Australian three-day eventer Andrew Hoy is in Tokyo to contest his eighth Olympic Games, this time with Vassily de Lassos (Jaguar Mail—Illusion Perdue), a 12-year-old Anglo Arab owned by David and Paula Evans.
Hoy has been competing at the top level eventing for more than 40 years, starting his international career at 18, when he first represented Australia at the World Championships in Kentucky in 1978. He’ll be looking to add another medal to his already impressive collection, which includes four World Championships, three Olympic team golds in a row and an individual silver at his home Olympics in Sydney in 2000.
We caught up with the 62-year-old to find out what keeps him motivated and in top form after four decades on the world stage.
So, your eighth Olympics. That must mean you were 6 years old when you went to Los Angeles?
I wish that was correct! I first rode in the World Championships at the age of 18.
You’ve been at the top of your game the whole time. You don’t seem to have had too many dips.
This is something I think I’ve only just started to realize: If I’m not in a World Championship team or an Olympic team, I’ve been right on the edges of being on the team. If you ask my opinion, there are two Olympics I didn’t get to that I should have been at, but it is what it is. [Hoy was not selected for the Beijing 2008 or Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games.]
I can remember my dad saying to me when I was young, “If you want to be good, make sure you place good people around you.”
He was involved in motor racing when he was young and was also an engineer. He left the city to go to the country to farm. I also only found out last year that Mum was the head of the sports team when she was at school as well. I think both of my parents were very aware of what you need to do to be successful.
Now, with my wife Stefanie, she’s equally as driven. She has her own business, and she does all the communications for my business. She calls it her “hobby.” Her hobby takes her until 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning.
It’s just so important that the people around you have the same drive and passion.
Would you still be doing it if you didn’t have those people, or do you think, being as passionate as you are, you draw those sorts of people to you anyway?
Any successful sportsman or business person will always tell you they have high moments and low moments. I’ve definitely had the low moments, but the people you have around you, they help to guide you through those moments. I tell people I help, don’t worry about having the mistakes. The mistake is not the crime; not learning from the mistake is the crime.
In my opinion, there are three things to the learning process: First, you have to hear; second, you have to process that into a feeling; third, you have to activate it. You invariably need someone on the ground to view the activation to make sure it’s happening correctly. What we think we’re doing isn’t necessarily what happens.
Who is helping you with that the moment?
I have three coaches. I have a dressage coach, a cross-country coach and a jumping coach. The combined age for the four of us is 284! My dressage coach Dolf Keller is 65; he’s ridden at Grand Prix level, and he’s also ridden show jumpers at grand prix level. I’ve worked with him for five years. My jumping coach is Nelson Pessoa, he’s 85. [Cross-country coach Capt.] Mark Phillips is 72 and I’m 62.
And you know what? They’re all passionate. They’re passionate about the horse, about what I’m doing. They call me and ask, “How was the horse yesterday for the dressage?” The jumping coach wants to see the dressage test.
I was just in Belgium training, and Nelson was there whenever the dressage coach was teaching. He wanted to hear what he was saying. You cannot buy passion.
What sustains the interest? What’s the motivator?
I think there’s a few factors. No. 1, they’re passionate about what they do. They’re also passionate about helping people who are passionate. These people who have been successful, if they have the opportunity to work with someone who is equally as passionate as they are, then that drives them even more. If I wasn’t passionate, if I didn’t try to do what they suggested, they wouldn’t be passionate with me.
I still think, there’s something very different between those who make an Olympic team and those who are constantly on the podium. What do you think that factor is?
That’s a really good question. I always say, I’m not a good loser, it’s just that I’ve learned how to lose. If I don’t win a competition, I always look at myself first and think, what can I do better? Especially in my sport, the people who normally end up on the podium, they have an unbelievable support team. In many cases, that support team is so much involved that it’s a family.
Like the support of Vassily’s owners, David and Paula Evans. They were going to go to Tokyo, but they’re not now. They said they can’t really contribute except to give the horse a carrot and cheer at the appropriate time! But it’s just an enormous respect, trust and confidence in me as well and also in the team of people who get me there, my support staff. The Australian team has also been a great support to us. That’s what makes it all possible.
You also need to have a clear and focused mindset. I was talking to my wife the other evening about something that could happen after the Games in relation to whether we stay in England or move due to Brexit and the difficulties involved. She said, “Andrew, when you think of that, just put a big stop sign up. We have bigger fish to catch before we even think about that.” She’s exactly right. You have to clear your brain.
And what have I done during all the Olympic Games I’ve gone to? I’ve given my mobile phone to Stefanie, and she answers all calls and responds to all text messages. I take a pay-as-you-go phone, and I put in about five phone numbers of the people I want to speak to, and then my brain is clear.
