidelines all week long as she focused solely on Qorry Blue D’Argouges and giving him the best rides she could. He was among the freshest I saw finishing the cross country on Sunday — no small feat on that track, in that weather — and I hope she knows how much her head-down-hard-work attitude really inspires me and probably countless others.

My only regret is to not have caught Mint’s beautiful hair at the first jog!

Person of the week: Arinadtha Chavatanont Handles a Down Weekend with Class

I’ll remember my brief chats with Thai rider Arinadtha Chavatanont for a long time to come. ‘Mint’ was given the unenviable task of being the first rider down the centerline and the first rider out of the start box in her very first Olympic Games, where her country had fielded a team for the very first time. Not only does her horse, Boleybawn Prince, seem like an absolute gem, Arinadtha herself is also full of class and despite her not having the weekend she wanted, she handled her disappointment with grace. After getting into a car accident shortly after the 2018 Asian Games, Arinadtha was out of the saddle for some time, giving her a less than ideal lead-up to the Olympics. In fact, she only returned full-time to training in France earlier this year. In spite of this, she emphasized that taking proper care of her horse (which includes loads of bananas) was her biggest priority. Mint was also the only female rider of Asian descent competing in Tokyo this weekend — and her beautiful blue/purple hair made her difficult to miss! — and watching her gave a little stir to my dream of riding for Korea, which has lain dormant for several years now.

Vinci de la Vigne: “Wow, you’re all here for me??” Photo by Sally Spickard.

Horse of the week: Vinci de la Vigne Steals My Heart

One of my favorite parts of the trot-ups at a three-day is watching the horses come in, curiously wide-eyed at the surroundings that must just look so strange through a horse’s eyes. Vinci de la Vigne is one horse that really stole my heart, not only in four solid performances for Japanese rider Kazuma Tomoto but also in the 12-year-old Selle Francais gelding’s pure fascination with the jog strip and the people gathered, presumably to watch him strut his stuff. I think you can tell a lot about a horse’s overall happiness and engagement through their level of curiosity about their surroundings, and using that as a marker it’s clear that ‘Vince’ has a lot of love for life.

LESLIE WYLIE

Julia Krajewski: your new eventing individual gold medalist! Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

Moment of the week: Julia Krajewski becoming the first female Olympic eventing champion

While equestrian sport likes to pat itself on the back for its equal playing field, systemic gender inequality still exists. It wasn’t until the 1964 Games — which, coincidentally, were also held in Tokyo — that the eventing competition was even contested by a woman. That year, Lana duPont rode her Maryland-bred Thoroughbred, Mr Wister, to a podium finish, having helped the USA to a team silver medal. Now women are welcome but still underrepresented at the top echelons of the sport; of this year’s 63 Olympic eventing starters, 35% were female compared to 65% male. Julia overcame innumerable obstacles and heartbreaks on her path to the top step of the podium, among them breaking another glass ceiling to prove that prove that a woman can wear eventing gold.

Switzerland’s Robin Godel and Jet Set. Photo by Sally Spickard.

Person of the week: Robin Godel (Team Switzerland)

After Robin Godel’s Olympic mount Jet Set was euthanized following cross-country day at Tokyo, the 22-year-old Swiss eventer exhibited incredible maturity even as he came under inevitable public evisceration. Losing the horse you love is every equestrian’s nightmare; having to experience such a tragedy while in the limelight of the sporting world’s brightest stage must be indescribably difficult. Yet Robin continued forward, cheering on his teammates ringside. Thank you, Robin, for your outstanding example of sportsmanship and grace.

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

Horse(s) of the week: Amande de b’Neville, Toledo de Kerser, Vassily de Lassos & Absolute Gold

The Olympic format of two show jumping rounds, combined with the sweltering Tokyo heat, stretched the stamina of these equine athletes to the absolute brink. If they came into the first jumping round looking a little gassed from the day before, the second round left no weakness unexposed, making the third phase of this Olympics hugely influential. Only four of the top 25 horses that came back for the individual round left all the rails in the cups both times — the top three from the podium (Amande de b’Neville, Toledo de Kerser, Vassily de Lassos) and sixth-placed Nicolas Touzaint’s Absolute Gold. Of these, the only one who jumped clear with no time both rounds was Vassily de Lassos. All four horses deserve applause for rising above not just out of physical endurance, but also an incredible show of heart.

Tokyo 2020 Olympics: WebsiteLatest NewsEN Olympic Digest Newsletter SignupEN’s InstagramEN’s Twitter, EN’s Coverage, The Ultimate Guide to Tokyo, The Form Guide: Team Edition, The Form Guide: Rider Edition

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