Victoria Scott-Legendre and Valtho des Peupliers at Tryon in 2018. Photo by Pierre Costabadie.

When Vicky Scott-Legendre left her native South Africa and arrived in France with the goal of getting to the top level of eventing in 2013, she had one problem: she didn’t speak a word of French. That turned out to be a technicality. Like most event riders, Vicky didn’t let those kinds of small details get in the way of her resolve and determination.

In the ten years since that recent university graduate packed up and moved overseas, she has represented South Africa at a World Championships and an Olympic Games. For riders who are not from countries that are traditional eventing meccas, she is an inspiration. However, her story is also an illustration that in order to reach the top levels of eventing, sometimes it is necessary to leave home and go to those meccas to learn the trade and compete against the best. For Vicky, leaving home has meant that she has the opportunity to fly the South African flag proudly at championships—whether that is Tryon, North Carolina; Rio De Janeiro, Brazil; or Tokyo, Japan.

Vicky grew up Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. The decision to get into horses wasn’t necessarily an intentional one by her family. In fact, they were “totally non-horsey,” Vicky admits. It was rather by chance that Vicky got introduced to horses. Her family’s neighbors had a property that wasn’t being used, and acquired a horse to eat down the grass. Vicky and her siblings asked to ride the horse, and before they knew it they were swinging their legs over bareback. Vicky’s family then purchased a pony of their own. It hadn’t been backed when they got it, “so it was a rocky start!” Vicky laughs. After that rocky start, Vicky began competing and eventually made her way into eventing.

South Africa’s Victoria Scott-Legendre and Valtho des Peupliers at Luhmühlen. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

South African eventing sometimes involves animals other than horses. “One of our events is on a small animal reserve, so there are giraffe and zebra around, and they are always curious about what’s happening. People are having to shoo them away from the arenas.” Vicky describes one occasion on which she had to stop in the middle of her dressage test because there was a herd of zebra sauntering toward the arena. Talk about desensitization!

One of the major challenges of eventing in South Africa — and one of the reasons that Vicky decided to move abroad — is that the numbers are very small. “In a three-star, for example, there might be only four riders in the class,” Vicky explains. It’s difficult to get a competitive atmosphere in a smaller eventing community. It’s also difficult to find horsepower in South Africa, not least because of the strict quarantine requirements for importing horses. Horses coming to South Africa have to spend two to three months in quarantine in Mauritius, which means that they lose a lot of fitness and training time.

After university, Vicky thought it would be good timing for her to move to Europe to pursue her goals more seriously. She sold some of her horses to fund the trip and brought one horse to France with her. All of her family is still in South Africa.

“When I first arrived in France, no one took me seriously.” Vicky had been a big fish in a small pond in South Africa, but in Europe she was not a known entity. Now that she has been to the Olympics and World Championships, she’s gotten noticed more. However, moving overseas has been somewhat of a double-edged sword: although she has better access to training, horses, and competitions, it is difficult for her to stay connected with South African sponsors and owners because she isn’t based in South Africa.

Victoria Scott-Legendre and Valtho des Peupliers. Photo by Shannon Brinkman.

Vicky’s coach is Rodolphe Scherer, a French team rider in his own right who was recently appointed as the cross-country coach for the German eventing team. Vicky initially based at Rodolphe’s yard. She now has her own yard with her husband, Edouard, where they are also raising their two-year-old daughter, Charlotte.

“There are benefits and drawbacks to riding for a smaller country: it’s much easier to get selected for big championships, but there is no financial aid, so you have to pay your own way.” Vicky explains. “However, when you are riding for a big country, you are competing against 100 other riders to get selected for a team!” she admits.

This point—that riding at the top level in an emerging eventing nation means the chances of selection are very high — is a huge deal for an owner who wants to see their horse at an Olympic Games or World Championships. While owning a top-level horse (even a very, very good horse) in America or Great Britain means that an owner has a slim chance of going to a championship with their horse, owning the same kind of horse for a rider from a country like South Africa means that selection is almost guaranteed if the qualifications and preparation go to plan. With an experienced jockey like Vicky in the irons, the chances of making it happen are high indeed.

A good example of that is Vicky’s current top horse, Valto, whom she took to both the 2018 World Championships and the 2021 Olympic Games. “He’s a tiny horse with the biggest heart,” Vicky says. For example, he went to Tryon in 2018 as a relatively young horse and stepped up, despite being Vicky’s reserve horse. However, she has had a string of bad luck with him. For instance, in Tokyo last year he had an amazing clear cross-country round, but injured a tendon. Earlier this year at Luhmuhlen, he again had a fabulous round, but withdrew before show jumping because Vicky’s veterinarian discovered a bone chip in the horse’s leg that needed to be removed. Although her goal is still to qualify and compete the horse at the 2024 Paris Olympics, Vicky knows that she needs more horsepower to remain competitive at the championship level.

“I am proudly South African—coming from a small eventing world, it is very exciting to be on the big stage.” Vicky believes that South Africa needs more momentum to be able to field teams for championships in the future. While the country did have a team for the 2010 World Equestrian Games, they have not had one since. Vicky was the sole individual in Tokyo. She hopes that more riders and owners will be enthusiastic about the prospect of flying the South African flag at the Olympic Games and beyond with her.

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