Leading Her Country Into Uncharted Territory

Aug 9, 2016 - 1:48 AM
Team Zim came out in full force to support their first Olympic equestrian at the Rio Games. Photo by Lindsay Berreth.

When most people think of Zimbabwe, they don’t think of four-star eventers. But Camilla Kruger’s changing all that.

At the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games Kruger became the first Zimbabwean equestrian in any discipline to compete at the Olympic level, and she’s holding her own in tough competition.

Kruger and Biarritz jumped around a tough cross-country course that got the best of many of the world’s top riders with no jumping penalties. More than that, she was smiling every stride.

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Camilla Kruger kept smiling the whole way around the cross-country course on Biarritz. Photo by Lindsay Berreth.

“I’m unbelievably happy,” said Kruger, 29. It was the first four-star competition for both her and “Sam The Man,” and she went in with modest goals, noting that “he’s not a Burghley horse.” She didn’t even wear a watch on course.

“It was a real Sam course,” she said. “But then when I saw riders that I really look up to having problems, I thought, ‘You’ve got nothing to prove right now. Just get the horse home. Take the alternate routes. Be safe. Be clear.’ ” 

Kruger paired up with the 10-year-old Dutch-bred Dutch Warmblood (Vancouver—Ninousch, Epilot) six years ago, and he’s been at the three-star level for two and a half years. Based in England since she was 7, Kruger lives in East Sussex, where she has a yard with 11 horses. Kruger started thinking Olympic rings two years ago, and the Fédération Equestre Internationale’s Development Program For Southern Africa has been instrumental in getting to Rio.

“It’s still early days for the two of us,” she said. “He’s a quiet horse, pretty cool, and very special, but he’s really green still.

“[The FEI] set up a Southern Africa solidarity scheme to develop southern African countries like Kenya, Zambia, Malawi and South Africa within equestrian sports,” she said. 

The FEI helped hook her up with coach and chef d’equipe Darrell Scaife for Team Zim.

“He believed in me and saw some talent in me and said ‘Maybe three years from now we can get you to the Olympic Games,” she said.

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Camilla Kruger showed plenty of Zimbabwe pride with a patriotic tailcoat and helmet. Photo by Lindsay Berreth.

With a goal of Tokyo 2020, Rio was an added bonus, and Kruger’s taking advantage of every moment. She broke out in tears during the Opening Ceremonies, joining the other 24 countrymen at the Games. Her national pride is obvious, with her country’s bright colors decorating her tailcoat and helmet. Though she lives in Britain, she travels to her home country several times a year, helping friends with their horses and visiting family.

A huge contingent from both Zimbabwe and England came to cheer on Kruger, including her grandmother, sisters, boyfriend and friends. They’ll be excited to see her show jump tomorrow with Sam The Man, who pulled up well after a testing cross-country track.

“He’s perky and cheeky, and he’s already been throwing water at us and knocking over buckets. He’s really happy for tomorrow.

“One day events he does incredibly well, and he’s usually clear,” she continued. “But three days are still our weakness. He comes out a bit lacking confidence when he’s tired, so tomorrow is going to be hard work. Right now my aim is to complete, and then work to get ready for Tokyo.”

Mollie Bailey and Lindsay Berreth are on the ground in Rio de Janeiro for the Chronicle and will be reporting with all the news, fantastic photos and behind-the-scenes details all posted on www.coth.com. Your go-to page for all things Olympic is http://www.chronofhorse.com/2016-Olympics

We’ll have live blogs of competition sessions, Twitter updates, blogs, photo galleries, stories about each day’s competition and so much more. Don’t miss a thing—we’ll have everything you need to know. Also make sure to follow along on the Chronicle’s social media outlets: FacebookTwitterInstagram and Snapchat (@chronofhorse).

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