‘I don’t like to keep horses in a cage’: European champion on listening to her dancing partner’s needs

  • Michèle George topped her class for the third time at the European Para Dressage Championships, winning the freestyle on Best of 8. The result may not be a huge surprise given the pair are the current Olympic and world champions, however this is their first international competition since the Belgian rider broke ribs in a fall just before Waregem CPEDI back in April.

    “I love dancing and apparently she does as well so it’s two creatures inviting each other to dance,” says Michèle. “I am capable of keeping all my focus and to enjoy it. That’s the main goal for me and automatically the performance is there. But today I really loved her attitude; her willingness to work and show ‘I’m the queen’. I had an amazing feeling in the warm-up and you know the feeling when you go into the arena and they grow.”

    Michèle’s score of 81.43% secured a comfortable win over Frank Hosmar (79.05%) and Sophie Wells (76.55%) in silver and bronze, and she described how she keeps her 13-year-old Bonifatius mare sweet.

    At home I try to do a lot of different things with her because she has a lot of thoroughbred blood and she’s not a horse who loves to spend all the time doing dressage work,” says Michèle, who has hemiplegia after an accident in 2008 when a horse she was lungeing bolted and she broke her leg severely. 

    “Where I am based, I ride around showjumpers, there’s a little bit of eventing, there’s a racetrack. So I might have to train with a sulky next to me. There are a lot of things going on and the horses need that because if you put me behind my desk at my computer all day long, I would go mad! I don’t like to put animals in a cage.”

    European Para Championships: “Paris, just wait!”

    This all helps with the mental aspect, while on the technical side, Michèle focuses on the basics.

    “That’s the most important thing because if something goes wrong you have to question why. I always try to look in the mirror and train, train, train,” she says. “During training I try to detect what she loves doing most – a lot of riders try what they like, but I always try to listen to my horse to what she likes.”

    Their How to Train your Dragon routine had a high degree of difficulty, something Michèle has ramped up of late.

    “When I bought the mare in 2019, we didn’t go to the last Europeans with much experience,” adds the 49-year-old, who took freestyle bronze back in the 2019 Europeans. “Tokyo was a year late, so I had an extra year to train, but she was still very complicated even if it looks simple. Today I managed to do a little more complicated lines because my test had become too simple for her. In the beginning I just wanted to give her trust that with Mama in the ring everything is fine, and now I start having the feeling that she starts dancing and that’s only the start because Paris, just wait!”

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