Tokyo, Japan – July 22, 2021 – The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games is only one day away from Opening Ceremonies and athletes are in full swing preparing for the first day of competition kicking off Saturday, July 24. From strict COVID-19 restrictions to the riders’ daily schedules, hear from Team USA members Steffen Peters, Adrienne Lyle, Sabine Schut-Kery and chef d’equipe and technical advisor Debbie McDonald about their experiences so far.
Photo by Taylor Pence/US Equestrian.
How did the trip from Aachen, Germany over to Tokyo, Japan go for everyone?
Steffen Peters: We had a great trip over from Aachen and we were received by an amazing group of friendly Japanese volunteers with the entire process. As complicated as it seemed at the beginning, every single person has been so helpful and friendly. They actually cheered for us when a complicated issue was resolved. It was a very easy process and an amazing start. The horses have settled in perfectly. Last night we had the first familiarization in the stadium, which is stunning. So far everything is looking pretty good and we are ready to go.
Sabine Schut-Kery: I was a little bit worried about the trip because it was such long hours but all the horses traveled so well and the weather has been quite good. It’s a bit hot during the day but the horses are in climate controlled stables. The facility is so amazing. I’m incredibly honored to be here and to represent my country. I’m over the moon.
Adrienne Lyle: It was fun being in Aachen because we were able to get together earlier as a team and we were able to watch the other countries start to ramp up in training. The flights went smoothly and all the team staff have been amazing helping get us here. The venue is impeccable. The footing is amazing, the ring is absolutely beautiful. The show ring is complete with cherry-blossoming trees and zen gardens around the outside. It’s really lovely. The attention to detail has been paid everywhere. The barns are climate controlled. The whole facility is wonderful and the people have been so nice and enthusiastic for everyone here.
Debbie McDonald: From my standpoint, the horses travelled amazing. We had one groom on the flight who was always sending videos throughout the flight which put the riders at ease. Our vet was here waiting for them here. As far as USEF went, everything has gone amazing. Without [the U.S. Equestrian Federation], I don’t think we would have this experience as I’ve seen other countries struggling. It’s an amazing team to deal with and everyone is here for each other. I could not ask for a better team to be chefing at the moment.
How are you feeling about the COVID situation and what precautions are you taking as a team?
Adrienne Lyle: There are definitely many precautions in place and you can’t go more than 50 feet without seeing sanitizer for your hands. Everyone is wearing masks strictly and there are temperature checks getting into the venue and hotel. We as a team are taking extra precautions – we are not out socializing at all and staying in our own group. We are eating at the hotel amongst ourselves. Everyone has worked so hard to be here so we are being extra careful that we don’t do anything to jeopardize our team.
Paint a picture of how COVID-19 precautions are shaping your experience at the Olympic Games.
Steffen Peters: We have been used to this for almost two years and we knew the restrictions for the Olympic Games would be tighter. We knew what we were coming here for. Will [Connell] and our staff told us very clearly that we are only going from airport to hotel to venue – that is what we have been doing. There are clear rules we follow and if we don’t follow, we shouldn’t be Olympians. It’s a different experience, and personally, I am bummed that we can’t talk to other athletes but we have one hell of a team. Our spirit is great and we have great camaraderie. We are looking forward to going into the show arena on Saturday.
How are the horse’s adjusting to the hot weather?
Sabine Schut-Kery: They are all doing really well! There was a concern with the weather but we were lucky to have our observation event in Florida and we stayed there as it got hotter in June. We feel well prepared and the weather has been quite good.
Has anything changed in your strategy with the new team format?
Debbie McDonald: That’s a good question! I don’t think anyone knows at this point how this will play out with the new format. It certainly doesn’t make much sense when you put it all together. Today, our chef meeting will be focusing mainly on this. The athletes would love to know which day [in the Grand Prix] they are going and they can’t confirm until after the jog. It’s a very complicated process. You can’t have three horses on the same day. You can’t have two horses in the same heat. It’s making shuffling to the next position complicated. I hope the judges will be able to wrap their heads around having top horses in each heat and some lower-ranking horses in the same heat. It’s going to be interesting.
Can you speak briefly on your horses?
Steffen Peters: I’m very lucky to be riding Suppenkasper – everyone knows him as “Mopsie”. He is very energetic and what I find with him is that in hotter climates he is more relaxed and rideable. A wonderful breeze comes up in the evening here and it’s the perfect temperature for him. In the stall, he’s a big teddy bear and he loves when his groom Eddie [Garcia Luna] and I are with him. He enjoys his walk in the morning on this beautiful track we have here that goes around the zen garden. I’m very fortunate to ride an amazing horse like him. I’m completely in love with him.
Sabine Schut-Kery: Sanceo is 15 and I’ve had him since he was three years old. He’s quite sensitive undersaddle, but he is doing better in this climate too. He’s really enjoying the all day attention he is getting here. In general, he is very kind, easy to read and straightforward. He is a stallion and I sometimes have to manage that part but since I’ve known him for so long I have my ways of how to deal with that. He is honest and eager to work.
