Lauren Billys is the sole representative of Puerto Rico in the equestrian events at the Tokyo Olympics, and she and her 19-year-old horse, Castle Larchfield Purdy, have had a rollercoaster journey to get here.
Based in northern California, Lauren rode for the USA until late 2010, when she switched nationality to represent Puerto Rico.
“My grandmother is from Puerto Rico and grew up in Bayamán. In 2009, we found out that her nationality transferred to my own, and so that’s how I got recognised as a Puerto Rican,” explained Lauren.
“I’ve been riding under the Puerto Rican flag since I was 21, and did my first Pan Ams in 2011 and now 10 years later, we’re here at our second Games. I always pictured myself being [at the Olympics] in some capacity and I’m really thankful God gave me the opportunity to represent my heritage; it’s such an honour,” says Lauren, who says riding for Puerto Rico comes with its own responsibilities.
“I think that it’s harder to shine as an individual. There’s not a team around you and behind you and sometimes that shows,” she explains. “I think too that sometimes individuals are viewed as weaker riders or programmes, so I feel a responsibility to say, ‘Screw that – you can do it any way you want to’.
“There’s also a lot of logistical responsibility in getting here; a lot of teams have the support of the finances from their country that supports them with grants to compete all over the world. I work my tail off to provide enough money for my family, and also to compete here, so it’s a responsibility at home as well as on the international stage.”
Lauren Billys: reaching Tokyo against the odds
Lauren and the bay gelding Purdy competed together at Rio in 2016, finishing 44th, but the years between the Games were filled with drama, with Purdy undergoing emergency life-saving colic surgery in 2018, as well as being diagnosed with equine asthma. Then, in 2020, while also dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, Lauren and her family had to contend with devastating California wildfires, being forced to evacuate their home and their horses twice in late August.
It’s testament to Lauren and Purdy’s resilience and determination that they have made it to Tokyo, but their bid for success at their second Games almost ended before it got going, when they were sent to the holding box during the first Olympic eventing trot-up.
“That was hard. He dropped his head as he came out of the turn and kept biting the bit and nodding his head. I’ve never been in the hold; he’s a super sound horse,” said Lauren.
The pair re-presented later that morning and were accepted. They went on to score 39.9 in the dressage, but sadly pulled up across country when the horse “ran out of gas”. Under the new format and rules for the Olympic eventing, however, they can still compete in the showjumping phase, which takes place this afternoon.
This will in fact be Purdy’s last competitive appearance – Lauren has revealed that the 19-year-old gelding will be retired after the Olympics.
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