The opening ceremony for the Tokyo Olympic Games hadn’t even taken place yet when dressage riders faced their first challenge: the initial horse inspection. Seventy horses from 31 countries were presented at the Equestrian Park venue this morning.
Two horses were held: Isabelle Pinto’s Hot Chocolat VD Kwaplas (France) and Carlos Pinto’s Sultan Menezes, a traveling reserve horse for Portugal. Both will be jogged again Saturday morning.
Among the horses strutting down the jog strip today were three from the United States: Salvino (ridden by Adrienne Lyle), Suppenkasper (ridden by Steffen Peters) and Sanceo (ridden by Sabine Schut-Kery). All three passed without issue. Nick Wagman’s mount Don John, the traveling alternate, was withdrawn before the first jog.
The riders also have been given their ride times for the first round, the Grand Prix qualifier. The U.S. riders will compete at the following times. Their rides can be watched on the NBC Olympic livestream:
• 8:15 a.m. EDT Saturday (9:15 p.m. Japan Standard Time) Sabine Schut-Kery & Sanceo, Group C
• 5:21 a.m. EDT Sunday (6:21 p.m. JST) Adrienne Lyle & Salvino, Group D
• 8:43 a.m. EDT Sunday (9:42 p.m. JST) Steffen Peters & Suppenkasper, Group F
Team uniforms at the jog ranged from predictable—sports coats in national colors, Team USA’s Ralph Lauren/Nike combination of polo shirts, jeans and sneakers—to eye-popping, a la Belgium’s bright red, patterned jumpsuits. The Netherlands’ pin-striped orange suits over orange shirts fell somewhere in between.
The U.S. riders, along with Chef d’Equipe Debbie McDonald, reported that the U.S. horses traveled well on the long journey that began with a quarantine in Aachen, Germany, before a flight to Tokyo. They’ve been enjoying the venue during evening familiarization rides.
“The venue is impeccable; the footing is amazing, and the ring is absolutely beautiful,” Lyle said. “The show ring is complete with cherry blossom trees and a little zen garden around the outside of the arena. You definitely get the feeling that attention to detail has been paid everywhere. The barns are beautiful and climate controlled, and the whole facility is wonderful, and the people have been so nice and enthusiastic for everybody that’s here.”
Though the weather in Tokyo is notoriously hot and humid—reaching into the 90s with a heat index around 100 during the day—riders reported their horses are responding fine. All of the dressage events will take place in the evenings, and that’s when the riders have been schooling their horses as well.
“I feel he’s going almost better in this kind of climate, and I think he is really enjoying that all-day attention he’s getting here,” said Schut-Kery of the stallion Sanceo.
No spectators are permitted at any Olympic events this year. Dressage riders will present their tests in front of judges, media members, television cameras and the massive empty stadium at Equestrian Park. In addition, riders have been following strict COVID-19 protocols, which for the U.S. dressage crew means no socializing with competitors in other sports, and they’re also staying in a hotel offsite instead of at the Olympic Village.
“There are definitely a lot of precautions in place,” Lyle said. “You don’t go more than about 50 feet without sanitizing your feet and hands. Everyone is wearing masks very strictly. There are temperature checks going into the hotel and coming into the venue, and we as a team decided to take extra precautions: We’re not out socializing at all. We’re staying in our own group and eating in the hotel with ourselves. We’ve worked so hard to get here, and we’re working hard to make sure we don’t jeopardize anything.”
Peters added he was disappointed to miss the opening ceremony, but his main focus is on delivering a good result for the U.S. team.
“Yes, it is different, but I think a very small sacrifice compared to what so many went through in this coronavirus situation,” he said.
“We’ve been used to this for a year and a half, almost two years,” he continued. “We knew the restrictions for the Games and for the athletes would be even tighter. We knew exactly what we were coming here for, and Will [Connell, U.S. Equestrian Federation director of sport programs] and our staff told us very clearly, ‘We’re going from the airport to the hotel to the venue.’ That’s what we’ve been doing. We’re used to the rules, not just at the Olympic Games in Tokyo but before. There are always very clear rules we have to follow, and if we don’t follow those we shouldn’t be Olympians.”
Dressage begins at 5 p.m. Japan Standard Time on July 24. See the full start list for both days of the Grand Prix here.
Check out a photo gallery from the first jog: