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Julia Krajewski - From chaos to Olympic success: When dreams come true

By Elisabeth Wille // Foto: FEI / Christophe Taniére, Libby Law Photography, EFE Kai Försterling
Fotos: FEI / Christophe Taniére, Libby Law Photography, EFE Kai Försterling

At first glance, it seems as if the year 2021 had been a dream come true for the 34-year-old German top athlete Julia Krajewski. When you look closer you see that it started with the worst time ever. First, she had to cope with the death of her father, then Julia Krajewski had to retire her top horse Samurai du Thot. To get to the top in Tokyo required incredible discipline, strength, hard work, and determination - and another very talented horse, Amande De B'Neville.

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The fact is that at the beginning of 2021, it didn't look like the Tokyo Olympics were a realistic goal for Julia Krajewski. After she was forced to retire her top horse "Sam" early, she concentrated on training the 11-year-old mare Amande De B'Neville. Rather surprisingly, the pair won the CCI4* in Saumur (FRA) and bronze at the German Championships in spring. This paved the way to show the world that the pair had what it took to become Olympic champions. In an interview with the FEI right after the victory in Tokyo, Julia said she was super proud of her horse and incredibly relieved and happy that she had made it: "I am very grateful for everyone who has been with me all the way. I won my first European Pony Championship title 20 years ago. Since then, it has been a rollercoaster ride. It feels quite surreal."

Early Birds

Julia's riding career started on the back of a Shetland pony "Mohrchen" with mum on the lead rein at the age of three. She doesn’t come from a typical equestrian family. Her parents began to immerse themselves in the world of horses together with their daughters as hobbyists and self-taught riders when the girls - Julia and her two younger sisters - discovered their enthusiasm for horses. The virus took hold of the entire family and a Dartmoor and Connemara pony breeding was soon established on their farm in Nordhorn.

When Julia won her first European Pony Championship title, she was only 12 years old. She achieved her first competition success at the age of seven - 3rd place in a beginner’s dressage. Then she switched to eventing and a steep ascent began. With Cyrano by Victoria's Chirac, who made life difficult for Julia in the beginning, she won the Bundeschampionat for eventing ponies in 2000. Only a year later, the two became double European Champions. Numerous good rankings at competitions in the respective age classes followed. Julia won ten medals in the European Championships and several German Championships during her time as a pony-, junior- and young rider. Almost all of them with ponies and horses she trained herself. 

After graduating from high school in 2007, Julia was accepted into the German Talent Development Program for Eventing and then completed an apprenticeship as a horse trainer with a focus on riding. Here she graduated at the top of her class and belonged to the Bundeswehr's sports promotion group for three years. Since then, Julia continued to expand her training and experience alongside working with her horses and competing in equestrian tournaments.

Foto: Privat

After successfully passing her “Pferdewirt” (qualified groom) exam in 2012, she got a job as a junior manager in the "Training and Science" department at the German Equestrian Federation. In 2015 she became a certified trainer at the Trainer Academy Cologne of the German Olympic Sports Confederation, the training center for the highest trainer license in Germany. From 2017 until the end of 2021, she was the national trainer for the junior riders, and from 2022 onwards, she mainly took over the training of the U25 age group as well as the eventing perspective group.

A retirement far too early

The story of Julia's path to the Olympic gold medal is closely linked to Samourai du Thot. The 15-year-old gelding was until their last victory the one who brought Julia closer to her Olympic goal. With him, she had her real breakthrough in 2016 with a third place at her CCI4* premiere in Luhmühlen. In the same year, the two traveled to Rio de Janeiro - initially as reserves - where they made their debut at the Olympic Games and came home with a silver team medal. However, Julia then had to suddenly give up the dream of another "Olympic tour" at the beginning of 2021.

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The horse had shown very well in the autumn of 2020 but became terminally ill in winter. "He had caught a bacterial infection and went through a tough process. Then he got better and we slowly started training him and preparing him for the Olympics. Unfortunately, this went wrong and Samourai du Thot’s eye eventually had to be removed," she explained. The surgery was unavoidable as a severe inflammation developed and he finally lost his sight in one eye altogether. "This was a big blow, of course. It's perfectly normal for horses to retire at some point, but this was so sudden and really tragic," Julia recalled.

