Tokyo, Japan – August 2, 2021 – The Show Jumping action at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games is only one day and athletes are preparing for the first Team Qualifier on Tuesday. From strict COVID-19 restrictions to the new format and the riders’ horses, hear from Team USA members Kent Farrington, Laura Kraut, Jessica Springsteen and McLain Ward, as well chef d’equipe Robert Ridland about their experiences so far.
What has your experience been like getting to Tokyo and what does it mean to be a part of this team?
McLain Ward: Always this build up to the Olympic Games or a championship is a long journey supported by a lot of people and with a horse involved it’s a little bit more complicated. Last year, having the delay changed a lot in our sport some horses wouldn’t have been ready for last year and some needed more time, for some, they may have had their time last year and it passed them by so that was a huge factor. Personally, we had some selection events through the spring and early summer, which is a bit stressful. I’m proud that my horse has been able to step up to this level and able to make this team. We have a great group of riders to be here with. We’ve had a very nice lead up in Germany to coming to Tokyo here and even though this Olympics. It is a little bit different and more complicated, the people of Japan have been very organized and welcoming. It’s a fantastic venue and I think we’re all looking forward to some great sport in the week ahead.
Kent Farrington: The reality is that we’ve all worked hard to be here, and it was difficult with a year delay, as McLain stated. I’ve brought a seasoned horse who is 15 years old, but one of the best competitors in the sport and I’m looking forward to the event with her and think she has a good chance. And as McLain also said, it’s a great team of people to be here with and looking forward to Tokyo.
Laura Kraut: I agree with what Kent and McLain have said. That pretty much sums it up and for myself, I feel very fortunate to be here with a new partner in Baloutinue. He came to me a bit in the eleventh hour and being able to qualify with him, so it’s been a new partnership, but I think that we’ve come together quickly and I’m excited to get in there and get going and hopefully do some good alongside these great teammates.
Jessie Springsteen: For me and Don, we’ve really been able to build on our partnership over the last year and when it came time for the selection events, I felt confident in how far we’ve come. I felt a lot more prepared and that was great and just to be selected to this team with riders that I’ve looked up to throughout my career is a huge honor for me and it’s great to be here.
Can you talk about the new format that we’re working with this year and how it’s going to impact your team strategy looking ahead to the next week of competition?
Robert Ridland: I don’t think I can say anything that anyone would be surprised about, but I’ve been looking forward to this new format. It’s something that we’re not used to and surprises may come up, but I think from the point of view of the PR for the sport, and for new viewers who may have been slightly confused by drop scores in the past, it’s similar to many of the sports that we’ve been watching. Of course, we’ve been here for a week watching many of the other sports and when a mistake happens, usually you pay for it, and so certainly that will be the case here. We’re prepared for it and looking forward to it.
What’s it like to be back at an Olympic Games for those of you who have been in this position before and what’s it like to be at your first Olympic Games?
Kent Farrington: This Olympics is going to be different than any other. We’re all here wearing masks and going through a difficult time. I think everyone is trying to make the most of the situation and obviously it’s very different circumstances than in Rio where we had a great Olympics getting a silver medal, but we’re hoping for another great result here. They’re doing the best they can, and I think the venue is great and looking forward to the event getting started.
Laura Kraut: We’ve been talking about this a lot over the past few days and every Olympics has their own sort of special qualities and things that you take home and remember about them and this one for sure will be remembered by this situation with COVID, but also, I think that we all would agree that they’ve done a fantastic job making this one of the best facilities ever. The horses are comfortable, the stabling, footing – just across the board as good as it can be – and I think when you have good footing, good jumps, and good circumstances, that we’ll have great competition, so I think we’re all looking forward to being a part of that.
Jessica Springsteen: For me, this isn’t just my first Olympics, but my first championship. I’m so excited to be able represent my country at this level and it’s something I’ve always dreamed. I’m really looking forward to things getting started.
McLain Ward: I think I was Jessie’s age at my first Games, and it was certainly a different experience and a different point of view, but certainly just as exciting in a different way. Each Games, as Kent and Laura touched on, has a different experience, different scenarios, and how blessed to have gotten to experience so many of them.
Can you talk more about having an extra year to prepare for these Games and do you think that makes you more confident in being able to medal?
McLain Ward: I think for this team it really was a huge factor. I don’t want to speak out of turn, but Laura just started riding her horse getting him earlier this season, Jessie’s horse was a little bit greener last year and it was a new combination, last year may have been a different team that you were looking at here. Kent is very experienced with his mare and probably would have been on the team last year. My horse was coming back from an injury last year, so he certainly wouldn’t have been here. So for this particular team a lot changed and I think that as we’re dealing with the world today and COVID and this pandemic, this group and the people behind us, our teams, supporters, staff and the federation have really been moving on the fly and making decisions and being flexible. That’s allowed us to be here at the Olympic Games and has horse and rider combinations he ready for this moment.
