After attaining the goal of a lifetime, sending one of her Spanish dressage horses not only to the London but also the Rio Olympics, Z’Scoop caught Kim during a moment of post-Brazil calm to explore what it takes to actually be in the Olympics. When at first she didn’t succeed convincing the U.S. Equestrian team, the Spanish Equestrian team came courting, accepting both her horse Grandioso and rider Daniel Martin Dock.
Z’Scoop’s Kim Coston explores that right combination of talent and training it takes to be an Olympian.
KC: What are some of the challenges of having your horse compete at the Olympics?
KB: Equine athletes are like human athletes. As their bodies age, it limits their abilities to perform. Grand Prix horses for dressage in particular have a lot of maintenance. A veterinarian team maintains joint and soft tissue health, back, all other areas that need care.
Grandioso had an acute injury in a truck early this year, requiring small surgery that put the prospect of the Rio Olympics at risk. He tore the manica flexoria that surrounds the tendon. Luckily, the surgery was successful, timing worked out just right and he was able to get great qualifying scores, enough to put him back on the team.
KC: How stiff is the competition and how good does the horse have to be?
KB: To go to the Olympics you have to be in the top 4 in your own country in Grand Prix scoring. Most of the medals are won by certain countries: Germany, the Netherlands, and Great Britain. For other countries to even go to the Olympics and be ranked with the top 40-50 horses in the world is a real honor.
Then, at the end of the qualifying season within 6 weeks of the Olympics, there are two crucial shows where everyone has to compete against each other: Chio in Aachen, Germany, which is like a smaller version of an equestrian Olympics; and Nation Championship, this year in Valencia.
Grandioso proved he was in the top four by the end of Aachen. He’s been on the Spanish team for every Championship since the 2012 London Olympics, a regular part of the Spanish Olympic Dressage Team. The field is ten horses and you have to demonstrate to teammates that you belong in that top 4. He’s also been one of the top four all these years with two European championships — the World Equestrian Games, and last Olympics, 2012.
KC: What does it really take? What is the right stuff for you, the owner to achieve having your horse and rider at the Olympics?
KB: Obviously the owner is the bank, so you have to campaign a top horse, meaning you have to pay for the best rider you can find, find a good vet team to keep the horse sound and comfortable with all the little things that go wrong, pay a trainer that trains the rider. And then of course a lot of travel, entry fees and expenses follow.
You also need a certain amount of good judgment, not just in pairing horse and rider, but a strategy: how to promote the horse, which shows to go to, is the horse ready, how to showcase the talents of the horse? These are decisions you make with your horse and rider.
KC: From a breeding standpoint, what are modern techniques, how do you hone the breed, how do you breed winners?
KB: We didn’t breed Grandioso, but we do select the best and breed the best. Olympic top-scored horses have to be physically very strong, well-muscled, well-built and well-bred. A confirmation defect usually won’t hold up in top competitions. The top horses must have extraordinary scope of movement. Every single one has something extraordinary.
KC: How important is the horse? What extra qualities do they need to qualify them to be an Olympian?
KB: The horse needs a special trainable brain that really focuses, and doesn’t worry about cameras clicking, flags or distractions. One of my top stallions, Idilio lost 30% of his ability because he was too tense in the ring. After that, they need to have that thing, that special mojo, a sparkle that when the judges see them, so even if they make a mistake, the judges like them. It’s a presence, a visual aspect, an attitude, something that makes them really special.
When Grandioso came back on the competitive scene after the 2012 Olympics, he had better scores because he was a happy horse, fresh, bouncy, happy to do the work, enthusiastic. He has that sparkle.
So now you have it: it takes that one in a million combination of owner-trainer-horse-rider to make it into the Olympics. How many do you think have what it takes?
All books are available at amazon.com. Click on title to order.
Jane Savoie’s Dressage 101
by Jane Savoie and Susan E. Hams
The Dressage Chronicles
by Karen McGoldrick
Ridden: Dressage From the Horse’s Point of View
by Ulrike Thiel and Coralie Hughes
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