Julia Krajewski ’s hopes of setting her Olympic record right in Tokyo may have been shattered, but she will be back. Pippa Roome meets her
TWO months ago Julia Krajewski was a potential individual medallist at this summer’s Olympics, as certain of her ticket to Tokyo as any rider. Now, the horse the German should have taken on that journey, Samourai Du Thot (pictured above), will never event at the top level again. He grazes in the field, sound and happy, but his cruel early retirement has been forced by the loss of an eye.
“He had this infection a while ago, but everything was going fine, I was training him with our eyes set on Tokyo,” says Julia. “Then, it turned worse. His eye was operated on twice, it didn’t work, he became blind. To keep the infection from going to his brain, they had to remove his eye.”
Speaking a week after announcing the retirement of “Sam”, Julia is admirably calm.
“It feels like some sort of error that his career ended so suddenly,” she says. “There are horses eventing with one eye, but he’s 15, he’s always been a nippy, slightly spooky horse. Maybe he could compete at the low levels, but it would feel strange to aim him at two-stars.
“He doesn’t have to prove anything to me and I don’t want to risk him getting frightened or having a fall.
“The last feel I have of him across country was winning the four-star long at Strzegom last October. He was super-cool to ride and I don’t want to change that. It was a quick decision.”
Sam’s record is incredible – out of 56 international runs, he was in the top five 40 times and won 18 classes, including the five-star at Luhmühlen in 2017.
Julia says: “He took me to my first five-star, my first Olympics, my first European team, won so much. No one thought that when he came. They asked if he could gallop enough, if he’d be good enough in the dressage. He turned out to be one of the fastest, most careful, most reliable horses.”
Julia’s one regret is their championship record. The pair were called in from the reserve spot at Rio, but ended up as the discard score in Germany’s team silver after three refusals, a miserable result compounded by outrageously rude remarks on television during her round, for which commentator Carsten Sostmeier later apologised.
“The Olympics was way too early,” reflects Julia now, noting that Rio was the pair’s first event after their five-star debut at Luhmühlen, where they finished third. “Some time ago I watched the video of that Luhmühlen and saw how super-careful Sam was – maybe then going to the biggest cross-country that has been built in a while wasn’t the best option.”
A year later, they were disqualified from the Europeans and Germany lost team silver when Sam tested positive for controlled medication. Julia has always maintained she doesn’t know how the substance entered his system.
“Strzegom – we all know how that ended,” she says ruefully. “But for me, Sam was the most reliable horse. If he didn’t go well, there was always a reason for it, it was not that he just decided it wasn’t his day. Most times it wasn’t even difficult to do well on him.
“I would have wished for him finally to show what we were able to do at championship level. He did bounce back to winning everything else and he knows he’s special, but I would have liked to get that straight.”
JULIA started riding when her family moved to a rural area when she was five or six and her parents transformed an old pig farm into a little yard. When she was nine she started riding Cyrano 89, a pony stallion who was later gelded.
“He was a bit unruly and didn’t like dressage, so eventing was our choice and that’s how I ended up being an event rider,” she says.
She went to her first pony Europeans when she was 12 in 2001 and won double gold.
“It was foot-and-mouth year and everything was cancelled, I went to an event and didn’t even realise it was a selection trial,” she says.
She followed that with pony team gold and individual silver in 2002; two junior team golds and an individual silver came next in 2005 and 2006, riding Leading Edge 2.
“He was always doing funny new things: one year he didn’t like water, the next he spooked at the dressage letters,” she says. “He didn’t last long – he wasn’t made for eventing – but he’s 23 now and my mother still rides him.”
Julia took over her young rider horse, Lost Prophecy, from one of her two younger sisters, Greta, after an unfortunate incident.
“I went on holiday with friends after my A levels, but it was very short as I wanted to be there to help her at the junior selection trials,” says Julia. “I had just landed at Dusseldorf airport when my mother texted to say, ‘You can stay in Spain, your sister learnt the wrong dressage test…’”
Julia won double silver at the young rider Europeans and Lost Prophecy took her to her first three-stars (now four-stars).
