A dream faded today. With dignity and concern for what is best for his horse, Japanese dressage rider and veteran Olympian Hiroshi Hoketsu withdrew from consideration for his nation’s team at this summer’s Rio Olympics.
NBC Sports, Japan Times, and multiple Japanese websites are reporting that Hoketsu will be unable to meet the Japanese team requirement of competition scores for team qualification because his horse has suffered ill health. No details of the horse’s condition or ailment are listed. His previous horse, Whisper, was euthanized this year because of a foot problem.
With his withdrawal, Hoketsu also surrenders his potential place in the Olympic record book as the oldest Olympian ever to compete. He celebrated his 75th birthday in March.
“I don’t want to push the horse, so unfortunately I have given up upon the dream of competing in the Rio Olympics,” Hoketsu reportedly stated, according to Nick Zaccardi of the NBC Olympics website.
Not only would he have been the oldest competitor to even participate in the Olympics, he would also lay claim to an Olympic career that spanned more than 50 years. According to the FEI database, his first Olympics was at Tokyo in 1964, when he was 23 years old and competing in show jumping. Hoketsu moved to Germany in 2003 for the specific reason of pursuing his career as an international equestrian, and had competed for Japan in 2008 at Hong Kong and at London in 2012.
The rider, a retired pharmaceutical executive, lives and trains in Germany. In January, eurodressage.com reported that he purchased a 15-year old Westfalian gelding named Brioni W with the intention of qualifying for Rio. He had been training with the horse’s former owner and breeder, Wolfram Wittig, at his facility in Germany.
Equestrianism should launch a publicity campaign promoting the long life involvement in the sports. In January, Michael Poulin of Maine, announced his intention to try to make the US dressage team at the age of 70 and in spite of suffering from Lyme disease at the time. Poulin won a team bronze medal for the United States in Barcelona’s 1992 Olympics with his Graf George. He is currently ranked 25th among riders who registered intention with the United States Equestrian Federation to be considered for the Rio team.
Hoketsu’s Olympics dreams have sometimes been over a rocky road. In 1988, he had to withdraw after his horse had quarantine problems at the Seoul Olympics. In 2013, his 2008 and 2012 Olympic partner, the Hanoverian mare Whisper, was euthanized because of a foot problem.
He said the right thing when quoted on the Japanese website, asahi.com: “Nothing is decided about the future. For the time being, I will prioritize helping to restore my horse’s health.”
There’s no reason why Hoketsu couldn’t continue with his dream, however, and return triumphantly to Tokyo in 2020, where it all began. After all, his FEI page posts his personal slogan: "I will stop riding horses when I can no longer find progress from myself and my horse."
Sources in addition to the FEI and USEF: