Edwina Tops-Alexander Knows It’s Not All About Her

This time last year, Edwina Tops-Alexander was on a roll.

The first weekend of December, she won the Grand Prix at the Longines Masters of Paris. The next weekend, she won again at a show in La Coruña, Spain. The weekend after that, she won a third Grand Prix title in Prague.

She was the first non-European and the second woman to win the Grand Prix at the Masters in Paris.

Though this year has been slower for her, Tops-Alexander has shattered records since she began competing in show jumping, from being the first Australian to make it to the individual jumping final at the World Equestrian Games in 2006 to competing in the last three summer Olympic Games.

After competing at the highest levels for more than a decade, Tops-Alexander, 45, is one of the best show jumpers in the world. In an interview, she reflected on how the sport has evolved and on her goals.

The following conversation has been edited and condensed.

You’ve been competing at the top level for quite a while. Have you seen the sport change?

Yeah, of course the sport has to change and go with the times, like everything else. There’s been a lot of potential for our sport to increase awareness and the fan base. I think with the exposure we’re getting, the competition’s getting much more exciting, the riders are motivated, the owners are very motivated, the breeders, so I think it’s a bit of a spiral effect.

Amid these changes, have you had to change the way you approach riding?

I’ve had to ride probably a lot faster. Everyone is so competitive, and everyone wants to win and wants to do their best. I’ve always said 70 percent of our sport is the horse. At the end of the day, you’re only really as good as what you’re sitting on. I always compare it a little bit to Formula One. If Lewis Hamilton [the world champion driver] is sitting in my Mini and I’m in his Mercedes, I think I have a fair chance to win.

You won’t be competing at the Masters for the first time in quite a few years. How do you choose what events to participate in?

Well, it depends on what horsepower you have. Obviously, if you’ve got a lot of horsepower you can do a lot of events, but you also have to pick and choose, and, unfortunately, I’ve probably not had the strongest year of my career this year. I’ve had a lot of bad luck with horses, which is how it goes. You just have to know your horses. You have to feel what kind of form they’re in, how they’ve been jumping, maybe you have to drop back and do a few smaller classes, or maybe the horse is in great shape and you keep going. You have to find the right balance.

So how many shows do you go to per year?

On average between 40 and 45 a year.

Over those many shows, do you have a favorite memory from competing?

Winning the Super Grand Prix in Prague last year is definitely an amazing memory for me. It was the third Grand Prix in a row I had won, and I think it was one of the toughest Grands Prix I had ever ridden. You had the best riders in the world, and, amazingly, I had one pole down halfway through the round, not knowing what more I had to do other than go as fast as I could. I won just by a whisker, but the excitement and the adrenaline and the atmosphere were incredible. I had a great streak. They do say things happen in threes, and they definitely did then.

After riding at the top of your game for so long, how do you keep yourself motivated and keep the sport feeling fresh and exciting?

When you have horses that are very good or that you know you’re very competitive on, you don’t get sick of winning. I think if you ever get to that point in your career, then it’s better to hang your boots up.

Are you hoping to compete in the Olympics for Australia again in 2020?

Yeah, I’d love to compete in Tokyo. I think the most important thing is that we have the right team there. I don’t want to take that spot away from somebody else if their horse is in better shape. It’s a matter of having the right team, but definitely I would like to get my horse in gear in time and give it a real try.

What is something about riding at a professional level that might surprise someone who doesn’t ride?

I think the connection that you have with the horse and that relationship that you have on and off the horse, and them trusting you. They have an incredible instinct, the horses, they feel a lot. As a rider, they feel how you are. When you have a great horse, it’s almost like when you’re driving a car and you look to the left and the car goes left without you doing anything. When you’ve got that sensation with the horse, where you’re just at one, I think that’s a unique sensation.

What’s a goal that you haven’t yet accomplished that you hope to reach?

To get a gold medal at the Olympics would be amazing, and that’s something that I haven’t yet achieved, so I’d say that’s probably high on the agenda.

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