Her name might sound German, but Dublin-born Heike Holstein will be flying the flag for Ireland at Athens, where she will be competing in her third Olympics. This makes her something of a veteran, even though she is only 33 years old.
Heike was the youngest rider when she competed at her first Olympics in Atlanta at the age of 24. It was only her 10th grand prix.
“I’m totally at ease with it all now I know the ropes,” she says with a laugh. “But it was different then. Now I get more nervous watching in the stands than I do competing.”
Heike’s partner is the 12-year-old Hanoverian gelding Welt Adel, whom she has had since he was a three-year-old. She first saw him at a show for young trotting horses in Germany.
“He was very naughty, but I loved him the minute I saw him, so I bought him there and then,” she recalls.
Welt Adel is by Wandervolgel, a big German trotting stallion whose strength is his extended trot. His son proved that he had inherited both his sire’s size and action.
“He was very big and so rideable. He finds everything very easy, but I didn’t want to push him, so he was turned away and rebroken when he was five,” she explains.
“He’s mature now,” she says. “He used to try to use his size against me when he was younger. But he is very trainable. Once he understands something, he’s there. It took 18 months to teach him to do one flying change, but once he’d stopped bucking and farting it took him just six days to learn one-times.”
Heike, who has a degree in business studies, has ridden since she was three. Her German mother is an international dressage judge and was a top competition rider, so Heike’s upbringing was steeped in horses and riding.
Although she now trains with British team coach Ferdi Eilberg, Heike was lucky enough to spend two years as the only working pupil with the great Reiner Klimke in Germany.
She won her first elementary at the age of 13 at the Dublin Horse Show, took the Irish national title five years later and has gone on to repeat this success seven times.
Irish chef d’equipe Veida Tansey describes Heike as someone who puts dressage first.
“She’s a very dedicated rider,” she says. “She always puts her best foot forward and does her utmost for Ireland.”
At last year’s European Championships at Hickstead, the pair scored 67% and was the best-placed combination not already selected. Now, Heike is looking forward
“The Olympics is always a very tough competition and I’d love to get into the top 25,” she says.
Veida adds: “She’s getting quite a veteran at it. I think she’ll maintain her percentage, if not better it. She should do well and we’re all hoping she will.”