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Rein it in? You’ve got to be joking says Australian dressage icon Hanna

Australian dressage rider Mary Hanna — at 66 the oldest competitor at the Tokyo Olympics — says there are more chapters to be added to her biography “A Long Rein” despite a disappointing performance on Saturday.

Riding Calanta, Hanna finished sixth in her group of nine riders after posting a score of 67.981 percent, with only the top two from the six groups plus the next best six finishers qualifying for Wednesday’s individual final.

In the first action of the equestrian programme, three groups competed on Saturday with the riders in the other three — including Britain’s Charlotte Dujardin, who is bidding for a third successive individual gold medal — going through their various “Piaffes” and “Half Passes” on Sunday.

Making up for the lack of a paying crowd at this largely spectator-free Olympics due to the coronavirus restrictions, the horses performed to music including “Girl from Ipanema” and ABC’s 1982 hit “Look of Love”. 

Hanna may not have impressed the seven judges gazing out from their individual mini pagodas dotted round the arena but she has overcome far worse reverses in her life.

Her first husband, Danish dressage rider Gert Donvig, who was responsible for introducing Hanna to the sport, was killed in a car crash in 1988.

Eight years later Hanna made the first of what is now six Olympic Games appearances — her best individual finish up to this edition was 24th in Atlanta in 1996 and a team placing of fifth in Sydney four years later.

Undeterred by her performance in Tokyo, Hanna sees Paris in 2024 as the next stop on her Olympic journey.

“I am aiming for Paris as it is only three years away and unless my body breaks down I am certainly going to be there,” she said.

“This may be the latest chapter to add to my book but there are a few more to come.”

In a sport in which horse and rider must be in perfect harmony, Hanna has a special relationship with her charges. She once saved her horses when they were threatened by bushfires in 1983.

“Sadly they have all passed away now,” she said. “However, I have a special connection with Calanta, she is a really sweet lovely horse.”

‘Best of reasons’

Looking to the future, she laughed that it was too late in life to change course now — “I would not know what to do with myself!” — but did regret the fallout from the pandemic.

The lack of spectators — although she did get a raucous cheer from the “Kiss and Cry” Enclosure where those closest to the rider and horse can watch from — affected her.

“I was not nervous enough today… I needed a proper crowd there to give me a lift,” she said.

The travel restrictions due to the virus also impacted on her preparation.

Hanna had given up her European base in 2019 to return to Australia when her daughter Gitte, also a dressage rider, suffered a serious head injury in a riding accident.

“I went back for the best of reasons, sadly,” she said. “I miss the big shows and being with the best competitors.

“Being on your own and training on your own on the other side of the world is really, really difficult.”

Hope springs eternal, though, in the doyenne of this Olympics.

“Riding is an amazing sport. No matter the age or gender, you can do it,” she said.

“It may be a little bit late to get that medal but I am not  giving up.”

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