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Henrik Ankarcrona on Olympic preparations: “Our biggest challenge is the time”

Wednesday, 26 May 2021

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping. Henrik Ankarcrona. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.


Text © World of Showjumping



First the Covid-19 pandemic, then the EHV-1 outbreak – preparations towards the Olympic Games in Tokyo have been far from optimal for the horses and riders. With a current number of five CSIO5* Nations Cups in the calendar from May to July, the first one in Rome this week, WoSJ called up a few Chef d’Equipes to learn more about which challenges they are facing as selection deadlines are drawing closer. Second out is Swedish Chef d’Equipe Henrik Ankarcrona.

“Our biggest challenge is the time,” Ankarcrona points out. “We only have until July 5th for the final sport entries deadline, and every day that passes by is one less. The development of the Covid-19 pandemic, and then more recently the EHV-1 outbreak, has pushed many big events later into the season due to re-scheduling and has also led to even more cancellations than expected at the beginning of the year. This is something we all have to deal with though; it’s the same for everyone.”

“Normally, my planning towards a championship will start the year before,” Ankarcrona says. “If there are horses coming up that look promising, I have the opportunity to put them in a few bigger shows in the autumn. Then I make a plan to build them up towards team appearances from there. In February or March, I would again test those horses once or twice in the bigger classes again to see if they are ready and mentally prepared to go into a five-star Nations Cup – the latter is important. However, since we lost most of last year and also a few months this year, it is a new situation. Luckily, we have experienced riders that we communicate very well with and together we try to make the right decisions. Obviously, it is a bit more of a gamble this time.”


We only have until July 5th for the final sport entries deadline, and every day that passes by is one less.


“You can train the horses at home to get them fit and strong, but the last condition and strength can only be built up in competition,” Ankarcrona says. “However, you have to choose every show and every class as wisely as you can for each horse-and-rider combination. It’s not just to go out and compete four-five weeks in a row. Seeing that we have had a lot of constant changes in the calendar, it’s difficult to follow such a careful route of preparation – both for the riders and for the Chef d’Equipes.”

“We are trying to make as good individual plans as possible, with the combinations that we in the end think could go to the Olympics,” Ankarcrona explains. “It is essential that we try to make every horse as prepared as we can. For some riders that’s easier as they can choose their shows based on their spot on the world ranking, while other riders are more dependent on where they get accepted into shows or on getting wild cards. From my point of view, the Nations Cups are the best way to prepare our horses and riders for a championship; you can see the horses jump the two rounds in the team competition plus that you have the Grand Prix to make observations. For these events, we also have our team vet there to follow up on the horses. In the lead-up to the Olympics, or any championship, the Nations Cup shows are of big importance.”

“We are in a situation now where we will go from having had no CSIO5* Nations Cups since 2019, to three in a row for our team – Rome, St. Gallen and La Baule. After La Baule, we have the Longines Global Champions Tour in Stockholm, which of course also will be important for the Swedish riders,” Ankarcrona says. “Our last team outing was the Nations Cup Final in Barcelona in 2019, so it is a challenge to suddenly put three teams together three weeks in a row – it’s tough for most countries, and for sure for us as a smaller nation. While we have a few horses that really have the experience for the Nations Cups at this level, there are also those that would have needed the months earlier in the spring to prepare to take the step up – but we lost this period. I always want the horses to come out of the Nations Cups a little bit wiser and stronger. However, if you put the horses in too early, you sometimes risk taking a step back and obviously I want to do everything I can to avoid that.”


It is essential that we try to make every horse as prepared as we can.


“A few riders will do two Nations Cups, some will do one,” Ankarcrona continues to speak about his plans. “After the Globals in Stockholm, we have had four weeks in a row with big competitions for our different horse-and-rider combinations. After those four weeks, I will have to have my team ready for Tokyo. In the end, I will be happy if I have five-six strong horse and rider combinations to choose from.”

“I think it’s positive that we also have the Europeans later this year, and I am very happy for all the efforts from the German Federation, Ludger Beerbaum and his team, as well as the FEI and EEF. They have done a fantastic job,” Ankarcrona says. “I think these championships will open the door for a few new horse-and-rider combinations. I believe that some horses will end up not jumping all the classes in Tokyo, so perhaps they will do both championships – but I am also really thinking to give a few other combinations the chance. There are many factors that will play in here, like how fit and rested the horses that have been in Tokyo will be when they come back to Europe.”

“I of course have my personal views on the current health situation in Tokyo due to the Covid-19 pandemic. There are many different aspects of this, and the situation is not 100% under control yet. However, it’s not my decision to make as to whether we are going or not. My job is to get a strong team to Tokyo and have the horses and riders perform as good as possible – and that’s where my focus is,” Ankarcrona closes off. 


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