What do you do if you’re a professional equestrian rider, but to safely train on horses, you had to fly thousands of miles alone during a pandemic?
This was 15-year-old Annabelle Rehn’s conundrum when the coronavirus outbreak in early 2020 affected countries everywhere. Like most sports, the equestrian world also took a hit and measures were implemented to keep both riders, animals, and spectators safe during competitions and major events.
In Singapore, where the Danish rider has been living with her mother for the past five years, the Singapore Turf Club Riding Centre (STCRC) had to close stables in April, citing government restrictions. Unable to ride the horses she owns locally, Annabelle was worried about her athletic performance — months’ long break could be detrimental to her standing as a professional dressage athlete; she simply can’t do without regular practices on horses.
Born in Malaysia and having lived there for most of her young life, Annabelle is currently the FEI World Dressage Challenge reigning champion for ages 12-16. In that competition, she broke the record of obtaining the highest score in any age category. Riding since she was 18 months old (her first equestrian competition was at the age of three and a half!), a regular routine for the athlete is training six times a week early in the morning — cool mornings are kinder to horses — and running a minimum of five kilometres almost every day to keep fit.
With the new government restrictions in place, however, Annabelle’s entire routine was disrupted. But Annabelle wasn’t about to let a global pandemic hinder her.
Instead, she came up with a simple solution: to move temporarily to Denmark.
So, alone in the middle of a raging pandemic, the teenager travelled to Denmark to begin her seven-month long journey to train with new horse, Vestervangs Garson.
Garson is one of the many horses housed in HosDam, a stable in Randers run by a pair of dressage horse trainers, Anne-Marie Hosbond and Kenneth Damgaard, who eventually took on the vital role of coach for Annabelle. Guided by a detailed daily schedule and surrounded by lush greenery, Annabelle managed to ease into the transition at HosDam despite being miles away from family and friends.
Starting life in Denmark also meant that arrangements had to be made with IGCSE Dulwich College, her school in Singapore to allow her to continue her studies remotely. This required astounding discipline as her curriculum started at 2 a.m. Danish time! She could only start training once school was over at 9:30 a.m. before ending her day at 6 p.m.
Annabelle’s coaches were aptly impressed by the young athlete’s determination. They shared, “It was exciting for us as coaches to work with extraordinary students, who beyond being talented, shown an incredible commitment. Ultimately, that is what it takes to become a true champion.”
Indeed, Annabelle kept her eye on the prize throughout her time in Denmark. Her goal was to practise riding, and ride she did. As she slowly but fondly got acquainted with Garson, she received terrific news — she was selected by the Danish Equestrian Federation to join the national dressage junior team.
Annabelle was overjoyed by the news and ready to rise up to the challenge. She enthused, “I took it as a personal challenge [and] a great opportunity, [it was a huge honour] to be on the team.”
In her first competition representing the Danish National Equestrian Team, Annabelle entered the Danish Dressage Junior Championships 2020 as the youngest competitor and earned a bronze medal.
Setting her sights for a bigger stage, the athlete then went on to compete in two out of three ECCO Cup Qualifiers and emerged as one of the top 15 riders from three qualifiers to make it to the finals. Hosted at Blue Hors Stables on 27 November 2020, Annabelle made her mark in her first year as a junior rider – she had come in fourth overall, a feat reflective of her commitment and dedication to the sport.
Despite her impressive achievements, Annabelle has kept her head firmly on her shoulders. She shares of her success thus far, “Looking back, there were challenging days and hours navigating my academic and sports commitments. I feel proud and humbled that with my amazing Garson and my fantastic team behind me, we succeeded!”
Annabelle has since returned from her overseas stint but the future is bright for the Dane. Already exploring a global patent for an anti-drowning device to prevent deaths among young children, she wants to go beyond the equestrian world to make an impact. With her sights set on an Olympic dream in the distant future, Annabelle who turns sweet sixteen this year has a promising road ahead of her, and is surely one to watch.