Can you talk about the selection process going into this Games and needing to be flexible as McLain mentioned and how did you ultimately come to the decision you did with this team and what that process looked like with all of the moving pieces over the last year?
Robert Ridland: The selection process was the same that we’ve used for every championship since I’ve been involved with, and it’s worked really well. Building up in Florida, we were lucky that it was one of the few places that was open to the sport, so we certainly weren’t disadvantaged there, and we were able to get to Europe. We did have a few hiccups along the way because of the Nations Cups that were canceled, but I think we were still more fortunate that many teams of having a place to fine tune where we wanted to be. As McLain pointed out, there were some new combinations that we needed to test and prepare and certainly Europe helped us do that and hence the team.
Can you talk about each of your horses – where they came from, how long you’ve had them, how you’ve produced them, what your partnership is like with each of them?
Jessica Springsteen: When I got Don, he was jumping up to the CSI3* level, so I’ve produced him to this level. I think our partnership has solidified over the past year. He has all the scope, and all the power, everything comes very effortlessly to him, so for me it’s about getting the details and getting to know each and other and I feel like we have a very good partnership.
Laura Kraut: Balou is 11 years old I got him in April. He was produced by Adam Prudent in the United States, and I think he did a great job. He had him up through the CSI5* level and then I took over. He’s an exciting horse for me. He’s a bit of a mix between a Thoroughbred that I love to ride and Cedric, my best horse. He’s got all the scope, he’s brave, he’s careful and he’s got all the energy to handle the heat here, so I’m very excited to see what he can do.
Kent Farrington: I have my horse Gazelle here and I’ve been riding her since the end of her 7-year-old year, so I’ve had her from her first international classes up through the top levels of the sport to now. She’s won some of the biggest Grand Prix classes in the world and while she’s in the twilight of her career being 15 years old, she’s in great shape and looking for some luck here.
McLain Ward: My partner here is Contagious. He was produced a fellow Olympian of mine, Reed Kessler, who was on the team with me at the London 2012 Olympics and she decided to go back to school a few years ago and I ended up getting several of her horses to train and was able to keep Contagious in my string of horse thanks to a wonderful woman by the name of Lisa Revers and Max Amaya. He would have been on our Pan American Games team two years ago, but unfortunately got injured right before the event, so that was a bit disappointing, but we took time and with a lot of help recuperated him and built him back up for this great event.
How have you been preparing for this competition over the past several weeks and are there any adjustments that you’ve needed to make given the COVID situation and the protocols that are being enforced?
Laura Kraut: We all know that when you come to a Championship or an Olympic Games, you’re here well in advance of the competition. There’s a lot of downtime, which is a bit harder for the riders than it is for the horses, which is fine. They do their day-to-day work that we would normally do with them and as I said earlier, we have fantastic conditions, there are multiple places to be able to work them, there’s a track, you can work them out on the grass and on the hills. The heat obviously was a topic before we even came here but coming from the United States and spending the better part of our year in Florida, I think we’re all happy with the heat and it hasn’t been so bad. I think our horses have handled it well so far. I think we’ve done what we would normally do.
Can you talk about how your horses traveled and recovered from the travel?
Kent Farrington: I think a well-traveled horse is like a well-traveled person. They’re used to the process and it’s like getting on a truck, though I would say it’s easier on the horses because it’s just one steady ride the whole way. She has so much experience that she comes off the plane ready to go and I think I was saying, as a person that travels a lot, it doesn’t really affect her at all, and she could come right off the plane and compete right away.
Jessie, you’ve talked about how your partnership has evolved with Don over the last year – can you talk about some of the things that you’ve learned about him and maybe some of the things that he’s learned about you?
Jessica Springsteen: I feel like again, he’s always had the talent and the ability, so I think it was really getting on the same page and fine tuning everything. For me, it was getting to jump these bigger classes with the pressure and really learning to stay out of his way and trust him more. I think your natural reaction when you’re jumping big is to ride a bit stronger, but with him, he really doesn’t need that. I’ve learned to ride of my feeling and trust in his ability.
Equestrian sport has received a lot of coverage with dressage and eventing, maybe more so than any other previous Olympics. What does it mean to be able to showcase this sport on this type of platform to those who may not be familiar with it?
McLain Ward: You know, like many spots that are not maybe mainstream, to expose a wider audience and a wider range of people the beauty of equestrian sport, men and women competing equally, how these two living entities work together is something quite spectacular and it’s exciting. It can touch a lot of different diverse groups and I think when people are exposed to it they become fans and I think the Olympic Games sets the stage for that.
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