Japanese rider Hiroshi Hoketsu, who turns 71 this month, has just qualified for the Olympics in Dressage.
For Hoketsu, who is now based in Germany, this is old hat. He’s already competed in two prior Olympics. His first was the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, where he competed in showjumping and placed 40th. The second was the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, where he competed in dressage and placed 35th in individual competition and 9th in team competition.
Had events unfolded differently (aye, there’s the rub for all of us), London might have been his fourth or fifth Olympics instead of his third. He did not compete in the 1984 Games in Los Angeles although he was selected as a substitute. He also ended up not competing in the 1988 Seoul Games, due to a quarantine issue with his horse.
But here he is, near the three-quarter century mark, ready to ride again at the Olympics.
Are you inspired yet?
Can you take even more Olympic inspiration?
Michael Matz — who trained the famed Barbaro six years ago — may have another Kentucky Derby winner on his hands.
The horse named “Union Rags” is currently the Derby front-runner. He lost the Breeders’ Cup, in his trainer’s words, by “maybe two feet.” And last weekend, he won the $400,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park, with an impressive four-length victory.
You may find it comforting to know that we ordinary riders and trainers have something in common with a superstar trainer of superstar horses. It turns out that we aren’t the only ones busy questioning ourselves and what we do. Matz, an extraordinary rider and trainer by any measure, does it too.
“You never know after a four-month rest. Do you have the horse fit enough? Did you do this? Did you do that?,” he said. “You ask yourself 51 questions.”
The first woman to achieve Olympic gold in Dressage, Liselott Linsenhoff is the mother of Ann Kathrin Linsenhoff, who is one of the owners of Totilas and stepmother to his current rider, Matthias Alexander Rath.
Watching this, would you think that Piaff stood just shy of 16 hands? The performance, which was taped in Vienna in 1972, show the relaxation and maturity of both horse and rider (Piaff was 14 and Linsenhoff was 45 years old at the time).
The daughter of a German industrialist, Linsenhoff never feared financial insecurity if she didn’t make it to the top. It’s clear she wanted her success to be acknowledged and that brought her to the Olympics. But she wasn’t after success at any price. In 1975, after she moved to Switzerland, the German authorities instituted proceedings to recover an unpaid tax liability of 30 million German marks. Rather than subject herself to being judged on an international stage, she abandoned her plans to compete in the 1976 Montreal Olympics, and retired.
What a shame that her daughter’s stepson doesn’t have the same freedom. After seeing this video, I can only imagine that he, too, thinks about how nice it would be to retire from the world stage, at least while riding Totilas:
Attention, all you ladies who have abandoned the hunters in favor of dressage because you just don’t want to jump anymore (you know who you are and some of you are my students) — this one’s for you!
Let us now turn the clocks back to 1972. It is the year of the Munich Olympics (and coincidentally, the founding of the United States Dressage Federation). For show jumpers and eventers, it is the era of the drop noseband, as trendy as today’s flash. Dressage saddles are unadorned. Lightness in the horse is admired, as is delicacy and tact in the rider.
Jennie Loriston-Clarke of Great Britain completes an accurate test on her Trakehner-Thoroughbred gelding Kadett. Liselott Lisenhoff of Germany makes up for the deficit of brilliance on her Swedish stallion Piaff (and wins the gold medal). Elena Petushkova of the USSR rides the 16-year-old Trakehner stallion Pepel, said to be as light on his feet as eiderdown, despite the cataract in his left eye.
Do you remember Stroller and his rider Marion Coakes Mould? You may not, if you’re not of a ripe old age or have a fondness for equestrian stars of the past.
Stroller was a pony, standing 14.2h. When Marion Coakes was 14, in 1960, she spotted him at a horse show. Her father bought him for a thousand British pounds and they picked him up in a field behind a butcher’s shop.
After just four years together, the pair began an unprecedented winning streak, triumphing in 61 international competitions including the Hickstead Derby, two Ladies’ World Championships, the Queen Elizabeth II Cup (twice), and the Leading Show Jumper of the Year. With Marion aboard, Stroller tied with Alwin Schockemohle and Athlet as winner of the Puissance class at Antwerp in 1967, clearing the wall at 6’8″ and putting a brick out at 6’10”.
Have you ever felt guilty because you pushed your horse too hard? Or felt you let your horse down by not pushing him far enough, so he could show the world what he could do or simply gain in confidence?
Have you ever yanked on your horse’s face and regretted it later? Yelled at your horse? Told him or her something you wish you could take back?
Have you ever forgotten to release or just been too slow?
Have you ever walked by your horse without saying hello? Or neglected to pick feet or groom or give a wither scratch when you had time?
Sometimes, life with horses feels like a high wire act. There’s excitement, always an audience with an opinion, and everything to lose.
Those things never stopped Philippe Petit. Because the high wire was the place he nurtured his creativity.
Recently, Philippe Petit gave an interview on the Colin McEnroe show on NPR, along with Paul Winter, the musician who lives near me, and local sculptor Anne Cubberly (both of whom are inspired by animals). You can listen to the audio here (Philippe is on from 3:40 to 10:15 and the entire audio cast is about 50 worthwhile minutes).
As I listened to Petit’s words, they resonated for me as a horse trainer.
“Creativity is a very thick book that is written every day.”
“If I think that progress will come from pure repetition, I’m fooling myself.”
“The fire within comes from your heart and your brain, powered by passion.”