GB looking for Equestrian stars to fulfill Maccabiah dream

By Danny Caro, September 20, 2012

Lianne Pollak has started a nationwide search to find competitors to represent the first-ever Team GB Equestrian team at a Maccabiah Games.

The GB sports chair is looking for anyone currently riding Grand Prix tests or jumping double clears at Foxhunter or above to take part at the 19th Jewish Olympic in Israel next year.

She sees it as a golden opportunity for dressage riders and showjumpers to bring home the medals just as our Olympic Team GB did in Greenwich.

“For years I’ve had this vision to include riding disciplines in the Games,” said Pollak. “I think it’s going to be an amazing experience, but it’s an event of which many people are still unaware. So if anyone out there – rider or sponsor – also believes in the prospect, come and help us make it happen.” So far the USA, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, Australia and the Netherlands have signed up to participate.

For the 8,000 international athletes converging on Israel, the Maccabiah - always staged the year after an Olympics - are elating and extraordinary. Pollak said: “The combination of Jewish identity and sport creates its own special community. In the seven days before the games there are cultural celebrations and the opportunity for all athletes to tour historical and religious sites. It’s beautiful to see people meet and make friends for life.”

This time round Jewish horse lovers and riders from different parts of the world will have their own unique chance to bond. As this will be the equestrian debut at Maccabiah, the parameters of competition remain fluid and will be pretty much determined by the quality of horsemanship – the week-long event will include 1.30 classes as well as lower-level classes for showjumpers at 110 or 115 metres, and Prix St. George for advanced dressage contenders as well as medium level tests.

Hoping to field a team of 10, Tel Aviv-born Lianne certainly has all-round chef d’equipe credentials. Now based in London, where she has completing her Masters in Public Management at the LSE, she was an active reserve officer in the IDF and used to work in the Israeli Prime Minister’s office. She has showjumped at 1.30m, qualified as a trainer at the Munich Olympic Centre, and clearly possesses the galloping gene; her grandfather survived concentration camps to become a businessman in Germany, and passionate about horses.

“Eventually he owned 20,” says Pollak. “I never had the chance to witness my grandfather’s love for horses because he died when I was three. But the story goes that he went off to an auction, before he had actually built his own stables. When he came back, my grandmother asked how he’d got on. Before he could answer, she turned to the window and looked out. There were five horses grazing contentedly in her rose garden.”

History does not relate this grandmother’s reaction, but the tale highlights the universal truth that a four-legged life is never straightforward. Lianne admits that taking a team to Israel next July is a powerful logistical challenge. “It’s pretty complicated when you involve horses. It’s not like playing tennis when all you need to bring in from abroad is your racquet.”

This is also a costly exercise at £3,950 per competitor, though this includes all flights, accommodation, tour opportunities and participation in opening and closing ceremonies. There may not be Spice Girls or smoking industrial chimneys, but a pretty spectacular show is promised. At the original games in 1932, 10 white doves were released for each of the 12 tribes of Israel – 120 in all.

Horse shipment for riders flying in their own mounts costs around $6,000, but there is also the option of leasing a competition horse already in Israel for around $1,000.

As soon as Pollak knows what the demand is for lease horses, the sooner she can start matching mount to rider. “As it’s the first time we’re including horse sports, whoever is qualified at the right level, or interested in a slightly lower level, and who has the ability to sponsor themselves, would be accepted for the teams,” she said.

Dujardin and Skelton wannabees, this is your moment to trot forward and be counted.

Written by Madeleine Kingsley

Last updated: 3:45pm, September 20 2012