Today, Sam enjoys his free time near Warendorf at a farm from Julia's friend. He looks back on 56 starts together with Julia, of which the two of them won 18 and finished in the top five 40 times. A record that could hardly be better.

World-class in the making

The decision also completely changed the 2021 season for Julia, as she had to concentrate on the younger horses. One of them was the 11-year-old mare Amande de B'Neville, who Julia had already been riding for six years. They won the CCI4* -L in Saumur, France, in May 2021.

At the following German Championships in Luhmühlen in June, the two gained the bronze medal and thus secured their ticket for the Olympic Games in Tokyo. Amande de B'Neville is also known as "Mandy" and she is a real fighter by nature, always completely motivated giving everything. "Mandy is a real mare, which sometimes makes it necessary to compromise. She likes extra attention such as at the Olympics," Julia explained. Another thing that makes Mandy special is that she is incredibly cooperative and always willing to give more than her best. "She likes to give 120 % when 95 % would be enough. But if you know how to put that energy in the right place, she's just a world-class horse."

by elisabeth wille foto fei christophe taniére, libby law photography, efe kai försterling (1)

Amande de B'Neville / Mandy

Year of birth: 2010

Sex: Mare

Breed: Selle Francais

Sire: Oscar des Fontaines

Dam: Perle de b'Neville by Elan de la Cour

When everything comes together

Of all the equestrian disciplines, eventing is often considered the most difficult. The mere fact that horse and rider have to compete three days in a row in three different disciplines makes most people give up in advance. But for Julia, it is precisely this challenge that drives her. She is fascinated by the idea of creating the "complete athlete". The complete athletic horse that she compares to the triathlon. "The horse has to be well trained not only for dressage and in the jumping course, but it also has to be able to fight in the cross-country and be super fit for that. And it really must be up to think for itself. In the dressage arena, the horse can rely on me, but in the cross-country, it has to make its own decisions sometimes. On the last day of competition, full concentration is needed in the jumping."

The most important thing for Julia, however, is to build a reliable partnership with the horse and to grow together into a real team. This takes years, but only when that succeeds top performances can be achieved together. It is exactly this partnership that has grown between Julia and Mandy. What they can achieve together they showed par excellence in Tokyo. To her surprise, Julia Krajewski found herself in fifth place after the dressage, although she thought she would have finished much further back. Things then went well for the duo in the cross-country, whereupon Julia was quite confident that they could finish well at the top, as Mandy is known for being very careful in the jumping course. "Before we went to the jumping I said, 'Mandy, we're going to make it', and I think she knew it was a special day." It was a special day for them and for the sport, as she became the first female Olympic champion in eventing!

True to Winston Churchill's motto that she has made her own "The art is to get up once more than you are knocked down", Julia Krajewski is determinedly continuing her path.

by elisabeth wille foto fei christophe taniére, libby law photography, efe kai försterling

Julia Krajewski's - HIGHLIGHTS

  • 2001, 2002, 2005, 2006 Gold Team Pony and Junior European Championships
  • 2001 Gold Individual Pony European Championships Cyrano
  • 2002, 2008 Silver Team Pony and Junior European Championships
  • 2002, 2006, 2008 Silver Individual European Championships
  • 2008 First German Champion with Lost Prophecy
  • 2009 German Junior Champion with Leading Edge
  • 2013 Victory BuCha 5j eventing horses with Chipmunk
  • 2016 Rio de Janeiro / BRA - Team silver with Samourai du Thot
  • 2017 Strzegom / POL - Team silver with Samourai du Thot
  • 2018 Luhmühlen / GER - German Champion with Samourai du Thot
  • 2019 Luhmühlen / GER - German Champion with Samourai du Thot
  • 2021 Saumur / FRA - CCI4 *- Gold with Amande de B'Neville
  • 2021 Luhmühlen / GER - Bronze German Championships Seniors with Amande de B'Neville
  • 2021 Tokyo / JPN - Individual Olympic Champion with Amande de B'Neville
  • 2022 - Team World Champion, Vice World Champion Individual with Amande de B'Neville

 

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