Sweden’s equestrian rider Jakobsson overcomes hurdles en route to Tokyo 2020 medal

Louise Etzner Jakobsson won the silver medal in the Para dressage Freestyle Grade IV event at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games and now she has her sights set on competing at the Paris 2024 Games 31 May 2023
A female athlete rides a horse at Tokyo 2020
Jakobsson started riding her horse Goldstrike B.J., less than a year before the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
ⒸSwedish Paralympic Committee
By Ayano Shimizu | The IPC

A year before the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, Swedish Para equestrian rider Louise Etzner Jakobsson started training with a new horse. Then, just two months before the Games, she fractured her leg after falling off her bicycle.

It was not how Jakobsson wanted the lead-up to her second Paralympic Games to be, but the 62-year-old athlete was determined to compete in the Japanese capital.

To her surprise, the Swede won the silver medal in the Para dressage Freestyle Grade IV event at Tokyo 2020.

“I thought it was impossible. Taking a silver medal was a very big surprise for me. I was rather shocked,” Jakobsson said. 

Now with less than 500 days until Paris 2024, the athlete is aiming to compete at the Paralympic Games in France and showcase her special relationship with her new horse, Goldstrike B.J.

Path to Tokyo 2020 

Jakobsson started competing in Para dressage in 2015, four years after she sustained a brain injury in a horse-riding accident. She went on to win two bronze medals at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.

In the spring of 2020, just a few months before the Tokyo 2020 Games were originally set to take place, Jakobsson was left without a horse after the owner of her former horse Zernard retired him from competition.

The athlete had been riding Zernard at major tournaments, including at Rio 2016, and was planning to compete on the same horse at Tokyo 2020. 

“I was the best in the Swedish team for Tokyo, so for me, it was a catastrophe that I no longer had a horse because I wouldn’t be able to help my team,” Jakobsson recalled.  

But eventually things started to work in her favour. Soon after Jakobsson started her search for a new horse, she received a message that one in the Netherlands could be the perfect fit. 

In March 2020, the Tokyo 2020 Games were postponed for one year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I thought I had time to ride the new horse and take him to Tokyo. It was a big trouble to travel to the Netherlands during the pandemic, but he was the right horse. But there was a lot of work that had to be done with the horse,” she said. 

Jakobsson said she rode a horse for the first time when she was three years old. @Swedish Paralympic Committee

Building trust 

Her new horse Goldstrike B.J. arrived in Sweden in mid-September 2020, less than a year before the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.

While working with a new horse is a challenge in itself, Jacobsson also had to participate in competitions and meet certain requirements to become eligible for the Games.

“We only had two international shows in the spring and the beginning of the summer of 2021. The first one in Germany did not go well because (Goldstrike B.J.) was scared of TV cameras,” she said. 

“But the next show in the Netherlands went very well and there we qualified. In my head I was convinced that (Goldstrike B.J.) would qualify because he is such a good horse.” 

However, in June 2021 the Paralympian fell off her bicycle on her way to training and fractured her leg. 

“I had to go to the hospital to have an X-ray. When I was in the hospital, the chief of our Paralympic Committee called and said I was finally cleared to go to Tokyo. But then I said, ‘I am very sorry to tell you but I’m in the hospital and I broke my leg’. 

“But I said that a fracture heals in six weeks and I promise that I will go to Tokyo and ride there.” 

Jakobsson fractured her leg two months before the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. @Swedish Paralympic Committee

Fulfilling a promise 

That is exactly what she did. Although she only managed to resume riding a few weeks before the Paralympic Games, she competed in the Japanese capital and placed fourth in the Championship Grade IV event. 

“I had never been so happy losing a medal because I never thought I could be that fortunate after I injured my leg that summer,” Jakobsson said. 

“I was so happy being in fourth place, and then I thought, ‘Maybe I can do even better in the freestyle because I normally do better’. And I did.” 

Jakobsson picked up the silver medal in the freestyle competition, finishing behind Sanne Voets of the Netherlands. Jakobsson had been speaking to Swedish journalists when the results were announced. 

“I was rather shocked. I’ve seen it many times (on TV) and I look like I didn’t understand a thing. Everyone said it was so fantastic that Swedish television caught that moment (when I found out the results),” she said. 

“I asked them, ‘Are you telling (me the truth)? Is it really true?’ And they said, ‘Yes, you took the silver medal’. But I could hardly believe it.” 

Jakobsson said the competition in Tokyo was "the best place I’ve been to". @Swedish Paralympic Committee

When asked what she enjoys about dressage, Jakobsson explained, “It’s the partnership between human and animal, and to have that understanding. 

“I can teach the horse a special language, and the horse can learn it, and perform together with me. The best ride is when you have that understanding and the two become one.” 

Ticket to ride 

Nearly two years since that moment in Tokyo, Jakobsson sees her bond with Goldstrike B.J. strengthening.  

“Now I think the trust (we have for each other) is even better today. I’ve taught him a lot more, and he has learned to trust me. We know each other a lot better today so we are a much better pair,” the Paralympian said. 

Jakobsson made her Paralympic debut at Rio 2016, where she won two bronze medals. @Buda Mendes/Getty Images

Jakobsson, who will be 64 years old when the next Paralympic Games begin in August 2024, hopes to return to the world's third largest sporting event.

“I’ve travelled a lot ever since I was young. I’ve travelled around the world but I’ve never been to Paris. So I’m thinking, ‘I’m finally going to Paris’ and now I really hope we can qualify,” Jakobsson said. 

“I hope to do my best. I hope (Goldstrike B.J. and I) are going to do better and better because we’ve done that every show this year.”