A horse who has taken time out from showjumping to compete in driving will be among those vying for glory at this year’s Longines FEI Jumping World Cup Final.
Swedish-born pinto gelding Life is Beautiful – formerly named Tour de France – will be “coming home” to his country of birth when he is ridden by Japan’s Shino Hirota at the Scandinavium Arena in Gothenburg, Sweden as the Longines 2019 Final begins next month.
The 16-year-old’s journey to the top of the sport has been somewhat unconventional, when earlier in his career he had trouble coping at competitions.
Sold as an unbroken three-year-old to Stefan Karlsson who is based in Markaryd in the south of Sweden, Life is Beautiful showed promise when finishing eighth at the Swedish Young Horse Jumping Championships as a four-year-old. But he wasn’t altogether straightforward. “He was troublesome at competitions, getting spooky and agitated, and I wanted to find a way to help him to settle down – I believe that horses should do a bit of everything,” Karlsson said.
With help from a neighbour Karlsson put him in long-reins, and then began driving him in a single-harness gig. By the time the pair competed together in a dressage driving competition at Krapperups Castle on the west coast of Sweden, he was able to focus on his work, and was starting to prove successful as a jumper with Jörgen Larsson.
“He was a nice horse but a little too good for me to keep on,” said Karlsson. He has produced many good horses down the years, including one sold to Finland for a national team rider and a thoroughbred mare who found her way into Peder Fredricson’s string when the multi-talented Swede, and current European Jumping champion, was competing in eventing.
Life is Beautiful was eventually spotted by Kiwi rider Bruce Goodin who advised his business partner, Ryuma Hirota, to buy him. Ryuma, who represented Japan at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney and at three FEI World Cup Jumping Finals, wasn’t overly impressed when he tried him at first because he had such an economic jump. But the higher the fences were raised the higher the horse would go, and Ryuma’s wife, Shino, really clicked with him. Now the pair are seen as potential candidates for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on their home turf, so they couldn’t have arrived at the peak of their performance potential at a better time.
Hirota and the big skewbald gelding competed in five of the six legs of the FEI Jumping World Cup 2018/2019 Japan League, and with three wins and two runner-up placings topped the series leaderboard by a long distance to claim a qualifying spot for the Swedish showdown.
Ryuma recalls that Shino wasn’t thrilled that money had been spent on this rather ungainly looking horse “without a real plan”, but he was soon winning people over in Japan. Within a year he had finished second in Japan’s 1.4m championship, and after an amazing season has secured a spot in the final in Gothenburg, his place of birth.
“It’s the first time for me to show in Europe so I’m very excited to learn new things,” Shino said.
“I’m sure my experience is not enough, so I’ll have to ask Life Is Beautiful nicely to ‘please jump’ – maybe give him lots of sweets!”
Karlsson had planned a visit to Goodin’s yard in Sweden to see the horse he still calls Tour de France. “I have very fond memories of him,” said the Swedish horseman.