Friday, Mar. 1, 2024

Throwback Thursday: Julia Krajewski Lives An Olympic Fairy Tale In Tokyo

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German eventer Julia Krajewski, who became the first woman to win Olympic individual eventing gold at the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2021, has announced the retirement of her partner in that historic performance. 

Amande De B’Neville, a 14-year-old Selle Français mare (Oscar Des Fontaines—Perle De B’Neville, Elan De La Cour) that Krajewski co-owns with Bernd Heicke, will be retired to breed due to a hoof issue, the rider announced Dec. 24 on Instagram.

“Since a while Mandy has been dealing with a hoof issue (I won’t go into more detail), which in itself is not very dramatic, but simply didn’t improve as we hoped since then, despite all sort of approaches in treatment,” Krajewski wrote. “While it does not make her uncomfortable in normal life, there is a risk that it might get way worse when the pressure of performance is put on.” 

After winning gold in Tokyo, Krajewski and “Mandy” went on to secure individual silver and help Germany win team gold at the 2022 FEI World Eventing Championships in Pratoni Del Vivaro, Italy. It would be the mare’s final international performance. 

“[W]hile I am very sad that I will not feel her incredible power, clever mind, scopey jump and sheer determination, which then sometimes peaked into this unreal connection I felt in Tokyo or Pratoni at the last day,” Krajewski wrote in her Instagram post, “again, I am very much at peace with the decision to retire her now and hopefully have some nice foals from her in the future.”

Today, we take a look back at the pair’s historic Olympic win. This article first appeared in the Aug. 23 & 30, 2021, issue of The Chronicle of the Horse.


Julia Krajewski and Amande De B’Neville earned individual Olympic eventing gold in Tokyo. Shannon Brinkman Photography Photo

It hadn’t been Julia Krajewski’s year, to put it lightly.

Over the winter, her father and biggest supporter Paul Krajewski died. Then in March, her top horse and partner for team silver at the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games (North Carolina), Samourai Du Thot, officially went into early retirement at just 15 after losing an eye from an infection. And as she retired “Sam,” she also was watching countryman and Tokyo teammate Michael Jung campaign Chipmunk FRH, a horse she brought up the levels but who was sold out from under her saddle in late 2019. 

“I thought the Olympics would happen without me, and that was fine,” she said. “It was the plan originally that Sam would be my No. 1 horse to go. First it was uncertain, and then it was sure he wouldn’t go. I thought, ‘I’m off the plan and not really a chance for me to go.’ But always with horses, you keep moving on and make new plans. 

“There were some difficult personal things going on,” Julia continued. “My father died, which was very hard for me, and something that still comes up every now and then because he was always a massive supporter, the first one who would text or call or take the videos of the shows. I had to be OK and get myself together and keep pushing. I just enjoy riding horses, bringing them up, whether it’s young horses, older horses—it just keeps me going.”

In addition to her young horses, Julia had Amande De B’Neville, or “Mandy,” an 11-year-old Selle Français mare (Oscar Des Fontaines—Perle De B’Neville, Elan De La Cour) she owns with Bernd Heicke, in her stable. 

When she started the season, Julia assumed Mandy would be too green for Germany’s Olympic team selection. But she decided to enter her in the CCI4*-L in Saumur, France, in late April. 

“I always had the plan to go to Saumur with Mandy to do the four-star long because I wanted a bit more challenging course, and it’s well known that the cross-country there is tough enough, and you know where you stand with your horse after,” she said. “She was so good and sort of won it easily. I thought, ‘Something might be possible this year.’ ” 

After Mandy’s win there, Julia was named to the German team longlist with her, and she felt for the first time that maybe she could dream about a spot in Tokyo. After finishing fifth in the CCI4*-S in Luhmühlen, Germany, they were named to the team. 

“You always think with this tiny bit of hope that you might end up at the Olympics and with luck you might win a medal. But you always think it’s so unlikely to happen,” she said. “Then it suddenly happens.” 

After a nearly perfect weekend—the pair added 0.4 cross-country time penalties and 0.4 show jumping time penalties to their dressage score—Julia won individual gold at the Olympic Games held in Tokyo, July 29-Aug. 2, 2021. In doing so, she became the first woman to win Olympic individual gold in eventing. 

“I really didn’t know that no female had never won gold. Because of all the great ladies in our sport I thought someone must have done it,” she said. “First of all, I think it’s about time. It’s fitting in the time we’re in right now. It doesn’t matter where you come from or whatever else, I think everything is possible, and everyone who has a dream and a passion should go for it. Nothing can really hold you back if you really want to go for it and work hard for it.” 

