SABINE SCHUT-KERY’S story of how she came to land Olympic dressage silver in Tokyo is remarkable. As a 52-year-old debutante, she came into the Games as the lowest scorer on the US team. Yet she outperformed all expectations, producing personal bests left, right and centre on the delightful San Remo stallion Sanceo.
Sabine was a relative unknown to European audiences, despite being born in Germany. She isn’t from horsey heritage, nor did she have much interest in dressage for many years. Her background was predominantly in exhibition riding – on Friesians and Spanish PRE horses. She performed on the biggest of stages – at Aachen and Madison Square Gardens. In one travelling show, she was a side-saddle princess.
Yet it was standing on an Olympic podium that left her so overwhelmed she was barely able to speak in the post-match interviews in Tokyo, such was her consternation. She’s been reflecting on the immensity of her achievements, letting the gravitas percolate now she’s home in California.
“I never dared to think that I could be an Olympian,” says Sabine, in softly spoken, fluent English, with quite a pronounced German accent. “And it never worked for me to train my horses with competition goals in mind. I didn’t want to get caught up in the goals and pressure and take short cuts in the horses’ education.”
Sanceo qualified for the Bundeschampionate in Germany as a five-year-old, but Sabine felt he was too green to go. Worrying that seems defeatist, she insists: “I am committed and competitive, but I was always afraid to admit that I didn’t think I was good enough…”
Does she finally believe she is now? “Maybe, maybe I am now,” she concedes, though it’s clear that this new cloak of magnificence is still a little uncomfortable.
IT wasn’t all that long ago that Sabine’s biggest equestrian ambition was to teach a horse a flying change. As a child growing up in Germany, her sister dragged her along to the yard. Her sister’s interest waned, but by then Sabine was addicted.
“I lived the barn lifestyle,” she recalls. “I feel lucky we did it old school: we cleaned stalls and in exchange you got to cool down a horse, which was a highlight. I remember the first time an older rider asked me if I wanted to cool down a horse and I thought, ‘Wow, I’ve taken my first real step into the equestrian world.’”
Sabine’s education was well-rounded: via Pony Club she took her bronze horsemanship badge, which included things like group jumping. She also gained her silver driving badge, and can drive four-in-hand.
“Our barn had very strong local Pony Club links, and the other half was a gentleman who imported Friesians from the Netherlands and PREs from Spain,” she says. “When we grew out of our ponies at age 14, the ones of us who stuck around got to ride his horses. That’s how I slipped into the exhibition world.
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