Show jumping takes over the Baji Koen Equestrian Park today as the final equestrian sport in the Tokyo Olympic Games.
All four U.S. horses passed the first horse inspection, held July 31, and the show jumpers have had their first chance to school in the stadium. Speaking at a press conference Monday, team members Kent Farrington, Laura Kraut, Jessica Springsteen, McLain Ward and chef d’equipe Robert Ridland discussed their experiences in Tokyo thus far.
While Farrington, Kraut and Ward are Olympic veterans, this is Springsteen’s first championship appearance. She will ride Don Juan Van De Donkhoeve, a 12-year-old Belgian Sporthorse she paired up with in mid-2019.
“For me and ‘Don,’ we’ve really been able to build on our partnership over the last year,” Springsteen said. “When it came time for the selection events, I felt confident in how far we’ve come. I felt a lot more prepared, and that was great, and just to be selected to this team, with riders that I’ve looked up to throughout my career, is a huge honor for me, and it’s great to be here.”
Ward, who will be riding Contagious in his fifth Olympic Games, said he thought having an extra year to prepare was incredibly influential on who made the U.S. team.
“I don’t want to speak out of turn, but Laura just started riding her horse, getting him earlier this season; Jessie’s horse was a little bit greener last year, and it was a new combination,” Ward said. “Last year may have been a different team that you were looking at here. Kent is very experienced with his mare and probably would have been on the team last year, and my horse was coming back from an injury last year, so he certainly wouldn’t have been here. So, for this particular team, a lot changed. I think that, as we’re dealing with the world today and COVID and this pandemic, this group and the people behind us—our teams, supporters, staff and the federation—have really been moving on the fly and making decisions and being flexible, and that’s allowed us to be here at the Olympic Games and, as horse-and-rider combinations, be ready for this moment.”
Farrington will be competing at his second Olympics with his seasoned partner Gazelle.
“The reality is that we’ve all worked hard to be here, and it was difficult with a year delay,” he said. “I’ve brought a seasoned horse who is 15 years old, but one of the best competitors in the sport and I’m looking forward to the event with her and think she has a good chance. And as McLain also said, it’s a great team of people to be here with and looking forward to Tokyo.”
Kraut has competed at two previous Games and has a team gold from 2008, but her partnership with Baloutinue is the newest on the squad. She got the 11-year-old Hanoverian from Adam Prudent in April.
“He’s an exciting horse for me,” she said. “He’s a bit of a mix between a Thoroughbred that I love to ride and Cedric, my best horse. He’s got all the scope; he’s brave; he’s careful and he’s got all the energy to handle the heat here, so I’m very excited to see what he can do.”
Because the show jumpers were already in Europe to compete in selection events abroad, their horses had a little less travel immediately before the Games than their American teammates from other sports. Like the other teams, they quarantined in Aachen, Germany, before flying to Tokyo. Farrington felt that the extensive travel their horses do on a yearly basis is beneficial.
“I think a well-traveled horse is like a well-traveled person,” he said. “They’re used to the process, and it’s like getting on a truck, though I would say it’s easier on the horses because it’s just one steady ride the whole way. She has so much experience that she comes off the plane ready to go. As a person that travels a lot, it doesn’t really affect her at all, and she could come right off the plane and compete right away.”
While these Games will be quite different from previous ones, the team was complimentary of the Baji Koen Equestrian Park, and it doesn’t take away from the excitement.
“Every Olympics has their own sort of special qualities and things that you take home and remember about them, and this one for sure will be remembered by this situation with COVID,” Kraut said. “But also, I think that we all would agree that they’ve done a fantastic job making this one of the best facilities ever. The horses are comfortable. The stabling, footing—just across the board, as good as it can be—and I think when you have good footing, good jumps and good circumstances, that we’ll have great competition.”
“I think I was Jessie’s age at my first Games,” Ward added, “and it was certainly a different experience and a different point of view, but certainly just as exciting in a different way. Each Games, as Kent and Laura touched on, has a different experience, different scenarios, and how blessed [I am] to have gotten to experience so many of them.”
Like all the horse sports, the show jumping will have a different format this year, with the individual competition running before the team one. Ridland said that he’s looking forward to seeing how the new format unfolds.
“It’s something that we’re not used to, and surprises may come up, but I think, from the point of view of the PR for the sport and for new viewers who may have been slightly confused by drop scores in the past, it’s similar to many of the sports that we’ve been watching,” Ridland said. “Of course, we’ve been here for a week watching many of the other sports, and when a mistake happens, usually you pay for it, and so certainly that will be the case here. We’re prepared for it and looking forward to it.”
The individual qualifier kicks off the competition on Tuesday, Aug. 3 in Tokyo at 7 p.m. local time, 6 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time and can be watched on NBC’s Olympic livestream. Springsteen will be the first American and is 49th in the order. Farrington is 59th, and Kraut jumps 66th in the order. Ward will serve as the reserve.