US rider Beatrice de Lavalette said it “means everything” to win the award, which is given annually to someone who has “pursued their equestrian ambitions despite a physical handicap or extremely difficult personal circumstance”.
Beatrice suffered the life-changing injuries in the attack on Zaventem Airport, Brussels, in March 2016.
“As a result of the attack, I lost a part of myself and my freedom,” she said. “It took me a while to get through my sadness of losing my legs, losing my ability to walk, and waking up in a completely different life.
“Every time I get on a horse, I gain my freedom back. I get to ride a horse almost as everybody else. I get to ride a horse pretty damn well. I love doing it.
“Experimenting and doing different things with the horses gives a sense of power that I often lose being in a chair. So having that sense of freedom and that power back means everything.”
The award was presented by FEI secretary general Sabrina Ibáñez and Belgian Paralympic committee president Anne d’Ieteren.
“The Against All Odds Award means everything”, Beatrice de Lavalette said. “The FEI stands for the highest standard of competition I can achieve, so being recognised by them is awesome and a true honour. It shows me that everything I have done these five or six years has been seen and people have realised how big it really is.”
Peder Fredricson, who was on the Swedish gold medal-winning showjumping team in Tokyo and took individual silver, won the Peden Bloodstock FEI best athlete award.
The 49-year-old world number one, who was unable to attend the gala dinner, said in a video: “I’m really proud and grateful. It means a lot to me, my team, and all my owners.
“Thank you very much to the FEI, to Longines for the beautiful watch and also to Peden Bloodstock for supporting the award. I would like to thank all the people who voted for me too. I’m also very excited to be number one in the Longines rankings. It’s a goal I’ve had for a couple of years.
“I always try to do my best and improve myself, my team and the horses, rather than beat anyone else. We all work really hard to keep the horses fit and healthy, to achieve these goals and win many medals. I’m also very grateful to my owners who stand by me and provide me with this good string of horses. Thank you very much!”
German eventer Greta Busacker, 19, who won team and individual gold at the young rider European Championships, won the Longines FEI rising star award. Her mother Ingrid Klimke won the best athlete award in 2019 and 2020.
“Words can’t describe how honoured I feel because there are so many young talented riders out there,” she said. “They work as hard as I do and I get to stand here. This is for my whole team, my family, my friends. Without them I’d be nothing.”
Greta paid tribute to her horse, 10-year old Oldenburg gelding Scrabble.
“With Scrabble, I’ve learned to be patient. When I stand in the starting box and the countdown is on, I know that I can trust him 100%,” she said. “He has such courage and never gives up. Our connection is such a strong bond. Thank you Scrabble!”
Sweden’s Marie Johansson took the Cavalor FEI best groom award, in recognition of her hard work and dedication in looking after dressage rider Patrik Kittel’s horses. Patrik and his wife Lyndal Oatley were there to celebrate.
“This award means everything to me”, she said. “It’s amazing that we grooms can also be a part of this gala. I’m so happy about all the people who voted for me, it’s such a big thing. I’m super happy and super proud.”
The 2021 FEI solidarity award went to China’s Equuleus Charity, which aims to support young, underprivileged students reach their equestrian dreams while completing their academic studies.
The award is given each year to an “equestrian development project or an individual or organisation that has demonstrated skill, dedication and energy in expanding equestrian sport”.
“I would like to thank, first of all, the FEI and FEI solidarity, who really care about what people do,” founder and CEO Michelle Wang Qiang said. “I would like to thank the Chinese Equestrian Association, who support colleges, students, and our charity, our partner foundations and Alex Hua Tin and his mother Sarah Noble.”
This year’s winners were decided by a combination of public and judges’ votes.
Also present at the gala in Antwerp were the 2020 award winners; Ingrid Klimke, Semmieke Rothenberger, Carmen Thiemann, Angelika Trabert and Ebony Horse Club, who were invited as last year’s ceremony was cancelled owing to the pandemic.
“This is the first time since 2019 that we have been able to celebrate the stars of our sport in person,” said FEI president Ingmar De Vos. “The global pandemic and the EHV-1 outbreak have been very tough on our industry, and I am pleased that we had the opportunity to bring together the community to celebrate these achievements tonight.
“This edition of the FEI awards is special for me, not just because it is being held in a city close to my home in Belgium, but also because it is the FEI’s centennial year. These awards, and the high calibre of nominees every year, continue to be a testament to the growth of our sport and gives us great hope for the future.”
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