Ups And Downs

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Julia, now 32, started riding as a child growing up in Germany, and despite not being from a horsey family—both her parents were scientists—she found she had a talent for it. Though she started in dressage, her first serious pony, Cyrano 89, preferred jumping, so she took up eventing. In 2002, she won team gold and individual silver at the European Pony Championships (Germany) with him, then went on to the win team gold two years in a row (2005 and 2006) at the European Junior Championships with Leading Edge 2. 

“Both my parents, they really gave everything they had, time and financially, for me and my sisters to be able to ride,” Julia said. “I think it’s been quite something for them to do. They could have gone on quite some more holidays and had an easier life, but they chose to support us. They really gave us everything.” 

Next she inherited the ride on Lost Prophecy, the horse who would take her to her first European Young Rider Championships, three-star and four-star events, from her sister Greta Krajewski. By 2015, Julia was competing several horses at the top levels, including a young Chipmunk and Sam, but she refused to work as a professional rider. 

“There’s no family stable or anything I could go to,” she said. “I was asked by our federation when I left school if I’d come to our national stable in Warendorf and train to become a pro. I wasn’t really convinced. I went through the training program we have for young athletes, but it was always important for me to do something else next to it.” 

Julia earned her German coaching certificate and served as Germany’s national coach for under-18 riders, but until 2020 she kept her other job—working half days in the federation’s office—as a safety net. 

In the meantime, she was moving up the ranks of the eventing world, contesting her first five-star with Sam at Luhmühlen in 2016 and placing third, which earned them the traveling reserve spot on the 2016 Rio Olympic Games team. They were called in there but served as drop score for the silver medal-winning German squad after picking up three stops on cross-country. 

The next year, they returned to Luhmühlen and won it. In 2018, Julia was named to the German team for the FEI World Equestrian Games in North Carolina on Chipmunk after winning the Bramham CCI4*-L (Great Britain) on a score of 19.4, but in Tryon a run-out on cross-country meant they finished 39th individually and dropped Germany out of medal contention. 

Then in early 2019, Julia lost the ride on Chipmunk when an owner, Hilmer Meyer-Kulenkampff, didn’t renew his contract with her. Gold medalist and Rolex Grand Slam winner Michael Jung got the ride. 

“Today is a very sad day as Chipmunk FRH is leaving us to go to his new home,” Julia wrote in an Instagram post at the time. “After [six] very successful years together the contract I had with the owner expired, was not renewed for personal reasons of the owner (which I can understand), and it was decided to sell Chipmunk, so after some very emotional [months] I now ultimately lost the ride on this very special horse.” 

But the whole time, Julia was bringing along Mandy. She got the horse at 6 after she’d done some show jumping in France, and she brought her up the levels, riding her at her first CCI2*-S in 2016 then her first CCI4*-L in late 2020. 

“She has always been, and still is, a very motivated horse,” said Julia. “She always wants to work; she’d rather give 120 percent than too little effort. She’s always been a huge jumping horse, so that was never the worry—that she doesn’t have the scope or put in the effort—but it’s really taken several years to really channel her enthusiasm.” 

Dressage wasn’t as easy for the mare as the jumping phases, and she had some setbacks through the years. 

“She’s had her fair share of little ups and downs,” said Julia. “When she was 7, she got stuck in the walker and got a hock injury, then she had a tooth infection a couple of years later—just some things that kept her off the road. It was probably the reason she hasn’t made it into the top ranks and maybe also that the selectors didn’t have her quite as high yet. Over last year and in the beginning of this year, I felt she’d stepped up a lot, and there might be something big coming.” 

Over the winter Julia rode in a clinic with British eventing legend William Fox-Pitt, and he confirmed her thinking that the horse was something special. 

“Afterwards he said, ‘This horse is going to win you something really big.’ That was something really cool for me to hear because it was the first time someone else said something like that. It really stuck with me and was very encouraging to hear. So, thanks for that, William,” she said with a laugh. 

And after their win in Saumur and good placing in Luhmühlen, the German selectors also were seeing what Fox-Pitt had seen. When Julia was named to the squad, she moved into team quarantine and training, but she didn’t have to go far. 

“The quarantine was at Warendorf, so she had to move one stable,” said Julia. “Maybe 20 meters to the left was the quarantine stable. It was, for me, cool because I could continue riding my other horses and at the same time prepare with Mandy. We try to prepare them like every other competition—some jumping, some cross-country, and the dressage test I found kind of difficult. Then she traveled super good. She’s never flown before, but she has done some trips around Europe in the lorry. She’s always super calm and not a horse who gets excited quickly over things. She arrived super, and she’s really cool at shows; she’s very settled in herself and always eating and drinking, so you know she’s not stressed.” 