Adrienne Lyle: I’ve been riding Salvino for six years now and he is such a sweetheart. He’s very personable in his stall and he loves having his people around. All the horses on the team have very fun personalities. He’s a very fierce competitor though and he definitely knows when he is competing. I can feel him puff up – he loves to be on stage and he is a showman.
Compared to past Olympic Games, what are some unique aspects of the facility at Tokyo 2020?
Steffen Peters: This venue is incredible. From little details like bug zappers in the warmup arena – honestly my horse is very sensitive to bugs and I’m not exaggerating but we haven’t seen a single one in the rings. There is a tunnel that goes to the warm up arena and horses got used to that. It’s extremely organized. I enjoy food very much and this venue has the best lunch menu that I’ve seen compared to other Olympics. The lighting in the stadium is very horse friendly with no shadows.
What does your daily schedule look like in Tokyo leading up to competition?
Adrienne Lyle: Our days here are spread out a little bit. The grooms live on site at the venue so they are right next to the horses to check and take care of them at any time. The riders have a designated van we come out with in the morning and we get the horses out to hand walk or tack walk them. Then we head back to the hotel for the middle part of the day. We want to make sure the barn stays quiet for several hours during the day so the horses can rest with no activity going on. Then we come back out for the evening schooling sessions. We have a big chunk of time during the day – some of us will be working out, napping or reading before coming out in the evening. We usually eat dinner in our hotel rooms with room service and then try to get to sleep so we are ready for the next day.
What country do you consider will be the toughest competition?
Debbie McDonald: We all know the Germans are incredibly strong so they are the most fierce competitors here. We are also fierce but if you look at their overall performances and scores we are close.
What will it be like to compete at the biggest competition in the world without spectators?
Steffen Peters: It will feel different, but we are often so focused on our riding in the arena, we don’t notice it while we are in the arena. We have amazing support from our staff and one hell of a team so we are creating our own inspiration. They say inspiration is one of the greatest gifts of mankind. I love watching my teammates schooling and posting content so we are creating our own audience. It’s different but it’s a small sacrifice for what so many people went through during the pandemic.
For Thursday’s schooling session, what will be your main focus for your horses?
Steffen Peters: My routine is usually easy the day before the vet check, which is on Friday morning. Tonight we will do a nice warm-up outside the arena and then I’ll enter how I do on competition day so I know exactly which lead I’ll pick, my spot to pick up the canter, ride a line of changes. Debbie will watch closely with my tempo. I tend to overdo them every once in a while and she’s good at telling me exactly what expression it needs to be. Overall it’s going to be an easy day for me. Tomorrow I’ll do a bit more before competition day on Saturday.
Sabine Schut-Kery: Yesterday I had more of a training day in a snaffle bit and getting him used to the arena and working on the basics. For tonight, I’ll put him in a double and put him more in a show frame. We will go down centerline and touch on a few movements for the test.
Adrienne Lyle: We have a lot of consecutive riding days here so the training ebbs and flows. Yesterday, we ran through some movements and practiced our entrance and halts. Today, we will practice some of those details but I’ll have an easier day working on relaxation and making sure he is happy in the arena.
Are there any extra precautions related to the Equine Herpes outbreak in Europe earlier this year?
Debbie McDonald: Yes, We walk on mats before we walk into the barns. I can only speak for our team and the German team who are in our barn, but we are very careful going between horses. Horse temperatures are checked daily. We are on top of it and we all know what is at stake here. Everyone is doing their part.
What have been your experiences with Japan and their culture so far?
Adrienne Lyle: They have been incredible. The airport was a very long and complicated process because they have so many COVID measures in place. I cannot even imagine the amount of planning and volunteers that went into making this happen. Everyone has been very polite and very helpful. Everything is clean, tidy, and the people are lovely. We are learning to bow and say ‘Aarigato!’ For thank you. I didn’t know that much about Japanese culture before coming here and I’ve never been to japan so it’s been really nice to see.
Steffen Peters: What I’ve really enjoyed is the kindness and friendliness is contagious. We notice ourselves greeting each other in the morning with a bow twice. I’m very fascinated with the respect in the country. The police have white gloves directing traffic and people allow each other to change lanes kindly. The hotel is extremely accommodating and there are three or four people greeting you in the morning. I’ve never seen service like that. It’s not that hard to be nice and I think we can learn alot from the Japanese culture. It’s amazing.
DRESSAGE FAST FACTS
July 24: Dressage Grand Prix Team and Individual Day 1
July 25: Dressage Grand Prix Team and Individual Day 2
July 27: Dressage Grand Prix Special & Team Medal Ceremony
July 28: Dressage Grand Prix Freestyle & Individual Medal Ceremony
Katrina Wüst (GER) is the Ground Jury President, while Andrew Gardner (GBR), Francis Verbeek-Van Rooij (NED), Hans-Christian Matthiesen (DEN), Janet Foy (USA), Susie Hoevenaars (AUS), and Magnus Ringmark (SWE) serve as the Ground Jury Members. Mary Seefried (AUS) is the technical delegate while David Hunt (GBR), Lilo Fore (USA) and Maribel Alonso (MEX) comprise the judges’ supervisory panel.
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