When Chere Burger came down centerline yesterday morning at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Caen, France, she attracted plenty of attention. Burger sat atop the only Friesian in the competition, and she served as the first rider of the first South African dressage team at a world championship.
Burger’s circuitous route to the World Games didn’t start as a childhood dream. She grew up show jumping in South Africa, where, until recently, FEI-level dressage basically didn’t exist. Burger happened to stop by a dressage show where one rider had begged for—and obtained—permission to ride an upper level test, and she found herself glued to the rail. She traded in her jumping saddle in 2005 and started riding competitively the next year. Today there are only 51 South African dressage horses registered with the Fédération Equestre Internationale.
For the last four years Burger’s been the top South African dressage rider, even though she only competed in her first international competition in 2013. She didn’t set out to come to France when she started in the sport.
“I didn’t think it would be possible,” said Burger, 32. “Not just for me, but for the team. We didn’t have the riders, the trainers or the horses. We’ve had to import all the horses. Now a lot of people have started coming to Europe to train, and we have about five or six Grand Prix riders in South Africa. Since I started we’ve made big steps.”
Burger became a Friesian advocate accidentally when she accepted a job as a stud manager at Niekie Pienaar’s Adelprag Friesian Stud, a Friesian breeding farm.
“I thought, ‘Friesians, hmm, but I’ll try,’ ” she said. “I was just out of school, and I thought I’d have to do something, and I love horses, and it’s in my town where I live. I started with them and fell in love with them. They’re such nice horses to ride, and their temperament and their willingness to work are great. I love them.
“Often [Friesians] don’t find the connection that easy, so they can struggle with the flying changes,” she continued. “The connection also, because they sometimes have a big frame that wants to be short in the neck. You really have to try to open them up a little bit.”
She found her World Games mount, 14-year-old Adelprag Anders 451 (Adel—Hanneke VD Hoogstraat, Ouke), in the Netherlands in 2012. At first she nicknamed him “Professor” because he taught her so much, taking her from her very first CDI in 2013 to the World Games. But now she just calls the stallion “My boy.”
Burger balances her time running the 80-horse stud farm in Potchefstroom, near Johannesburg, with training with Imke Schellekens-Bartels and Tineke Bartels in the Netherlands. Anders 451 stays in Europe, and Burger comes up about three weeks before a competition to train.
Burger led the charge for South Africa with her Grand Prix score of 64.92 percent. Her teammate Tanya Seymor (Ramoneur 6) was last in the ring yesterday (55.25%), and Denise Hallion (Wervelwind) and Nicole Smith (Victoria) compete today.
To qualify for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games, the South African team must beat out the Australian team, which traditionally earns the designated Group F/G slot. But if that doesn’t happen Burger will vie for an individual spot.
“[The Olympic Games] is the next step for me,” said Burger. “I’ll go all the way, as far as we can go. Never stop dreaming!”