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HI Tokyo Olympics Daily Update: Arriving and Day 1 of Grand Prix Dressage

Tokyo Olympics Dressage Grand Prix with Sabine Schut-Kery and Sanceo
Tokyo Olympics Dressage Grand Prix with Sabine Schut-Kery and Sanceo. Photo by MacMillan Photography

We’re kicking off the Horse Illustrated coverage of the Tokyo Olympics with an account from writer Kim MacMillan about her arrival, the dressage first horse inspection, and Day 1 of the Dressage Grand Prix qualifier event.

We have boots on the ground for Horse Illustrated in Tokyo for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 (aka, Tokyo Olympics). The weather in Tokyo is sultry, bordering on oppressive, during the day―temps in the 90s with humidity to match and occasional rain showers that pop up seemingly out of nowhere. Despite reports of pandemic spikes and a fourth declaration of a state of emergency in the city, the streets are actually pretty packed!

My husband Allen and I, and our two colleagues—Sarah Miller and Nancy Bryant—survived the 16-plus hour flight itinerary and then three hours of testing, validating and customs checks at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport. Then, we had to hit the ground running early the next morning to make the first horse inspection for dressage.

Mirroring the climate, Japan is full of intense sports competition and political “heat,” too. On the way to the stadium today, before the start of the Grand Prix dressage competition this afternoon, we passed hundreds of Japanese citizens marching in the streets to protest against having COVID-19 vaccinations. Although we’ve heard the general public did not want the Olympics to go on, we haven’t personally encountered any hostility.


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The Games are officially under way today after last night’s Opening Ceremony, but the equestrian competition technically started with the first dressage horse inspection yesterday. Two horses were held for re-inspection during the jog, but both eventually passed inspection. The disappointing news was the U.S.A.’s traveling reserve rider Nick Wagman had to pull his horse Don John from the competition right before the inspection due to a slight tendon injury. Patrick Kittel of Sweden had already pulled his mare, Well Done de la Roche CMF, earlier in the week as well due to an injury.

One very cute moment happened in the arena during the horse inspection. As they waited for the British Team’s reserve horse and rider to finish jogging, Carl Hester’s gelding, En Vogue, and Charlotte Dujardin’s gelding, Gio, snuck just enough slack in reins from their grooms and started doing mutual grooming, with each scratching the other’s withers with his teeth. Obviously, the horses didn’t care they were in middle of the Olympic stadium! It brought smiles to everyone until the geldings were separated and walked back to their air-conditioned stalls.

Today, about half of the Grand Prix tests were completed with the other half scheduled for tomorrow evening. Twenty-nine horse-and-rider combos rode down centerline. The number was supposed to be 30, but Austria’s Victoria Max-Theurer had to pull her gelding, Abegglen NRW, at the last minute due to an injury leaving Austria. Without the third required team member their team is sadly now out of the Olympic competition.

For this Olympic Games, now that Austria is out, the now-remaining 14 teams will be vying for the top eight spots in the Grand Prix competition in order to move on to the Grand Prix Special where the team medals will be decided. Also, the top two riders from each of the five Grand Prix competition subgroups will automatically move on to the Grand Prix Freestyle, along with six next-best scores from the Grand Prix, regardless of which subgroup they competed in.

Two horse-and-rider pairs scored over 80 percent this evening, Germany’s Jessica von Bredow-Werndl riding the Trakehner mare TSF Dalera BB, who scored a personal-best with an 84.379%, and Denmark’s Catherine Dufour on Bohemian who posted an 81.056%. The third-best score of the evening was a 78.649% earned by the Netherland’s Edward Gal riding a Totilas son, Total US.

The U.S.A.’s Sabine Schut-Kery, of Napa, Calif., and Sanceo, a 15-year-old Hanoverian stallion owned by Alice Womble, brought their A-Game, too, and scored a personal best of 78.416%. This means that since she was second in Group C, she has qualified to move on in competition to the Grand Prix Freestyle.

Baji Koen Equestrian Park, which is the host of all but eventing cross-country, is a very nice facility. The grandstands and building surrounding the main arena seem very new, even though the park was also the site of the equestrian activities at the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. We are told major renovations took place at Baji Koen before this Games. Riders are rating the footing very highly, and the volunteers and staff seem eager to help anyone who asks.

The main arena here has been beautifully decorated with a Japanese garden scene on one side, which features bonsai trees and stepping stones and Japanese cherry trees in full bloom, and the light pink blossoms really make the arena pop. On night one of competition, a stiff breeze blew the flags that top the long sides of the bleachers, and they stood straight out, creating a welcome respite from the heat. More from Tokyo tomorrow.

Complete 2020 Olympic Coverage

Kim MacMillan

Kim MacMillan graduated from Purdue University where she majored in agriculture communications and animal science. She has been reporting on equestrian sports, agriculture, science, travel and history for over 35 years. She and her husband Allen, who is a professional photographer, have covered several World Equestrian, Olympic and Pan American Games. The MacMillans share their Northeastern Indiana farm with several much-loved horses, dogs and cats.


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