A Woman
Among
Men

25 August 2017

It's not an everyday skill to be able to drive four horses at great speed and with intricate precision, but then Germany’s Mareike Harm, who is competing in the 2017 FEI European Driving Championships in Gothenburg, is not your everyday athlete. 

 

Equestrian disciplines are notoriously gender equal – it is after all one of only two Olympic sports in which men compete directly with women – but the sheer practicalities of controlling a team of four horses has often made driving a male-dominated affair. 

 

“Yes it is rare. In these Championships I am the only woman, but I’m used to it,” she said laughing. “For the dressage section more women could definitely do it but for the marathon you need a little power and this is the reason why sometimes we are not as good in the marathon as the men, it is easier for them.”

 

 

The precision is easy for me, and the marathon I just have to survive!

It is here that the 31 year old knows she is in a great position. 

 

“My horses are really powerful, you can feel it on the marathon but they are really well trained and settled and easy for me to drive,” she said.

“It was good for me that the horses were for sale two years ago and they were really well trained by Felix Brasseur (Belgian’s former driving world champion) and really easy to drive. I need horses like this – looser and flexible.”

 

It is all well and good getting the right horses but then comes the real bit. 

 

“I have 12 horses in training. Most of them must be trained every day, we train them in the saddle or we drive them in single or pair mainly and twice a week in a team,” Harm said. 

“Minimum, I spend half of the day training.”

 

Growing up on a farm, the German has always been involved in horses, first as a dressage rider and then as a show jumper. Her move to the world of driving was a lucky accident.  

 

“My mum started driving a single because she had problems with her back and then I took the reins one day,” she said, with an air of finality. 

 

Her background often gives her an edge over the field in both the opening dressage and the closing cones test, even if the bit in-between is a little tricky. 

 

 

Euros17_Driving_ Mareike_BIGLETTERS

 

“The precision is easy for me, and the marathon I just have to survive,” she said smiling. 

 

Although an unfamiliar sight, she has been welcomed warmly into the driving family from day one and revels in the camaraderie formed by spending weeks at a time at Championships all over Europe.

 

Her fellow competitors also know she is a serious contender. Harm finished ninth at the World Championships last year and is ranked inside the top 15 of the current FEI World Cup standings. 

 

As competitive as she certainly is however, for Harm there is one over-ridding reason behind her chosen profession. 

 

“It is just having four horses that you have to bring them together as a team – that’s why I love it,” she said. 

 

Watch all the action LIVE over on FEI TV

 

Text by Luke Norman

Images by Richard Juilliart