H&H’s Tokyo horse of the day: meet Dr Doolittle, the horse preparing for his Paralympic farewell

  • The last horse and rider to go in the grade I individual Paralympic dressage competition at the Tokyo Games was Finland’s Katja Karjalainen and the chestnut Hanoverian gelding Dr Doolittle. In a very tough field, the experienced pair managed to score 71.89% and take sixth place, qualifying them for the Paralympic dressage grade I freestyle on Monday 30 August.

    A good result here was extra important and emotional for Katja, as this is 18-year-old Dr Doolittle’s last Paralympic Games. The pair have been competing together in para dressage for many years, and have been Finland’s leading combination in the sport. Over the years they have clocked up good results at European Championships in 2015, 2017 and 2019, the World Equestrian Games in 2018 and the Rio Paralympics in 2016 – where Katja was a flag-bearer for Finland.

    “[This means] more than I can say, I don’t have any words for it but it means so much,” said Katja, who was an able-bodied rider until one night in 1988 when she fell ill with what was later diagnosed as generalised vasculitis, and woke up to find her life changed forever. She was left with stiffness, coordination problems, difficulty in movement control and balance, as well as muscle weakness. On top of that, she had to have her right eye removed and has been left with a very small field of vision in her left eye. Despite this, Katja works as a nurse in Mäntsälä where she lives with his husband, specialising in anesthesia and intensive care.

    As a visually impaired rider, Katja uses a caller to help identify where she is in the arena, and she counts the horse’s steps as her caller shouts out the letters. She also relies on the huge bond and trust she has with her horse Dr Doolittle, who is known in the stable as Toope.

    “He gives everything; he gives his rider 150%,” she explained.

    “He is very funny, and he loves to compete and travel. He knows when we are going to a competition. In Finland we are so far away, and had to take a ship and a plane, but he is very lovely to have at a competition and in the arena. He is just a wonderful horse.”

    The lovable chestnut, who is by Dutroon x Grand Cru, was bred by Brunckhorst Hans-Hermann in Germany, and is now owned by Katja and Sara Maattola-Lindholm. He was particularly rewarded here for his purposeful, rhythmic walk, and square halts, which earned eights from the judges.

    But as Katja said, on an occasion such as this, “it was all a highlight”.

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