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May 3, 2013

Swedish Lessons

Editorial staffer Mollie Bailey learned a little bit about Sweden—and took a turn posing as Rolf-Göran Bengtsson aboard Ninja la Silla during the Rolex FEI World Cup Show Jumping Final and the Reem Acra World Cup Dressage Final. Photo by Lisa Slade.

One of the great parts of working for the Chronicle is the occasional opportunity to travel to some amazing locales. The flip side being, of course, that you also visit some less-than-amazing locales. Lucky for me and my co-worker Lisa Slade, this year’s Rolex FEI World Cup Show Jumping Final and Reem Acra FEI World Cup Dressage Final were held together in Gothenburg, Sweden.

Much like travelling to a show to compete, as a journalist you’re often working more or less round the clock. We joke in the office that you could just as well be in Kansas as Kuala Lumpur for all you see of the outside world, but that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Yes, the riders, staff and fellow journalists are similar no matter where you go, but the location of the event imparts a certain amount of cultural education.

Here’s what I learned about Sweden during this year’s World Cup Finals:

1. The only Swedish you need to know is horse related anyway. The Swedes, like nearly all Scandinavians I’ve ever met, all seem to speak English better than I do. With an absence of any necessity to attempt the language at all, I learned exactly three words in Swedish over the week: hej (pronounced “hay”), tack, and nej (pronounced “Neigh”). They mean hello, thank you, and no, respectively. Easy enough, and very appropriate for a country that takes its horse sports pretty seriously. 

I learned the last one because when someone—anyone really—ticked a rail while on course, you heard a chorus of “nej-ing” more or less in unison. That leads to No. 2. 

2. Swedes are nationalistic but very welcoming. I remember Katie Prudent once describing her second-placed finish at the Volvo World Cup Show Jumping Final back in 1979. The thing that she remembered most clearly was the intimidating noise as the Swedes stomped their feet on the metal bleachers of the Scandinavium (yes, that’s really what the stadium’s called) when their favorites trotted into the ring.

Well, those bleachers have been replaced with regular seats, but there’s still plenty of clapping and stomping when a favorite comes in. It’s loud. Apparently this is expected, as I saw multiple moms bring infants with noise cancelling headphones to combat the hubbub. Generally speaking these favorites are the Swedes of course. Malin Baryard-Johnsson and Rolf-Göran Bengtsson have by far the most show jumping fans, and Tinne Vilhelmson-Silfven wins the dressage popularity contest.

Jacquie Brooks got the clapping treatment as well, presumably because of D Niro’s Swedish heritage. A group of volunteers actually lined up backstage after her freestyle and waited to meet her. When she arrived they cheered for Jacquie, who graciously hugged each one and posed for photos with volunteers and “Goose.”

And Beezie Madden got some clapping too—maybe because she was leading, or maybe because after the first day she was interviewed center ring and said she named Rolf as the winner.

3. Sweden really is the best country for women. Sweden always seems to come out on or near the top when ranking top countries for women (see here or here). I’d always assumed that meant equal pay between genders and perhaps longer maternity leaves.

But looking at the historic World Cup Show Jumping Finals results, maybe there’s something else going on.

There have been 24 winners in the 34-year history of the FEI Show Jumping World Cup, and this year Beezie became just the fifth woman to win. And of those winners—Melanie Smith Taylor, Katharine Burdsall, Leslie Burr Howard, Meredith Michaels Beerbaum and Beezie—only Katharine didn’t win in Gothenburg. (Also, incidentally, they all came up through the American system of riding.)

Granted, the World Cup has been in Gothenburg 13 times—more than a third of the time it’s been held. And maybe Gothenburg’s just lucky for women. That’s fine with me because seeing Beezie win the World Cup was more than worth the price of the plane ticket and a touch of hearing loss. Tack, Sweden. 

Read all of Mollie's online coverage of Beezie Madden's victory in the Rolex FEI World Cup Final. And check out the full story, with in-depth reporting, in the May 13 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse.

 
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