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Rob Ehrens on Olympic preparations: “It’s complicated”

Tuesday, 25 May 2021

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping. Rob Ehrens. 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. First out is Dutch Chef d’Equipe Rob Ehrens. 

“We are all in the same boat here in Europe,” Ehrens says. “The US is the only place where the sport has been able to go on more or less interrupted after the lockdown last year, but we only had one rider over for the Winter Equestrian Festival – Harrie Smolders – and the rest have been here. Since last year it’s been difficult, but then at the beginning of this season it actually looked like we would be able to do more shows again. However, the EHV-1 outbreak forced us back to lockdown and ever since there have been cancellations and constant rescheduling of shows.”

“Normally, after every outdoor season, I can follow the horses and riders on the indoor circuit. After the indoor circuit, at the end of April, we have always had the Dutch Championships – and this would give me an impression of how my horses and riders had managed during wintertime. Another advantage of having the Dutch Championships at the beginning of the season, was to have a look at which new combinations there were. This is down the drain now,” Ehrens points out. “Under normal circumstances, we would also have the whole outdoor season with enough Nations Cups leading up towards the championships – but now we have had two years in a row with either nothing or very little. It’s complicated.”


Under normal circumstances, we would also have the whole outdoor season with enough Nations Cups leading up towards the championships – but now we have had two years in a row with either nothing or very little.


“I had twelve horse-and-rider combinations on the long-list, but we are now down to nine – a couple of them were not able to compete due to injuries or the horses don’t have the experience for the Olympics,” Ehrens says. “I had a plan to send five combinations to the Nations Cup in La Baule and five to St. Gallen – with an opening to consider if any of those from La Baule perhaps would need to jump again in St. Gallen. I also planned to look at how the horses and riders were doing in other five-star competitions – and then make a selection for the Nations Cup in Rotterdam. This plan got messed up though, because La Baule was moved from mid-May to mid-June, which put St. Gallen and La Baule straight behind each other. I then had a meeting with my riders to divide them out for these two events, but now things have been turned around again due to the cancellations in Falsterbo, Hickstead and Dublin. With only four Nations Cup events in Europe Division 1 left, the FEI wanted to give all ten participating countries a fair chance with three qualifiers each – but only with four riders going. This forced me to yet again re-do my plans, which makes it all the more difficult to prepare. It is how it is though, and we have to be flexible.”

“Being left with only two observation events with space for a maximum of eight riders ahead of the Nations Cup in Rotterdam forced me to re-think our team for La Baule. I decided to pull Maikel van der Vleuten off the team, as he has access to the LGCT-events, as well as other five-stars – and I can observe him competing at these. We have to make sure that we give all the combinations enough competitions, so they get into the right shape and the rhythm. Right now, this is more difficult for riders that are not high on the ranking or connected to a GCL-team so the CSIO5* Nations Cup will be important for them. That we are free in our selection is a big advantage with the Nations Cup-series; we can choose which horse-and-rider combinations to test at a high level and in a team setting. I am one of those who really believe that we have to protect this concept and safeguard it for the future. We have to make sure we have a strong and solid Nations Cup competition format,” Ehrens says. 


I have quite a few combinations on the long-list that never did a five-star Nations Cup for the country.


“I have quite a few combinations on the long-list that never did a five-star Nations Cup for the country,” Ehrens tells. “They did big shows, yes, but never a Nations Cup. Most of them will have their first five-star Nations Cup appearance in either St. Gallen or La Baule. This of course does not make the selection process any easier, but luckily, I know my riders very well – and I know that they are able to do very well even under difficult circumstances. I will do the final selection straight after the CSIO5* show in Rotterdam, so this will be the last test for my riders.” 

“When it comes to the European Championships this year, it is of course possible that we will use some other combinations – we have to see,” Ehrens says. “In a worst-case scenario, the Olympic Games can be over very quickly and then we might end up using the same horse-and-rider combinations in Riesenbeck as in Tokyo. We are lucky though; we have a lot of depth when it comes to horses and riders – when the time comes for the Europeans, we will be further out in the season so there might be new ones that can get a chance.”


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