Tales from Rio: ‘It was the worst night of my life’

  • Last Sunday night, Denmark’s Stinna Kaastrup tossed and turned, wondering whether she would ever get to compete at a Paralympic Games.

    Stinna’s horse, Smarties, was one of five asked to come forward for reinspection after failing the trot-up.

    “It was the worst night of my life — I woke up every hour. I was in disbelief, because my horse was fine, and it scares me that one person had the power to ruin all this for me,” said 22-year-old Stinna.

    Luckily, Smarties passed the reinspection and the pair went on to win two individual bronze medals. But it would not have been the first time Stinna had had the Paralympic dream snatched cruelly away.

    Born without legs, Stinna started riding aged six and in 2008 began her partnership with the 14.2hh gelding Labbenhus Snoevs. The pair claimed silver at the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky in 2010, then went one better to win freestyle gold at the 2011 European Championships. They were all set for London 2012 when tragedy struck.

    “Right before London he got a blood clot. It was so sudden — we had just won gold and were preparing to go to the Paralympics together — then one day he just died,” remembers Stinna, tears filling her eyes. “Now I’m finally here with Smarties and I know that Snoevs is watching over us. This is for him too.”

    ‘One hundred difficulties’

    Stinna is a fascinating rider to watch. With no legs, she uses a soft, treeless saddle with two handles, and carries a dressage whip on each side, but has nothing additional to help keep her in the saddle. She generates so much power using just her seat, and the 15-year-old Smarties simply pings around the arena.

    But there have been “one hundred difficulties” to get to this point. After Snoevs, Stinna partnered the dark bay mare Steffi Graf.

    “She was the sweetest soul but she couldn’t cope with the power I needed in the trot,” explains Stinna, a grade Ib rider. “She started getting scared and it cost us medal after medal.”

    Continued below…

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    At the end of 2015, Stinna made the difficult decision to let Steffi go to Norwegian grade Ia rider Birgitte Reitan, who partners Steffi here in Rio. Stinna was given the ride on former grand prix horse Smarties, and the pair took a while to get used to one another.

    “Whenever I touched him with my whips he thought I wanted passage or piaffe. He passaged round our whole test at the Waregem CPEDI in April and I had never ridden a horse like that. It was like going from a Skoda to a Ferrari.

    “In May I said to our national trainer, ‘Rio is not possible’, but then we were selected, and we worked our butts off all summer. Eventually it just clicked. I feel so thankful just to be here with Smarties.”

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