Interviews

Karen Polle: From Dreams to Riding With Wings in the Rolex Grand Slam of Showjumping

2019.12.12.99.99 Interview Karen Polle Ashley Neuhof

Geneva, Switzerland – December 12, 2019 – Karen Polle (JPN) is competing this week at the CHI of Geneva 5*. The young star has made many of her dreams come true, dreams that have led her to taking part in events of the Rolex Grand Slam of Showjumping, all aboard her horse of a lifetime, With Wings.

How did the Young Riders Academy help you achieve your goals and further your career?

I think it did a lot for my career. First of all, during the year that I lived in the Academy we had sessions where we would do a mixture of lectures and practical sessions. I found them so informative and you learn so much about the sport. The topics ranged from veterinary care to FEI ranking point systems, types of footing, horse management and the economic side of the sport. So, from an educational standpoint, it had a huge impact on me as a rider. It is especially important for me as I actually manage my own horses in conjunction with my owner. Beyond that, the people you meet throughout the academy are very important and helpful. Everyone is always willing to give help and guidance and it is such a great community to be in. The Academy really helps you to get into shows, especially when you are trying to break into that top-level of the sport.

What are the reasons for your early success?

I think probably the most important thing is not giving up. This sport is very difficult, you lose more than you win, and the horses have a mind of their own which you can’t control. So, it is all about perseverance. I take it very hard when it doesn’t go well and I really blame myself, but I have learned a real lesson to put my mistakes behind me and to focus on the next task at hand. I am still working on this, but it is so important to be able to do this if you want to make it to the top.

The Majors are investing in more U25 competitions, how important are these events?

I think they are great classes. They give young riders an opportunity to jump at nearly the highest level, but jumping against their peers rather than jumping against the top riders almost allows you to get your feet wet a bit. I think it is really good to get mileage and gain confidence at that top level, so it is a great thing for the sport.

Do you feel a responsibility to help grow the sport of show jumping in Asia?

I am really glad to see that the sport is growing in Asia. As a Japanese and Asian rider, I definitely feel a responsibility and want to play whatever part I can in expanding the sport. I think at least in Japan there is a big interest in horse racing, but not so much show jumping. I think the reason it’s not as popular yet is because it’s not quite as well-known, but I think once people learn how great show jumping is and how great the horses are, I do think it will become very popular. It is all about building awareness around the sport and I think with the Olympic Games coming up this is starting to happen which is great. The Japanese eventing team is very strong, both individually and as a team. Also, they are hosting an Asian Championship in Thailand in December for the first time and that involves a lot of investment and infrastructure so there definitely is a growing interest in the sport.

When did you decide you wanted to be a show jumper?

Probably when I was a junior. I competed in the US national jumper championships, and I went into it being a real under-dog. I had an amazing week and my horse was incredible and we ended up winning which was very special. After that I understood what it felt like to win and that’s when I knew I wanted to do show jumping. I thought to myself, if I work really hard, I could maybe achieve more. After that moment, I just absolutely loved show jumping and it catapulted from there.

What are the three attributes that make a 5-star horse?

I think the biggest one is heart. Horses that have a big heart, who dig in and fight for you are always going to be the most successful. Secondly and quite obviously, the horse also has to have scope to be able to jump the jumps that we are faced with. Finally, I think the third is mentality and it’s a little bit broad but something that encompasses both the understanding element and the enjoyment factor. Horses must enjoy competing and be willing to learn which I think all comes under mentality.

How important is the role of the owners in show jumping?

It is so important. I have an owner from Japan who owns two of my top horses and I can’t thank him enough for his generosity because he has given me the opportunity to ride two world class 5-star horses and what that’s done for my career is incredible. I am very grateful.

If you weren’t a show jumper what would you be?

I would probably be doing something in business. I studied economics at school so definitely along that track.

Source: Press release from Rolex Grand Slam of Showjumping

Photo: © Ashley Neuhof