Memoirs of a Norwegian Princess
After 15 years away from show jumping, Princess Märtha Louise of Norway made the comeback of her life in Kingsland Oslo Horse Show in October. A thrilling, yet a joyful moment …
By Princess Märtha Louise. Photo Malene Nilssen
”Why don’t we do something fun for the 25th jubilee for Kingsland Oslo Horse Show this fall?” Morten Aasen, Mister Oslo Horse Show himself, leaned over the table towards me with a twinkle in his eye in the beginning of May.
I grew up with this man. He was one of my idols and teammates riding the legendary stallion Animo through the 90s and participated in the Olympics in 1992. In 1997, six years after the commencement of Oslo Horse Show, Morten took over the show.
I participated at Oslo Horse Show from 1991 when the show was still situated in Oslo Spectrum in the middle of town. I have done several World Cups and Grand Prix classes there. In addition to the serious classes, Morten always saw the value in the showclasses that invigorated the crowds and got me involved in them somehow.
Every year Morten had approached me with the same twinkle in his eye as the one he was looking at me with now.
“What are you thinking?” I answered a bit nervously.
“I was thinking of having The Comeback of all Time! Four pensioned Norwegian riders who participated in the first Oslo Horse Show in 1991 against 4 of the world’s best riders today. They will, of course, be riding Norwegian Fjord Horses.”
“Naturally,” I said as I felt my pulse rise.
I had not really ridden for 16 years and felt rusty. I had tried to jump a horse at the stables a couple of times, but not seen one single stride. Right. I had to practice. But it all felt so far away and as summer passed and fall came I had only jumped once.
Three weeks before the show, things started to get serious.
Morten called. “Have you found a horse yet?”
That was when it dawned on me: I was having a comeback in Oslo Horse Show in front of thousands of people and I was not prepared. Luckily my children had entered a local show that weekend, so I entered on one of their ponies. The gelding Wendy.
I gave it my all in the 90-centimeter class. The good pony sped around the muddy outdoor arena like a whirlwind and won. I was more happy about that than I had been winning a 140cm class 16 years earlier. That was until I met my daughter. She looked at me with concern and said: “Mum, you don’t think it was a bit unfair riding so fast when there were so many kids competing in the class?” I was taken aback. It was true. At the prize giving, there were only kids and I.
I didn’t find a horse to ride until the week of Kingsland Oslo Horse Show. The Backe family very generously gave me Chacez to try. Needless to say, my nerves were highly strung at this point. What if I didn’t click with this horse? I got up on the horse and felt I could connect. But that was before I started cantering. This one bucked both before and after every fence. I had one hour on him. It had to do.
Saturday at KOHS arrived and I was kind of pale. I felt unprepared. Nervous. Arriving at Telenor Arena, Morten greeted me at the door as pale as me.
“I hate you a little bit right now!” I said to him.
“I promise you, I hate myself more!” He replied as we went to meet our equivalently pale teammates Marit Hegre Stranden, and Ove Hansen at the press conference. Yes, we had a press conference! Can you imagine?
After meeting the press, we all had a round up with our opposing team consisting of Maikel van der Vleuten, Martin Fuchs, Laura Renwick and Cian O’Connor in Morten’s office.
“Thank you, everyone, for joining this class.” Morten started. He explained that everything in this class was going to happen by the rules of 1991. The course was to be ridden twice; once at normal speed and then as a jump off.
“And the princess always wins. That was the rule in 1991,” he finished.
“If I fall off, you all have to fall off too,” I said jokingly.
Ove Hansen and Morten had found their old riding coats. But alas they could hardly get them on. Ove had a 20 centimeters gap. It was impossible for him to close it over his abundant belly. But he had solved the problem with elastic bands to keep it all together.
At last, it was time to go to the horses. As I saw Chacez my heart leaped. He looked so beautiful with his neat braids and shiny coat. I went up to him and pleaded: “Please, look after me. I have no idea what I am doing here. But you do.” He looked at me with his big, kind eyes and I actually felt calmer.
The competition started. The Norwegian Fjord horses looked amazing in the warm up. The best show jumpers were collected from all over Norway.
Cian O’Connor cheered as he flew over a vertical. “How much do these sweet horses cost?” he shouted. “I might want to have one of them at home.”
Ove and Marit went clear. They rode really well. I watched them on the big screen. The fjord horses went clear too.
Now it was our turn. Chacez and me. The crowd went ballistic as I rode into the arena. Chacez felt jittery. I saluted the judge. The signal sounded. It was time to show myself and the world that I actually could do this. I started cantering towards the starting line. My heart pounding. I overdid the aids towards the fences, but Chacez jumped steadily round the entire course without bucking once. And I was clear!
Luckily Morten did a magical clear round after me as well and we were all ready for the jump off which was what I had trained for at the show, three weeks earlier. But that was on a pony. I had no idea if this horse could go fast, turn easily or not. But I knew I had to give it a go.
All the riders in front of me went clear. Ove and Marit did really nice rounds. Cian O’Connor on Argon was in the lead in front of Laura Renwick as I entered the ring.
As I crossed the starting line something magical happened. Everything went quiet. It was only the horse and me in the arena. I sped round the course. I turned up to the last fence on a stride and a half and jeered him through the finish line. The crowd started cheering again. The speaker announced I was in the lead. It was amazing. I was so happy. So relieved. I saw my children, my family, all my friends jumping up and down with their arms in the air.
Maikel van der Vleuten and Ryttergaardens Herkules went after me. I hoped he remembered the last rule from 1991. But it didn’t look like he did. He flew round the course. The fjordhorse’s legs went like drumsticks. He jumped so well. As he turned up to the last fence the speaker announced: “Don’t beat the princess!” But he did. By 5 hundreds of a second.
I was in love. I was in love with the most beautiful horse that had helped me through the course. Chacez. He was a saint to me at this point. I was on cloud nine. As we went in to get our prizes I muttered to Morten that it was rather odd that the crowd went silent as I rode the jump off.
“What do you mean?” he said, “They cheered just as much for you as they did for everyone else!”