On The Road To Tokyo 2020, Japan's Dressage Team Is One To Watch

Feb 24, 2020 - 11:20 AM

Wellington, Fla.—Feb. 23

Seven years ago, when Christoph Koschel began giving dressage clinics in Japan and training several of the country’s riders, the role was unaffiliated with the Japan Equestrian Federation. That all changed in April 2019, when the federation hired Koschel to be the national team trainer ahead of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

“Dressage is not very big in Japan, but the people who are doing dressage are quite good professionals,” said Koschel, 43, of Germany. “The problem sometimes is that they don’t have the possibility to show enough and really get the experience against European and U.S. riders, to really compare themselves and get out of the country.

“Nowadays, they have good sponsors,” he added. “All the sport riders are based in Europe, so most of the horses are based in Europe, and that also really helps their career and experience.”

Japan has 20 registered dressage riders at the Fédération Equestre Internationale level, seven of whom accompanied Koschel to Wellington to undergo intense training at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival, a build-up to their Olympic qualifiers in Europe.

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Christoph Koschel stands ringside at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival in Wellington. Tori Repole Photo

“I really have to say it was a great idea to come [to Wellington],” said Koschel. “I think it’s a great opportunity for all these guys to show here, and I really wanted that as a team trainer; that they all come over and perform several times in a row. That gives them so much experience, and I think it’s a top preparation for the season, coming up with our official qualifiers in Europe.

“There’s no place in the world where you can ride in such a short time with so many different CDIs,” he added. “This is what the Japanese people need. They need mileage in the show ring, and some of them had new horses, and you can’t get better mileage than in Wellington; you don’t have to travel. In winter, in Europe, it’s very hard to do several CDIs because of the weather conditions, and you always have to travel far.”

Masanano Takahashi and Kiichi Harada, two of Japan’s leading dressage riders, attended the ADGF with Koschel in previous years, but this season, Satomi Ishikuri, Masahiro Kosaka, Ryunosuke Kuroda, Akane Kuroki and Kazuki Sado made the commute for the JEF’s first team training camp in Wellington.

“We are really creating a team now,” Koschel said. “It’s a very intense time [in Wellington]. “For us together as the athletes and trainer, we talk a lot, and we can really prepare for the coming season in Europe. In a very good way, I’m lucky to have such a small country like Japan, but they have several really good riders now, so we have not only three or four, but seven or eight.”

In Wellington, Takahashi, 38, finished second in the CDI3* Grand Prix, earning 70.87 percent with the 17-year-old Rheinländer gelding Rubicon Unitechno (Rubin Royal OLD—Larissa, Larome). Kuroki, 31, debuted the 16-year-old Dutch Warmblood stallion Zuidenwind 1187 (OO-Seven—Serendy, Jazz) in the CDI3* Grand Prix, where they finished fifth on a score of 67.69 percent. Harada, 47, picked up two victories with the 17-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding Egistar (Cabochon–Gudaula, Kaiserstern xx), winning the CDI3* Grand Prix on Thursday and the CDI3* Grand Prix freestyle on Friday.

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“He’s a super nice character,” Christoph Koschel said of Kiichi Harada’s mount Egistar. “Super quiet at home. You take the reins, and he’s full power, and you give him the rein, and you can hack him through the Everglades, so that’s quite fun.” Tori Repole Photo

“For sure, I’m really happy with that result,” said Koschel. “I saw in the training that it worked out well, and it’s always a different story to get that into the ring. I’m very proud, as a trainer when you can bring it into the ring that fast. They’re really disciplined; they’re really willing to learn; they’re great horse people, and at the end of the day, that helps. This weekend, for sure, was fantastic. Sometimes you also need a little bit of luck that it works like that right away, but they worked hard, and now we have the harvest.”

Koschel began training Harada in 2015, and he accompanied him to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, where Harada represented Japan as an individual.

“His English is still a little poor, but he’s really listening when we do the lessons, and he really understands, and that makes it easier for sure,” Koschel said. “He’s very willing, he really wants to learn, and he’s really following my advice.

“He’s also riding different horses; he has a good feeling in the saddle,” added Koschel. “He’s a professional in Japan; he has his own stables. So, a great experience for him, winning the Grand Prix and the freestyle. He worked hard for it.”

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Christoph Koschel and Japan’s national dressage team are on the road to Tokyo 2020. Tori Repole Photo

After Wellington, Japan’s national team will head to Europe for three Olympic qualifiers: in Hagen (Germany), Compiègne (France) and Aachen (Germany). As the host nation, Japan automatically receives an Olympic berth, but each rider has to fulfill their minimum eligibility requirements (scoring at minimum 66 percent twice) before they can field a team.


Be sure to check out the March 9 print edition of the Chronicle for more from AGDF, and follow along online with all of our coverage. Be sure to follow us on social media: Twitter I Instagram I Facebook I COTH Podcast

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