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Tales from Tokyo: ‘I missed my graduation to jump the grand prix in Madrid’

Teddy Vlock and Amsterdam 27 at the Tokyo Olympics.
Teddy Vlock and Amsterdam 27 at the Tokyo Olympics.

At 23, Teddy Vlock is one of the youngest riders in the Olympic showjumping and, to make his story even more remarkable, he only started riding 10 years ago.

“I was born in New Haven, Connecticut and my sister, who is nine years older than me, rode horses and I grew up watching her, but I never rode as a little kid. I played other sports and wanted to do other things,” he said after making his Olympic debut at the Tokyo Games earlier this week.

“And then when I was about 13, I was at a sports camp and the girls’ camp across the lake had horses and my mom said, ‘Why don’t you go over and learn how to ride a horse? It’s maybe something we can do as a family, you know, just learn to ride a horse.’”

Teddy “fell in love with the horse” he rode at the camp, Peaches, and she ended up joining his sisters’ barn and he learned to ride on her. He then moved up through junior hunter classes and on into the higher levels of showjumping, combining his sport with studying.

“Once I started getting really serious, I would go to school – whether it’s high school or college – about three days a week, and then I travelled wherever the horses were, so I’ve been living all over the world for the past five years,” said Teddy, who has just finished studying at Ivy League university Yale.

“I missed my graduation to jump the grand prix in Madrid, which we were sixth in, my best result in a five-star, so it was worth it,” he said.

Teddy studied relationship psychology at Yale, though he says the way the college works, only 30% of his classes were in this area “so it’s nice to learn about all types of stuff”. Nevertheless, he can bring some insights from psychology to his riding.

“It’s super important to be in touch with yourself and not try to block out fear – at the end the day, this is really difficult,” he said. “And it’s not something that you’re always in control of – I think that’s the really hard thing.

“There’s a million variables that can happen in most sports, but they aren’t dealing with an animal that literally doesn’t know it’s in a competition. You’re competing as hard as you can to win the competition and the horse doesn’t understand what a competition is. And so that relationship and understanding that you’re not always in control is really difficult. And so just doing your best and being okay with that is hard and I’ve used what I learned in school in some aspects of the sport.”

Teddy Vlock, whose mother Karen Pritzker is on the Forbes rich list, is also involved in building, developing and selling equestrian properties in Wellington, Florida.

“I’m the clientele, I’m basically selling to myself. When we build stuff for clients or we make something on spec to sell, I know exactly what I want when I go into my barn and I know what I want when I’m in my house as a rider,” he said.

The rider started talking to Daniel Bluman – who changed nationality from Colombian to ride for Israel – about representing Israel around five years ago.

“I decided to ride for Israel, because being Jewish is my entire culture, it’s my identity, and I really loved this idea that a couple of other Israeli riders came to me and they were putting together this team,” he said. “They were riders that had been to championships, that had more experience, and I wanted to contribute. We’re a tiny country and I’d never had that experience of being an underdog, but it’s cool that we’re here on the first ever Israeli team at an Olympics.”

Teddy Vlock joins Ashlee Bond and Alberto Michan on the Israeli team and will compete again in the team first round on Friday.

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