Lisa's Final
Countdown

29 March 2019

Lisa Williams' appearance in next month's Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Finals will bring the curtain down on her successful European adventure...

South African Jumping hero Lisa Williams will head to Gothenburg in April for one last jaunt on the European circuit before her life-changing career adventure comes to an end and she returns home to South Africa.

 

After a whirlwind season including WEG, Leipzig, Glock and Salzburg, Lisa is feeling prepared for the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Finals next week.

 

“Our indoor season preparation has included some incredible, iconic shows,” she says. “The FEI have been incredible by granting me my Wild Card allocation for some of these big shows – without these there would be no way for us to gain some experience and gain even an inkling of an idea about what the World Cup Finals will be like.”

"It’s been an
incredible
journey"

Lisa and her 13-year-old bay gelding Campbell had a less-than-perfect road to the World Equestrian Games™ (WEG) in Tryon last year.

As South African horses cannot be exported directly to Europe due to African Horse Sickness, it’s necessary to first spend three weeks in quarantine in South Africa, followed by three months in Mauritius after which they gain Mauritian passports and be exported to Europe.

 

In Mauritius, not only is there a lack of facilities for riding, but Campbell also suffered from severe respiratory problems due to the humidity.

 

When asked whether she’s feeling more prepared for Finals than for WEG, given the lack of preparation, Lisa simply laughs.

 

“I can’t be as presumptuous as to predict where we might finish, but I am feeling way more prepared for Gothenburg than I was for WEG,” she says.

 

“I hope to go to the World Cup Finals with a fit, sound, healthy, happy horse and have a clear mind to jump the best possible rounds I can.

 

“From the start this journey has been a case of me competing against myself. Improving on the previous round; both Campbell and I learning from our mistakes. I would love WEG to be this year after the World Cup Finals instead of last year. We both now have so much more experience than we did even three months ago.”
 

But it isn’t just riding round the big tracks that has given Lisa exposure, it’s also the quality of the other riders.

 

Lisa says she is “in awe” of how many brilliant riders there are at the shows, not just the top 20 big names but the hundreds and hundreds below them who are all incredible.

 

She says that just being able to watch riders like Christian Ahlmann, Marcus Ehning, Steve Guerdat, Lorenzo De Luca and other household names has been “a huge privilege.” Instead of minding her own business, you’ll find Lisa checking out the warm up or the ring and absorbing all of the knowledge and information that she can.

 

For South Africans, Williams’ journey has been nothing short of inspirational.

 

For many equestrians based there, the dream is to compete overseas. Unfortunately with quarantine periods, a weak currency and a lack of exposure to the FEI-level competition, it’s a hard slog to make it happen.

 

Lisa says that “South Africans have been unbelievably supportive and inspiring.”

 

She says: “All I have experienced from them is support, inspiration, motivation, kindness. It would be amazing if more South Africans could venture overseas.

 

“To do it like Lexi Stais has is brilliant for a young person without any commitments.  Lexi is a very talented rider, but more so she is extremely hard working and dedicated.

 

“I have seen her at a show with 4 horses to look after on her own and compete. That takes a lot of dedication.  I admire her.

 

“To do it like I have done it is not sustainable for a long period of time. I have a business and a family to consider. The cost of living in Europe; keeping and competing even one horse is extremely expensive.

 

“To do this journey justice and give it my best shot I decided not to commute to and from South Africa. In a year I have been back to South Africa once, just after WEG.  I have stayed with Campbell and looked after him the whole time I have been in Europe. I am at a show every two to three weeks so it is hard to travel to SA and back in that time and keep him fit, jumping etc. One other problem that I encountered with my South African passport is getting a sports/long stay visa.”

 

What would be her advice to anyone from South Africa or other developing equestrian nations wanting to make the big leap into top level competition in Europe?

 

Lisa strongly cautions against bringing over a talented but inexperienced horse if you want to export one to compete overseas.

 

Her advice is instead to do it on “an experienced 1.50m/World Cup horse, and preferably a horse that is winning regularly in your home country.” 

 

She cites expenses and entries at shows as the main reason for this, saying that “it is too expensive to do the production in Europe at a higher level.  Above 2* level, entries and invitations are very hard to get. International show entries and expenses are very costly if you’re from a country with a weaker currency like South Africa.

 

“Most of the time the entries you qualify for from 3* up depend on your ranking and on your results. This means of course that you don’t have a competent, experienced, winning horse you won’t get the results in 2* to get to 3*, and then to 4* and then to 5*.”

 

It’s obvious that there are a lot of challenges with a South African rider wanting to compete in Europe, particularly if you want to do it on your own horses.

 

Other than the reality of being based in a foreign place by yourself, there are also other considerations in terms of competing.

 

In South Africa for example, horses tend to always jump outdoors and as space is so abundant, there are often wide, open distances and a different style of courses. While there are FEI Jumping classes, they only go up to three-star level. Lisa found that the jumps weren’t so much taller as much wider than she was used to, and says that the poles are “extremely light and fall for almost no reason.”

lisa-letters-2803

Unsurprisingly, Lisa found the change to Jumping indoors a challenge.

“Yes, riding indoors took adjusting to!” she says. “You need a strong pace to jump huge fences off tight turns, especially in the very small arenas.

 

“It’s really important to work on balance and self-carriage after the fence and be able to shorten the stride in an instant. Plus I’ve found that the time allowed is very tight so if you add more than a stride on the track you are more than likely going to get time faults.”

 

Despite this, Lisa still believes that South African riders have the talent and horses to make competing in Europe happen.

 

She belies that “the standard of riding and competition in South Africa is very good.”

 

Compared to Europe though, South Africa lacks numbers and easy movement between borders.

 

“We don’t have the sheer numbers of horses and riders that Europe does to facilitate and sustain their level of competition up to 5* despite having great horses, riders and coaches. I think there are numerous riders that could do very well overseas if they were given the right opportunities and funding.” 

 

What’s next on the cards for South Africa’s equestrian hero?

As much as she (and her supporters!) would love for her to continue blazing a trail in Europe, it is sadly not to be.

 

“After Gothenburg, I go home” says Lisa. “I’d love to jump the outdoor season again now that I have more experience but I have finances to consider and my business and family have been patient and long suffering

 

“It’s been an incredible journey and I’ve jumped at amazing shows and travelled to wonderful places. By going to the FEI World Cup Finals I will have achieved what I set out to do.”

Tune into FEI TV for live coverage of next week's Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ from April 3-7...

 

Words by Sophie Baker

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