To complete these qualifications, the dressage and eventing riders have to put up a cracking score at an international show this year. Their selection performances have to be current.
LONGSHOT CHANCE FOR OUTSIDERS
Is it possible for someone who has not made the top 10 leaderboard to still be a consideration for Paris?
It is just possible that out there somewhere there are dressage or eventing riders who have not even started to get their qualification scores. Just maybe, especially if it happened to be a very experienced rider, an unexpected challenge from out of nowhere could change the leaderboards and so Paris selection. That actually would be very exciting and very interesting. That would mean a new combination would have to put up three scores in international competitions in the next six months. So, this means, it is possible for riders who have not yet come onto the radar and have not yet appeared on the leaderboards over the last six months to move into superstar status!! Possible but a bit unlikely.
What are the problems associated with a last-minute drive at Paris selection?
Are there individuals out there who I know, who are capable of coming in from the cold in the final six months? Actually, yes. The problem here is that riders who are going to do all of their qualifying in the next six months are looking at a super intense period of competition. Horses can only take so much right at the top and if you overdo this your horse will struggle to stay healthy and sound. We are going to see this factor, unfortunately, impact on the final selections for the Australian Olympic teams. There are going to be a couple of Australian combinations who on paper should be included and they are not. This part of the whole process is heartbreaking. Looking after and preserving your horse is pretty much the number one consideration in this very intensive lead-up to final Australian Olympic selections. One mistake here and no matter how good you are you will miss out on riding for your country.
Of course, once you have thrown everything you have got to make the Australian team, the riders then have to dig even deeper and produce the performance of a lifetime at the Olympics. That is such a contradiction and so damn hard to do. All of the Australian riders will be so intensely focused on their horses’ wellbeing in this final six months of selection. When a rider has no horse, no matter how good you are, it means no selection. It is here that enormous conflict erupts between our selectors and our riders. These are awful moments of conflict and usually the riders end up being branded troublemakers and worse.
A HORSE’S WELLBEING IS EVERYTHING
The core issue here, however, will be riders trying to protect their horses. The Australian selectors are trying on the other hand to get an accurate assessment of the horse and rider through competition results and wanting the riders to compete in designated competitions. The selectors’ job is to find the most likely Australian combinations to produce the best possible results for Australia at Paris. From a rider’s point of view, a horse’s wellbeing will mostly be prioritised over and above what the selectors are trying to achieve. Sometimes if a horse is fatigued, they just need to be rested or given light work. If a horse is fatigued and the selectors have scheduled a final selection trial and the rider decides not to front up, then you can see how conflict can then erupt.
The horse’s wellbeing is everything to the rider. A rider can only become great if they have a very special horse which the rider has learnt to look after with everything they have. I can’t tell you how difficult it is to throw everything you have at looking after a horse and still be able to go out and compete right at the top at scheduled events. Sometimes this is impossible. Riders are not always famous for their communication skills and so especially when they are protecting their horses the selection process becomes very complicated.
So competition in Australia, and indeed for Australian riders based overseas, life is going to be all about their horses’ health and wellbeing and competing like they have never competed before. For the Australian riders, the next six months is about to hit turbo charge. It is going to be right-on-the-edge stuff. It is going to be very exciting!
The show jumping is also very exciting but just so difficult to jolly well follow. The difference now is that just maybe I can work out which show jumpers have actually reached qualification status and so are now eligible to be considered by the Australian selectors for Paris. Maybe! It would be really good if I can.
Making the Australian Olympic team is going to be a result of really good riders on really good horses who have managed to surf a perfect wave at exactly the right moment into being selected. It will be the performance of a lifetime to make that Australian team. Then… just four weeks later, is the Paris Olympics from 26 July until 11 August, and the riders and their horses have to fly halfway around the world and do even better yet again. That is bloody ridiculous! That is what it takes to be an Australian Olympian!
Good luck to all of those Australian riders fronting up to take on the next six months. For those of us watching, it is going to be just the best spectating.