Rikke Svane got quite a surprise when she phoned chef d’equipe Helle Trolle to say she’d be late to the pre-FEI World Equestrian Games boot camp for the Danish dressage team. An accident on the highway had slowed her travels to the team training session in Randbøldal (Denmark), where she was to be a second-string reserve.
But Trolle asked the 44-year-old if both she and the 16-year-old Trakehner stallion Finckenstein TSF (Latimer—Fatima XVII, Kennedy) were in top form, all for good reason: The pair would be flying to WEG.
Anna Zibrandtsen, the first reserve who subbed in when Catherine Dufour withdrew, bowed out of contention after her 13-year-old partner Arlando developed lymphangitis.
“I’ve been riding on the Danish team for five years now,” said Svane. “I’ve been doing the European championships; I was on the long-list for the 2016 Olympics, [and] I’m here now. It’s been amazing.”
Svane wasn’t in the market for a Finckenstein-type horse when the opportunity to purchase the stallion appeared 11 years ago.
“I was looking for a second horse, and my trainer at that time said, ‘I have this Trakehner for sale,’ ” said Svane. “I really like that breed, that bloodline, but I wasn’t interested in a 5-year-old breeding stallion. And then I met him.
“I went in the box; I had my hand on his shoulder, and he put his head on my shoulder and held it there. I was like, ‘I’ve got to have this horse,’ ” she continued. “He was very expensive. I said to my husband ‘I will never ask for anything if I can just have this horse.’ We ended up buying him, sold everything we had.”
As an amateur rider running a one-horse show, Svane was meticulous in planning her ascent to the top. A little bit of luck and common sense didn’t hurt either, though one thing is for certain — the longevity of her horse came first.
“I ride out a lot; we take him to the woods; we live close to a beach, and we ride in the water,” she said. “He never does nothing; he always goes in the field, in the walker or something. He’s exercised every day, but he’s only ridden three days in a row.
“Since I ride him so much, I know the minute there’s something wrong, and then it’s just walk,” she continued. “Walk for a week, then you start him back up. If [the problem] is still there, you start up again or you take him to the vet. I’ve been doing a lot of walking, but you have to keep them healthy otherwise they don’t last as long.”
Svane stepped up to FEI competition in 2012. In May 2017, they competed on their first Nations Cup team at the CDIO***** in Compiėgne (France); they finished fourth in the Grand Prix, third in the team classification and seventh in the freestyle Grand Prix.
May and July of 2018 saw their second and third team events at the CDIO**** in Uggerhalne (Denmark) and the CDIO***** in Falsterbo (Sweden), respectively.
The WEG is Fickenstein’s fourth FEI outing since October 2017.
“My horse is 16 years old; he knows his stuff,” she said. “If a mistake occurs, it would have happened anyways because he has a lot of routine.”
Fickenstein was in the first convoy of dressage horses to travel into South Carolina’s Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport on Sept. 3, before making the near hour drive to the Tryon International Equestrian Center in Mill Spring, North Carolina.
The horses got out of quarantine that Wednesday, and with humidity a factor, the team adjusted their training plans for the week.
“When we arrived here it was so hot, and you couldn’t just ride your horse for an hour,” said Svane. “If you do that the first three days then he’s done.
“We did light trotting, and we did canter [work] and gymnastics —that’s all we did the first day. The second and third day I did more collected [work], and then a day off.”
The mother of three was in good company when she touched down in Tryon. In the warm up, her daughter Rebecca Svane, though only 16, gets the first 15 minutes with the headphones before passing them on to team trainer Princess Nathalie of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg.
“[Rebecca’s] always standing there, and I look at her because she knows him better,” said Svane. “Of course, she doesn’t have the experience and cannot tell me how to do things, but she can tell me ‘shorten your reins,’ and she can see when he gets aggravated; [she’ll say] ‘Easy now. He’s fine but easy!’ which is quite nice.
“We’ve been training him together during the summer; she’s been riding and that has actually helped a lot,” she continued. “He’s actually more relaxed, and I get on the next day, and I’m like, ‘Oh, nice, you can ride again tomorrow.’ ”
On Sept. 12, the first day of dressage competition in the U.S. Trust Arena, Svane couldn’t believe she momentarily held the lead in the Heglstrand World Dressage Team Championship and individual qualification.
Sixth in the order, Svane and Finckenstein earned a score of 70.23 percent to finish overall 30th and with the second highest score on the team.
“I’m so happy that I didn’t have any major mistakes,” she said. “He was really listening to my legs, and I’m just so happy we did everything right this last week.”
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We’ll be onsite for the full two weeks of WEG to bring you all the news you need to know plus gorgeous photos and insight into the competition. Be sure to check out the Oct. 8 issue of the Chronicle for detailed analysis.