Tales from Rio: ‘I was on 21 painkillers, but I had to qualify for the Olympics’

  • It’s not unusual for a rider not to trot up their own horse at the vet inspection, perhaps because they are injured themselves. But for Danish dressage rider Anna Kasprzak, letting trainer Andreas Helgstrand trot up Donnperignon at the Rio Olympics was more about preventing an injury.

    “After the vet check at the European Championships in Aachen last year I was on the way back to the stable when he got scared and jumped in front,” says Anna. “Then he got scared of me and kicked me — I saw his hoof coming.

    “He hit me in the chest and my first reaction was that he was loose, but luckily my groom had him. I passed out, it really hurt.”

    X-rays at the hospital in Aachen didn’t reveal any breaks.

    “They wanted to keep me in, but I said no, I had to ride to help my team qualify for the Olympics,” says Anna. “The doctors weren’t happy. I had 21 different painkillers.

    “I rode in the grand prix and the special, but it was very painful. I was going to ride until an hour before the freestyle, but I couldn’t do it any more, the pain was hell and I was just crying.”

    Despite Anna’s valiant efforts in completing her two team tests, Denmark missed out on a team qualification in Aachen. But they managed to qualify a “composite team” for Rio — when individual riders win places through the rankings system.

    Back home in Denmark, Anna discovered she had broken her sternum and three ribs. She needed three months off riding to recover.

    As Donnperignon, a 17-year-old by Donnerhall, misbehaved at the Rio trot-up, Anna was glad she hadn’t taken the risk of trotting him up herself.

    “It’s good he’s happy, but he is naughty,” she says. “He’s also blind in his left eye, so he can’t see on one side.”

    The Kasprzaks knew that Donnperignon had an eye condition when they bought him.

    “A white film would come over his eye and it was stress related — he’d get it from travelling — but we knew about it and how to treat it,” says Anna. “We had a paste to put in his eye and he was really sweet about it.”

    All was well until the medication Donnperignon required was added to the banned substance list. His condition worsened and became painful for him and he had to have an operation. Now it no longer needs treatment or causes him any problems, but he is largely blind in that eye.

    “The front of the eye is ok, but he can’t see behind,” says Anna, explaining that the horse had time to adjust because his sight deteriorated gradually. “If there was a noise on the left side, I’d let him see it and he’d see that if I’m not reacting, it’s fine.”

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    Anna credits her groom of six years, Jane Kallistrup, for helping her to manage the horse.

    “I’ve said if she’ll stay with me for another four years, I’ll try to qualify for the Olympics again,” she says.

    Anna scored 74.524% for 15th in the grand prix special today, meaning she has qualified for Monday’s freestyle, her aim coming into this Games.

    Full 20-page report on the dressage from Rio in H&H next week, out Thursday 18 August, including full analysis of how the medals were won and comment from Richard Davison and Peter Storr.

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