Road to London: Paul Hart

2012-06-29 11:08

Cape Town - In the 15th in a series of Q 'n A style interviews with South African sportsmen and women ahead of the 2012 Olympic Games in London, Graeme Joffe chats to SA equestrian star, Paul Hart.

Road to London: Bridgette Hartley

Road to London: Kate Woods

Road to London: Cameron van der Burgh
Road to London: Mbulaeni Mulaudzi

Road to London: Gideon Sam

Road to London: Marcus Retief

Road to London: Freedom Chiya

Road to London: Irvette van Blerk

Road to London: Chad le Clos

Road to London: LJ van Zyl

Road to London: Marc Mundell

Road to London: Kate Roberts

Road to London: Lawrence Ndlovu

Road to London: Jean Greeff

Road to London: Marsha Marescia

GRAEME JOFFE: A sport that gets so little coverage, yet we have some incredible athletes in this country in the sport of equestrian. Paul Hart is one of them.
PAUL HART: Thanks Graeme

JOFFE: Congratulations on your qualification and selection for Team SA. No pun intended but you’re almost on your horse to the London Olympics.
HART: I hope so but he has been living in England for three years now. So, let’s hope he has acclimatised and ready.

JOFFE: Is “Heartbreak Hill” the same horse that you’ll be competing with in London?
HART: Yes, that is right.

JOFFE: And the logistics of getting him over there couldn’t have been all that easy. You hear about all the red tape that SA horse racing trainers like Mike de Kock and company have to deal with.
HART: Ja, the horse sickness that we have in South Africa, holds back our sports hugely because horses can't fly freely all over the world. So, during the world championships three years ago, I decided to leave him in England and stay on and try and qualify the Olympics. So, he stayed in Cornwall in England.

JOFFE: “Heartbreak Hill” used to be a race horse and a good one as well.
HART: Yes, he was, he is one of the horses that have gone from racing to eventing and doing really well. It shows you there is a job for these horses after racing. A lot of people think after racing that’s the end of their career and they are trying to educate more people into using them in other sports once they are finished racing.

JOFFE: You are going to be the first South African in 20 years, since David Rissik, to be competing in the Olympic Games for South Africa in Eventing.
HART: I must say it is a childhood dream, so for it to become real, it has been great, and it will also be the first time a South African horse runs at the Olympic Games. So, that is also fantastic for me, that I am going to ride a South African horse.

JOFFE: Eventing is three disciplines, dressage, cross country and show jumping. They call it the real test of horsemanship. Which is your favourite discipline and the toughest one?
HART: The toughest one is the cross country always because it can be anything up to twelve and a half minutes as fast as you can go and the biggest fences and as cheekiest as they can make them. So, that is really the hardest, which is the second day and the horses have to be really fit, and you have to hope that luck is on your side because anything can go wrong, a slip, a bad footing on landing, anything like that and you are out. So, one fall and you are out and you leave the course. So, there is no second chance, you have to really go out and do a great round and with no mistakes and as fast as you possibly can.

JOFFE: SA have had some great showjumpers over the years, the likes of Anneli Wucherphenig and Gonda Betrix, Were those some of your role models?
HART: Gonda Betrix is actually my trainer. So yes, she is a role model and still trains a lot of riders today.

JOFFE: Will she  be coming over with you to London?
HART: No, unfortunately not. We are limited to how many people can go. So, with grooms and the vets and things like that, we unfortunately had to cut back. But I’m not complaining, we are getting there, so it is the team that has been cut back.

JOFFE: That’s a pity. You are the only South African equestrian athlete  going to London but I thought some others did qualify. What happened to Alex Perternell?
HART: Yes, he did qualify but unfortunately his horse went lame. So, he is out unfortunately.

JOFFE: That is a massive disappointment, to go through all that training and then to suddenly end up with your horse going lame. Is there no opportunity to replace the horse?
HART: Well, you see the problem is the qualifying starts off at the World Championships and it is a two year qualifying period to qualify with the same horse. So, you need a lot of luck on your side. The horses have to work really hard and run big distances and to keep them fit and sound is a lot of hard work.

JOFFE: And you do some coaching as well?
HART: Yes, I do a lot of coaching and show jumping as well.

JOFFE: Here in South Africa?
HART: Yes.

JOFFE: Your plans after the Olympics?
HART: My plans after the Olympics, hopefully I have a really good Olympics and then stay on for the World Championships in two years time in France. I think after that, I will have to reassess everything and where I am because it costs a lot of money and it takes a lot of time and travelling backwards and forwards, which affects my business here. 

JOFFE: And you have got some assistance with sponsorship?
HART: You know I have been very fortunate and we have a lot of horse lovers and sponsors and people like that, that support me and get behind me. So, is how we have got there. If I have a good Olympics, I am sure that people will carry on supporting me and sponsoring me.

JOFFE: Always a tough question to answer - medal prospects?
HART: You know a top ten finish would be fantastic for me and a medal would just be a dream come true. So, that is what I am aiming for. I have saved the horse ever since the World Games for this show and so I am hoping this is the one we pull it out and try our best.

JOFFE: Paul Hart and “Heartbreak Hill”,  all the best for the London Olympics.
HART: Thank you very much.

Paul Hart and Heartbreak Hill


  • ulindi.heerden - 2012-06-29 13:36

    Pity the sport has so little coverage compared to the time, effort and finance it requires. All the best Paul, make us proud :)

  • lynn.bannerman.54 - 2012-06-29 14:03

    Thank you Graham Joffe, for a fantastic, well informed and intelligent interview - its so refreshing to have equestrian sports covered by someone who took the time and was professional enough to do some research and ask intelligent questions. To Paul and his amazing horse Harry - give it stick boys, go out and have the ride of your lives - you are carrying the good wishes and dreams of so many South Africans with you xxx

  • helen.bartholomew.14 - 2012-07-02 20:26

    It is fantastic that we have a South African Eventer riding at the Olypimpics - well done Paul and Harry! Trying as hard as I could from here in the UK, I could not get any tickets to come and support you, but we are behind you all the way and will be cheering madly! bestest wishes and lots of love and support, Helen and Mike

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