Nicole nearer to London
By Mark Etheridge
Our best-placed finisher in the recent Olympic FEI qualifying dressage event in Ermelo, Netherlands, Nicole Smith is one score away from a possible spot in Team SA for next year’s Olympic Games in London.
The young Johannesburg rider was part of a four-strong SA team that did duty against fellow southern hemisphere countries, Australia and New Zealand in the Netherlands.
As a team South Africa ended third but in the individual stakes, Smith, just 20, was fourth overall with her and 13-year-old Belgian bred mare Victoria scoring 64.808%.
For now Smith will be back in her Northriding, Johannesburg base as she takes stock of what lies ahead.
“I’ll be home now until late December or January depending on the competitions I’m invited to in Europe,” Smith told Road to London 2012. “Then I’ll start trying to obtain my second qualifying score and gain as many world ranking points as possible. It will be great to be able to relax a little bit after being up and down between Holland and South African and traveling around Europe for the past four months.”
While in Holland, Smith is based in Appeldoorn where she and Victoria stay with their trainer Masha Reijs. “Victoria was previously ridden by Dutch team rider and Olympic medallist Imke Schellekens-Bartels. However she didn’t compete a lot as she was very busy with her star horse at the time and Imke still trains me whenever her schedule allows it.”
Since June Smith has been in action at four international events. “Those were in Leudelange in Luxembourg, Kaposvar in Hungary, Bearritz in France and then most recently the qualifier in Ermelo. The purpose for going to all those events it to obtain the qualifying score needed for London. I’ve been quite close twice, in Franc and Hungary so it was really satisfying to finally get the score I needed in Ermelo.”
Smith has been riding since she was six months “in the saddle in front of my father. I rode in my first lead-rein show when I was two and haven’t stopped. I was in the Gauteng provincial dressage team twice during the time I was riding ponies and once after moving onto the junior division (up to the age of 18) with horses.
At 15 she started riding in the senior divisions at Advanced level where she rode Prix St George and Intermediate 1. Last year she took a gap year to decide what she wanted to study and it was a very successful year for the young rider. “I won the Gauteng Dressage Championships, Intermediate 1 and the Medium Freestyle at the Musical Freestyle Festive and all three legs and the overall title of the Van Decraen Young Riders Dressage series.”
This year it was time to study. “I started studying Economics and Computer Science at Wits but just before June exams I got the opportunity to compete overseas with a view to qualifying for Olympics so my studies weren’t very successful after that as I spent half my time in Europe, so they are currently on hold so that I can focus on my riding.”