Wednesday, Jul. 24, 2024

Amateur Showcase: Singapore’s First Olympic Equestrian Is Spending Her Winter Stateside

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Caroline Chew is many things: An attorney, an Olympian, a groundbreaking Singaporean athlete and, for this winter at least, a part-time Floridian.

Chew, who normally lives and works in London, has temporarily relocated to her firm’s Washington, D.C., office so that she can compete on the Wellington, Florida, circuit for the first time this winter. Currently ensconced in the Florida sunshine are her longtime partner Tribiani, the now-19-year-old gelding she named after Joey from NBC’s “Friends” when she got him in 2015, and his heir apparent, 14-year-old Grand Prix veteran Blue Hors Zatchmo, with whom she made her competitive debut at this year’s Adequan Global Dressage Festival.

With “Joey,” Chew has traveled the world representing Singapore, including at the 2018 World Equestrian Games (North Carolina), as Singapore’s first Olympic equestrian at the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2021 and last year at the 2022 Blue Hors FEI World Dressage Championship (Denmark). During Week 7 of AGDF, they added another feather to their cap by scoring a new personal best of 75.93% to finish fifth in the Stillpoint Farm Nation’s Cup CDIO3* Grand Prix Freestyle on Feb. 26, and they’ve qualified to compete at the FEI World Cup Finals, April 4-8 in Omaha, Nebraska.

“He’s feeling great, he loves it, and he’s a great competitor,” said Chew.

CarolineChew.Tribiani.EditorialWEB.3G7M8073©susanjstickle.com.

Caroline Chew and her 19-year-old Tribiani, with whom she’s competed at two world championships and one Olympic Games, posted a new personal best score during their first season in Wellington, Fla. Susan J. Stickle Photos

Chew teamed up with the Norwegian Warmblood gelding (Solos Landtinus, Millie Mogelvang—Michellino) eight years ago, while she was in law school. With the help of her trainers, Matthew Frost and Adam Kemp, she found Joey at Blue Hors while looking for a small tour horse with whom she could qualify for and compete at the Southeast Asian Games. He exceeded all expectations—and has a personality to match his talent.

“Joey’s like a ‘too cool for school’ teenager,” Chew said. “He wants to know he’s the best, but he doesn’t necessarily want you to be around all the time. He wants the attention, but he doesn’t want to ask for it.”

At 19 years old, Joey has yet to show signs of slowing down. In preparation for the future, however, Chew’s parents bought the 14-year-old Oldenburg stallion Blue Hors Zatchmo (Blue Hors Zack—Fiesta’s Girl, Donnerhall II), previously campaigned at the CDI5* level by Danish riders Agnete Kirk Thinggaard and Nanna Skodborg Merrald, last year for her to compete alongside Joey.

“I think he’s a bit like a very good-natured overgrown child,” Chew said of new partner “Mo.” “He’s quite messy and he spills his food everywhere. I mean he’s like super sweet, he loves attention, he doesn’t act like a stallion at all. He’s quieter than Joey, but he’s like permanently covered in shavings or dirt or food. One of those three things.”

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Chew and Mo made their competitive debut on U.S. soil at Adequan Global Dressage Festival 3 CDI3* held Jan. 25-29, where they earned a 68.26% in the Grand Prix.

CarolineChew.BluHorsSatchmo.Editorial.3G5M3938©susanjstickle.com.

Chew and Grand Prix veteran Blue Hors Zatchmo, whom her family purchased last year, made their competitive debut together at the 2023 Adequan Global Dressage Festival (Fla.).

“He’s got loads and loads and loads of energy,” she said. “So far it’s been a lot of getting to know each other and making sure that he understands what I’m trying to tell him when I’m tapping into all that talent and power. So we’re taking it really slow and just getting to know each other.”

Competing and training in Wellington is particularly conducive to getting to know a new horse, she added.

“Florida’s great because it’s almost like a testing ground, where you can do a competition or two and then do more training, having shown. [Mo and I] didn’t compete before coming to Florida, so now we can do both, we can see how he is at competitions, understand that, then train again, and then do a few more competitions,” she said.

The Florida circuit had always been on Chew’s radar, but it didn’t make sense for her to come stateside until this year.

“I usually live in England, so Brexit has made it a little bit harder to travel to Europe than it used to be,” she said. “We were looking for a circuit where I could do bigger shows with Joey and dip our toes in the water with Mo. Florida ticked those boxes. And then the last piece was my job—I’m a lawyer, and I got a really good opportunity from work to temporarily relocate to the D.C. office.”

Chew, whose focus is antitrust law, has worked full-time at the London-based firm Freshfields for six years. The firm has a global presence and works on a cross-jurisdictional basis regularly, though its U.S. office in Washington, D.C., isn’t exactly driving distance from Wellington.

“It’s a lot of flying at the moment because I’ve been competing,” Chew said. “I’ll spend between three or four days in the D.C. office. I’ll usually fly after a competition, so usually on a Sunday. A typical training day, if it’s also a work day, will start really early, maybe at half-six [6:30 a.m.] which does work well, because that’s when it’s nice and cool here in Florida. Then I’ll just start work around 8:30-ish. I have pretty late nights sometimes, but it works.”

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Chew credits much of her competitive success to her team, both equestrian and professional.

“I love the team that I work with—they’re not just great lawyers but great teachers, and they’re very supportive of my outside commitments, so it works really well,” she said.

“My groom Rachel [Stephens] stays here throughout with the horses, and then my two coaches [Frost and Kemp] who basically fly in and out of the U.K. to either teach me or keep the horses schooled when I’m gone,” Chew said.

“We’ve worked together absolutely ages,” she added of Frost and Kemp. “I think I started riding with them 11 years ago, so we’ve got a really, really good working relationship.”

Growing up in Singapore, Chew didn’t have access to the highest level of dressage sport. However, while riders schooling Grand Prix movements are few and far between, the Singaporean dressage community is a passionate one, Chew said. In her early equestrian education, there was more of an emphasis on pony club programs and horse care rather than explicit dressage instruction.

“The highest dressage level was Prix St. Georges, so small tour-type stuff. I think if you were in that class, you’d be one of maybe like four or five people,” she said. “So it’s a growing community. I think it’s bigger now than when I was growing up, but it was difficult to even think of competing internationally let alone at the Grand Prix level.”

More is to come for both Mo and Joey. In the short term, Chew is gearing up to do this week’s CDI5* at AGDF with Joey. While nothing is set in stone, future Olympic Games and World Championships are also on Chew’s horizon.

“What I’ve learnt with campaign years is that you can plan all you want, but you need a lot of things to come together for it to pay off,” she said. “We’re taking it step by step to spare ourselves from being consumed by that pressure. But obviously, if it works out really well, and we’re in a good position, I would love to go again.”

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