“He was pure warmblood, bought to be a pre-novice horse, but he made me realise how much horses can achieve if they have the heart and want to do the job,” she says.
NOW 32, Julia has been based at the German national centre at Warendorf for 14 years, since she was invited to join the “Perspectiv Gruppe” in 2007.
“The goal was to help young people find their way in the sport as professionals,” she says. “But in the beginning I didn’t want to earn my money with riding, because I always felt it was a tough, insecure job.”
Nonetheless she did her basic exams as a professional rider after two years, spent three years in the army sports corps, then did a master’s degree in riding. After this, she spent a couple of years combining riding, working half the day in the federation office and studying part-time for a sports and coaching diploma in Cologne.
After a period as a fully employed national coach, at the end of 2020 she went self-employed. She has a 12-stable barn in a big block at Warendorf and still coaches, including being the national junior coach.
“I got brave enough to make the step,” she says. “It’s difficult, but after spending years in the business and knowing more people, I felt confident enough to do it.
“I wanted to be more flexible. If you’re fully employed it obviously brings pluses, but it’s eight hours a day and even though the federation was supportive of my riding, it had to fit in time-wise. I had collected a bunch of nice young horses and now I’m more focused on riding. That said, I can’t say I teach less… so maybe I just do more.”
Among Julia’s up-and-coming stars are the six-year-olds Great Twist (by the Gem Twist clone Gemini) and ChinTonic. The latter is a full brother to Chipmunk FRH, the Bramham winner on whom she also led the dressage at the World Equestrian Games in 2018 before the ride moved to Michael Jung and the horse gained the “Fischer” prefix.
“I would have liked to keep Chipmunk, but we had a contract with his owner and it expired. We came to an agreement. It happens. It’s two years ago; you get used to it,” she shrugs. “I still haven’t been to Badminton or Burghley, and Badminton was my plan for the 2019 spring with Chipmunk, but maybe his brother can do it.
“They have similarities but ChinTonic is a different type; more compact, a bit cheeky.”
Julia moved from a small apartment to a house three minutes’ drive from the yard just before the first lockdown, and has become a keen gardener.
“Last year my mother gave me aubergine… it didn’t make it, but the roses are doing fine and I’m excited to see how my rhododendron bushes will grow,” she says. “It sounds a bit boring, maybe it makes me sound old?”
She enjoys city breaks and skiing and her bolonka dog, Teddy – “he’s little, very fluffy but doesn’t lose hair”. She has a boyfriend “but I keep things private,” she says, charmingly but firmly.
WITH Samourai Du Thot out of the picture, Julia’s championship hopes for this year rest on the 11-year-old mare Amande De B’Neville.
“She was unlucky as a young horse – she got stuck in the walker and had time off, she had a teeth problem and had time off,” says Julia. “She would really fight for you and dig deep. She only has to learn to contain herself and get stronger mentally and physically.”
Realistically, the Europeans are the mare’s goal – “in theory it could still be Olympics,” says Julia, but she knows competition is tough. A win for the pair at Saumur last week will not have harmed their chances, though.
In terms of ambitions, Julia says she wants to “keep having fun” in eventing.
She explains: “A few times I thought about giving up because it was hard feeling the backlash – the positive medication or the Olympics – but when times were difficult, riding was something I chose to do to calm down and concentrate on something else. Being around horses is just what I love to do.
“I like to win, but I especially like things to go well. I like to bring horses up, to shape the rough diamond into a four-star or five-star winner. It’s so much work, time, planning and thinking, but the reward is so cool.
“A well-trained event horse is the ideal of how a horse should look – to achieve that with the horse and then go to a competition and smash it, that’s cool. If the horse made a huge step forward, I’m as happy as if I’m winning. That’s what I love about the sport, getting the best out of you and the horse together.”
For now, Julia knows she can’t rush other horses to fill Sam’s shoes.
“I know I can do well, I know I can bring up horses, I know I can win, but I also know things have to come together, the time has to be right and you shouldn’t push your horses or pressure yourself into it,” she says. “That’s maybe something I learnt over the years. To try to find your happiness in winning – that’s quite superficial.”
This interview can also be read in this week’s Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 6 May
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