"When I got back from WEG in September I started studying for a bachelor’s degree in communications because it’s important to think about the future either in or out of the sport. I’m studying full-time remotely via e-learning, and I must manage that around my work and training. I don’t have much time for anything else.”
Dutch Para dressage rider Rixt van der Horst has sights on the 2019 European Championships and Tokyo 2020 Paralympics. But she is also looking farther beyond.
After scooping three gold medals at the World Equestrian Games (WEG) in September, van der Horst started full-time studies and a new job. Her preparations for Tokyo are much different from Rio 2016, but she is determined to handle the workload.
“For the last few years I was a full-time athlete,” the 26-year-old explained, “which was good to stay focused.
“But when I got back from WEG in September I started studying for a bachelor’s degree in communications because it’s important to think about the future either in or out of the sport. I’m studying full-time remotely via e-learning, and I must manage that around my work and training. I don’t have much time for anything else.”
Work keeps her fully connected with sport, as she crunched data for the Dutch National Olympic Committee to help their preparations for the Tokyo Games.
“Sometimes I’m in the office and sometimes I can work from home, but either way it’s nice to get the experience and develop myself,” van der Horst said.
Along for the ride
A pair of beautiful horses have accompanied van der Horst on her journey so far. She won her first WEG and European golds on Uniek, and her three Rio 2016 medals (a silver and two bronze) on Caraat.
Now she rides the mare Findsley, whom she only started to ride competitively at the start of 2018.
“It’s hard to find a good Para horse – one that is not too big or too nervous and I was looking for a horse for Tokyo,” van der Horst said. “I talked to a lot of people about what I was looking for and one of them told me about Findsley.
“I saw videos of her on Facebook and contacted the owner who agreed to lease her to me to prepare for Tokyo. It was difficult to begin with as she was a different riding experience to Uniek and Caraat and we both had to learn a lot about each other and train hard. But she is generally sweet and calm, and she learns quickly as she proved at WEG.”
At WEG, van der Horst alongside teammate Sanne Voets became one of only two non-British riders to win three gold medals at a major competition (team, individual, and freestyle). It was an impressive defence of the individual golds she picked up at the 2014 WEG, on her major international debut.
“I knew we had the power to win, and we were in good shape and getting better every day, but we were really inexperienced as a couple and had only been together for nine months at that time,” van der Horst said.
“Because of that I certainly didn’t expect three golds – and it’s given me a huge dose of hope as we move towards Tokyo 2020.”