"Our sport allows for approximation, and that’s a mistake", Eric Louradour
For Studforlife, the internationally-renowned trainer Eric Louradour has reviewed the jumping events of the Tokyo Olympic Games. On the schedule: the new format, drifting away from equitation and the Swedish performances.
The new format of the Olympic Games has raised many questions throughout these jumping events. What can you personally draw from it?
I personally dislike this format for three reasons. The first is the way the pairs are judged with scores reset to zero. The beauty of a championship is to see how the pairs evolve as the days go by and to observe the quality of the horses as well as the riders, who have both the physique and the mental attitude for these events. The second is that some of the riders have not had the chance to ride, or ridden only once, even though they traveled huge distances and made a lot of effort to get to Tokyo. The third is the order of the events. The best riders in the individual events are at a disadvantage and take risks by tiring their horses for the team events, even though the Swedes were unflappable in the team final. I understand that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) wants to have more emerging countries participate, to make medals 'easy' for the stronger nations, but this is not the best image for our sport. At this level, we must be ready to start and finish the course. I think that our sport allows for approximation, and that’s a mistake. When you look at other competitions, if you don't have the level, you can't compete. I don't know why, but with horses, riders always want to reach the next level and think that the horse will save the day. I think that's unfortunate and harms the image of our sport. If riders from emerging nations really want to compete in the Olympics, they need to come and compete regularly against Europeans and Americans.
Doesn't this system lead to over-preparation of the horses and question the values of our sport?
This is the risk of the highest level and I have been saying it loud and clear for a long time. Technically, the courses are getting more and more complex, and the horses are asked to be so compliant that it can lead to abuse. The sport has become technical, with high and light obstacles and that can encourage over-preparation. Also, with this kind of event, we must not forget that the obstacles are impressive and extraordinary, and that is what is so fabulous about the Olympic Games - but they cause the horses to flinch. We had the example with the sumo obstacle during the individual qualifying event. These two facts combined can lead to over-preparation.
Grégory Wathelet and Nevados S (Calvados Z) at the obstacle dressed as a sumo wrestler, which was either located at the landing or at the take-off stride, frightening many horses. © FEI/Christophe Tanière
Do you think that we are moving towards equestrian sports being withdrawn from the Olympic Games?
Yes, and this is due to the image that we have given our sport, not to mention the photos that have been posted on social media (editor’s note: Cian O'Connor's horse, Kilkenny, bleeding from the nose in the middle of his course or Shane Sweetnam’s Alejandro, jumping very high over the stands), even if incidents do happen. We are drifting. It is time that our industry professionals got a grip on the sport to ensure a more certain future.
Many big names have missed their Olympic Games, such as Steve Guerdat, Martin Fuchs, Daniel Deusser and Kent Farrington. What could be the reason for this?
I still think that there is a certain malaise in our sport. Today, we see great riders disappearing or having trouble finding good horses. Everything has become so obviously based on money. Increasingly it is the very rich who can afford to practice this sport at a high level while the other professionals have difficulty. We have reached such extremes that it proves how far our sport has fallen victim to exorbitant amounts of money. It makes me say when I see that Kevin Staut is not at the Games or that Penelope Leprevost does not have, in my opinion, a horse of the required level. I guess Steve Guerdat was counting on Bianca (editor’s note: who died last June from a brain tumor) for these Games but he lacked a real horse to replace her. The Covid-19 pandemic also led to the cancellation of countless competitions, and this also played a major role in the preparation before the event. When competitions resumed, the riders took part in the available competitions, including the Global Champions tour events. Once again, the horses were hard pressed, and the financial aspect took precedence.
King Edward, ridden by Henrik von Eckermann, is THE horse of these Olympic Games with its six perfect courses!
Henrik is a good rider, and his horse is exceptional. He participated in few competitions with him during the season, but he chose the right ones, which made the pair fully ready for these Games.
Peder Fredricson and All In are Eric Louradour’s favorites during these Olympic Games. © FEI/EFE/Kai Försterling
Eric Louradour’s takeaway:
"In 100 years, Peder Fredricson has become the only rider in the world to have repeated his individual silver medal with the same horse, All In (Kashmir van Schuttershof). This is where you see the greatness of the horseman that he is. He is a perfectionist and organizes the work of his horses perfectly. He is a rider apart, and that is something which keeps him away from a lot of competitions. I think he is a wonderful example and that a man like him who gives such a great image to our sport is wonderful too."
Featured photo: © FEI/Christophe Tanière