FEI Awards
Against All Odds

17 November 2016

Today we take look at one of the most touching, inspiring and emotional categories of the FEI Awards - Against All Odds.

We can only imagine what it must be like be in their shoes and face the challenges they have to overcome each day.

Without a doubt, each of these are more than worthy of collecting the award, but it can be only one.

Let’s take a look at the 4 nominees for the 2016 award:


Rodolpho Riskalla


In 2015, Brazilian Rodolpho Riskalla was preparing himself to compete at the Rio Olympics in Dressage.  A top athlete representing his country at the peak of his profession.  Everything was as it should be.


This all changed when he contracted an extremely aggressive form of Meningitis during a holiday. He slipped into a coma and when we awoke, the doctors had to remove most of his fingers, as well as amputate hit legs below the knee.  His Olympic dreams were shattered.


But the determination of Rudolph was iron clad - and he set his sights on another goal - to compete for his country at the Paralympic games that same year.


With doctors, friends and family telling him he was mad for attempting such a thing a few short months after losing his limbs, he got back in the saddle with less than 12 months to train for Rio - this time with no legs and few fingers. 


His determination, passion, resilience and dedication have made him a national hero. He pursued his dream of representing his country at home despite what life threw at him and in order to do so had to work tremendously hard to overcome his adversity. 


Manuel Franke Bertolotto

Manuel is a very special young man.  He is the only rider with Down Syndrome that competes at official competitions in Chile, and is a force to be reckoned with.


He began riding at age 6 when his father introduced him to horses, and he was hooked.  In a ironic twist of fate, the reservations that Manuel received from his riding school teachers because of his disability only made him push harder to pursue his dream of riding competitively. 



In 2015 he participated for the first time in an official jumping competition and came 1st place, competing against riders without any disability. Since then, he has successfully participated in official competitions always placing very well. 


Being labelled a “Sports Hero” by a national magazine in Chile, Manuel has been passionate about opening up the sport to new fans and personally encourages children with his condition to persevere and pursue their dreams.



Hannah Francis


We received by far the most nominations across all the categories for Hannah Francis, who passed away after a long battle with cancer on August 1 this year.


British Hannah was a promising event rider, dedicated to the sport, to her horses and an “equestrian” way of life. On the 1st of May 2015 at the age of 17, she was diagnosed with an aggressive bone cancer and suddenly had to put a halt to her equestrian ambitions, undergoing chemotherapy and several operations to try and get rid of the cancer. 


At the same time, rather than lose hope and give in to the cancer, she began a charity to raise awareness of bone cancer, and raise funds for bone cancer research. 



She also began what would become a lasting legacy – the Willberry Wonder Pony Charity – which grants horsey wishes to children with serious illnesses, from meeting a famous horse for the first time to meeting your equestrian hero or visiting Badminton Horse Trials. 


The equestrian and general sports community was very quick to rally behind her. The FEI actually made a horse passport for Wilberry – a stuffed horse – which has been travelling the world and meeting many of the world’s greats. 


She inspired thousands of people to raise money, especially throughout the equestrian community. Never giving in, setting new goals, she has shown incredible fight, determination and maturity. 


She gave everything to just get back in the saddle, having been told when she was first diagnosed, that she would never ride again. But she did – riding a dressage test at Tatterstalls International. 


Her legacy lives on through her registered charity 'Willberry Wonder Pony' with thousands of volunteers and a board of trustees ensuring her will to live and to set goals remains.



Pepo Puch (AUT) 

Pepo has been a well-known figure on the Dressage circuit for several years now, and is another amazing example of “getting back on the horse”.  He was introduced to the World stage when he competed at various Championships, first as an able-bodied Dressage athlete at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens and then 2 Paralympic Games – London 2012 and Rio 2016 – winning two gold, one silver and one bronze medal. 


After his accident in 2008 which left him with incomplete paraplegia, Pepo had to start a new life and learn how to ride and live again with his disability. 


He has been an inspiration to many individuals around the world and is a great example of resilience, determination and belief. He is an outstanding athlete, known for his horsemanship, friendliness and enthusiasm. 


No matter who takes home the award this year, it's always humbling to see the strength of the human spirit and what can be achieved when we have the determination, tenacity and stubbornness to never give in.


Good luck to all our nominees!  


Text by FEI

Images by Richard Juilliart & Social Media