This is something that I saw when I got on the bus in London to go to the venue. Everyone pulls their phones out and starts reading emails or goes on social media. I pull my phone out, see my five phone numbers, and I don’t need to call any of them because they all have the plan for the day and know what’s happening. All I need to worry about is what I have to do.
That’s the focus, isn’t it? So you’re not going to Instagram your whole trip?
Where does your mind go then? You’re working a lot of horses every day, and then you go to a Games with one horse. Do you start pacing around or get anxious?
I start to think about feelings. Like, what did I have yesterday, and what do I want to focus on today? What’s the goal for today? You start to think about it step by step.
When I go into the training camp with just one horse to work, I have to be careful to not overthink things. I can be guilty of that, and I think many achievers are. This is where it’s beneficial to have those good people around you.
It’s been tough on everyone to prepare for these Olympics. Has the extra year been beneficial or a hindrance for you personally?
For me, better. It’s given me the opportunity to focus on certain areas of the training and the development of Vassily. The fact that I’m a year older, I don’t even take that into consideration! As the presenter said on German television the other day when I was riding around Luhmühlen [Horse Trials (Germany)], 60 is the new 20.
But it comes with so much more wisdom.
Absolutely right. I’ve got greater knowledge, and the important thing is that I stay sharp and physically healthy as well.
What do you do to stay sharp in the mind and fit physically?
My children keep me mentally sharp! Having children definitely comes with its challenges, but I would never have it any other way. Last night, I was giving my daughter a bath, and I told her we had to wash her hair because tomorrow she had ballet exams, and her hair had to be nice. She didn’t want it washed, and it was a big 3-year-old meltdown.
There are some things in life you have to do even if you don’t want them done. This morning, she came into the bathroom when I was getting ready, and I asked her how her hair felt today. She was very happy about it. But she was quick to add, “Daddy you don’t have to wash your hair because you don’t have hair!”
Keeping it real! Physically, are you just riding or doing other work?
Riding all day but I’m also conscious of what I eat.
I have to say, in a way I’ve been mentally and physically exhausted recently, so I’ve taken some time to take a break from working all of the horses to just focus on Vassily and a little bit more time with the children. I finish at 17:30 and get home to have dinner with the kids. It’s a little bit like a vacation before I really have to focus.
You must be feeling good after your performance at the Luhmühlen. (Hoy finished third in the CCI 4*-S with Vassily de Lassos’ best dressage score to date and the fastest time cross-country.)
Luhmühlen was a very good barometer. There were many difficulties in going there. Just before we were meant to leave, Germany shut the borders because of COVID-19, so anyone going into Germany had to be out of the United Kingdom for 10 days prior to entering Germany. We had to literally just pack everything up and go to Belgium. In a way, it was a very good pre-Olympic campaign, because that’s also what I’m doing now: going into a bubble for 10 days. It gave me the opportunity to focus on what was needed.
Then, when I went into the competition, there were some very big players there, such as Michael Jung, Sandra Auffarth and Julia Krajewski. I knew the field was going to be very strong. For me, it’s important not to run away from those things. That’s why I moved from Australia to go to the U.K. in 1993 because that was the hub of the sport. I needed to be based where the good riders were. You always learn from watching as well.
My dressage test in Luhmühlen was very good, a personal best for the horse, but there are still parts of that I want to improve before Tokyo, which I believe is quite achievable. My ride cross-country, I was so far ahead of time, that I had to slow down in the last minute [while] everyone was really chasing to get the time. That’s where Vassily is just an exceptional horse. I was able to just focus on the lines I needed to ride and the speed I needed to ride, and there wasn’t one bad jump. Then his show-jumping round was just exceptional as well.
Vassily de Lassos is just an exceptional horse in the fact that, since he started his international career, he’s had a total of 7 seconds outside the time and a total of two rails down in the show jumping.
I am the only one who rides Vassily. I don’t allow anyone else to sit on him. I think we’ve just developed this wonderful, wonderful partnership because it’s like any relationship; you have to spend time with that person—or horse, in this case—and you have to respect the other partner. It’s all about respect but also I have to be the leader.
With that, I’ve got a great saying that was given to me by one of the greatest dressage judges in the world. She said, “Andrew, what goes on in the brain goes down the rein.” We can all hide our feelings with people, but when it comes to touch, you can’t hide.
The lack of competitions has been tough on you guys leadings up to this and the uncertainty around whether shows are going to be on or canceled.
Ian Chesterman [Chef de Mission of the Australian team] said a few months ago, “Control the things you can control, and don’t worry about the things you can’t.” I think this is really important. I’m a control freak, but you have to know when to hang on and when to let go. Sometimes we make huge commitments and for whatever reason, you have to let go of it.
Does it get easier in that start box at the Olympics or always as nerve-racking?
I’ll let you know!