“It was always a really good atmosphere in Tokyo,” she added. “It was hugely experienced riders, and everyone is very behind the other ones. It was a really comfortable team environment.” 

Julia emphasized there aren’t any hard feelings between her and Jung, who had Chipmunk in Tokyo and placed eighth individually after triggering a frangible pin on cross-country. 

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“I got used to it,” she said. “He’s been with me and had great success, and he was well loved in the stable, but it’s been 2 1⁄2 years, and it’s fine. He’s going super well; he’s really developed with Michi, and it’s good to see him well.” 

The Week That Was

Julia and Mandy started their competition in Tokyo sitting in fourth individually, with Germany in the top team position, after dressage. On cross-country, they moved up to second, though Germany dropped out of medal contention after Sandra Auffarth had a run-out on Viamant Du Matz and Jung picked up his 11 frangible pin penalties. 

“Overall, it was super good,” Julia said after cross-country. “She was a little surprised with the surroundings—first fence she had a little spook. We didn’t warm up much since we thought maybe they shouldn’t be used too much before, and with the moving camera in the middle she was a little distracted. Generally, she just showed me what a cool mare she is. She was just jumping super and galloping. Even if, here and there, she was a little bit off the line maybe, she would just try. She has the biggest heart, and she’s the biggest lion. I would lie and say it was all fun, but three- quarters was really fun, and then it got a bit of work. 

“I know there are some people who say, ‘She doesn’t have a good ride at championships,’ ” she continued. “It’s not so much in my head, though, because for me something like Luhmühlen or Saumur is also super important. Today I was maybe even less nervous than at other important shows or events. But just this year, after that winter with Sam retiring, and my father dying, and he would have been super proud to see me and us doing super well, and there are all the people at home who only wish for me to do well—it’s a great relief to have made it happen.” 

The next day Julia had a clear round in the team show jumping final and then jumped another clear in the individual final to win gold over Great Britain’s Tom McEwen on Toledo De Kerser and Australia’s Andrew Hoy on Vassily De Lassos. 

Germany’s Julia Krajewski, riding Amande De B’Neville, became the first woman to win Olympic individual eventing gold. Lisa Slade Photo

“She knows when it matters, and she’s never let me down in the arena,” said Julia of Mandy. “At home we might have some little arguments about things, but I’ve learned in the end she’s always fine and always will try to do her best. This week, I think she must have felt it was important. She jumped amazing the last day, both rounds, even better the second round. That gave me so much confidence that I was quite calm entering the final round. I thought, ‘She knows. She’s got it.’ ” 

The mare received a red-carpet ceremony upon arriving back to her home farm as an Olympic champion. 

“I think I don’t realize that I’m Olympic champion yet,” Julia said. “I honestly wasn’t prepared because I never thought it would really happen, but it feels amazing to have basically achieved what every sportsperson’s biggest dream is. It’s huge.” 

Despite her misgivings about riding as a career, Julia did officially go out on her own as a full-time professional in late 2020, and she admitted winning Olympic gold was a boost to her bourgeoning business. 

“I now coach, teach, ride, do a little selling,” she said. “It’s fairly fresh, and it’s quite a step if you don’t really have a safety net. My family is very supportive, but it’s all on me to make it happen. But yeah, I thought it was the right time to take the step.” 

Julia usually has between seven and nine horses in her barn, currently including a full brother to Chipmunk, ChinTonic 3, a 6-year-old Hanoverian (Contendro I—Havanna, Heraldik) who did his first CCI2*-S earlier this year. 

“We bought him when he was a foal, and I broke him myself,” Julia said. “Both horses are quite cuddly. They like attention, and they are quite sweet and genuine. ChinTonic is a little more cheeky than Chipmunk, and he’s a bit smaller.” 

Mandy will be on vacation for at least four weeks, and Julia isn’t sure if she’ll bring her back out for a few short-format events this fall or wait until next spring. In the meantime, she’ll be riding her younger horses around one- and two-star tracks, bringing along the future stars who might someday head to their own Olympic Games. 

“You do all those big classes, sometimes it’s nice to pop over a two-star class,” she said with a laugh. 

“Things can be so difficult sometimes, from a sports perspective or personally,” she added, “but this whole story shows me that it’s worth pushing, continuing and believing, and making sure you have the right people around you for the difficult times. And just never give up.” 


This article originally appeared in the Aug. 23 & 30, 2021, issue of The Chronicle of the Horse. You can subscribe and get online access to a digital version and then enjoy a year of The Chronicle of the Horse and our lifestyle publication, Untacked. If you’re just following COTH online, you’re missing so much great unique content. Each print issue of the Chronicle is full of in-depth competition news, fascinating features, probing looks at issues within the sports of hunter/jumper, eventing and dressage, and stunning photography.

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