RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - More than half a century after she first rode a horse at the age of seven, New Zealand’s Julie Brougham is ready for her Olympic debut this month and credits one close friend with that honour: The chestnut gelding she affectionately calls “Steiny”.
Brougham, 62, brushes off the record she has set as the nation’s oldest Olympic competitor, saying she did little to earn that honour, but waxes poetic when it comes to her 13-year-old German born mount.
“It’s a unique partnership. OK, you have to be on a good horse and you have to be a good rider but there’s something extra there in terms of relationship between you and certainly that’s how I feel with Vom Feinsten,” Brougham, a resident of Manawatu, said in an interview on Wednesday in Rio de Janeiro.
“I’ve had good horses before, but this horse I just have a special relationship with.”
A competitor in dressage, which begins Sunday, Brougham spoke just hours after flying in to Brazil with Vom Feinsten, a step that few of her equestrian peers take, which she said helps to strengthen the bond between horse and rider.
“It helps hugely, particularly with Vom Feinsten,” Brougham said. “He’s very sensitive and what we call a hot horse, he gets quite anxious easily and I think it makes a big difference to him.”
Brougham said she had been working with Vom Feinsten for eight years, but only became convinced he was capable of an Olympic performance when he won New Zealand Dressage Horse of the Year in March 2015.
Her teammate Mark Todd, 60, who made his Olympic debut in Los Angeles in 1984 and will be competing in his seventh Games in Rio, agreed it can take years to be sure that a rider and horse can compete at an Olympic level.
“Generally, you know fairly early on in our sport whether a horse has ability,” said Todd, who had held the record as New Zealand’s oldest Olympian until Brougham qualified. “But you never really know till you get to the really top level whether they are going to have what it takes.”
For Brougham, that confidence comes out of years spent together.
“My husband and I often say he’s our Labrador dog, really,” Brougham said. “He’s very much part of the family. I do most things for him, feed him, look over his health and care and ride him every day.”
Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Alison Williams