Tales from Tokyo: ‘Storm Alex destroyed 80% of our stables’

  • On 2 October last year, Alexandre Ayache’s yard was almost destroyed by Biblical rainfall as “Storm Alex” battered south-east France. Eight months later, he is competing for the French dressage team in the Tokyo Olympic Games.

    In one “apocalyptic” night, Alexandre lost 10 stables and 12 more were on the verge of collapse with the soil crumbling beneath them. One stable was washed away down a ravine, the wind tore the roofing off and one employee nearly drowned. None of the horses were harmed, but the business Alexandre had built up over 17 years all but disintegrated overnight.

    “We lost 80% of the stables,” said Alexandre after scoring 68.929% in Saturday’s grand prix test on Zo What (Scandic x Cocktail). “It’s been very complicated to train – we couldn’t leave the premises for more than four months [because of Covid protocols]. It hasn’t been a perfect year for preparation.”

    Alexandre was left frustrated by the highly sensitive Zo What’s performance. Although there were no major errors, it was the gelding’s worst grand prix score for more than two years. The marks were trending even lower at the start and gradually climbed up to nearly 69%, which put him seventh in the ultra competitive group three.

    “My test today wasn’t too bad, but I was hoping to do a bit better,” he said. “The marks started off low when the horse was on edge, so the rein-back was a little tense. He relaxed as the test went on.”

    “Winners have plans, losers have excuses”

    What with storms and Covid, Zo What has only had two competitive outings since 2019. And it must have seemed like a taunting nightmare as Tokyo’s muggy skies deluged just before Alexandre went into the ring. As well as the sudden rainfall, the tarpaulins covering the cameras contributed to Zo What’s tension. But Alexandre, who was making his Olympic debut after being reserve for Rio, was quick to play down these factors.

    “Winners have plans, losers have excuses,” he said. “The rain didn’t bother my horse, but he is lacking competition experience which made him tense.”

    France is currently lying 10th in the team standings, with two more riders – Morgan Barbançon and Maxime Collard – left to go. The top eight teams qualify for the final team competition.

    “We are here above all for the team, so I am sad I couldn’t get better marks today,” Alexandre added.

    After the year Alexandre has endured, simply reaching the Olympics is a significant achievement. But as a true sportsman who has weathered real storms, he’s making no excuses.

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