My Olympics

The Italian eventing rider Roberto Rotatori, who has represented Italy in the top international events, tells us about his Olympic experience


  • #eventing
  • #olimpic games
  • #european championship
  • #horses
  • #riders

Roberto Rotatori is one of most important Italian riders in the eventing discipline. With the French bay Irham de Vaiges he obtained the team bronze at the European Championships 2007 at Pratoni del Vivaro, Italy, sixth place for the team and 29th individual at the Olympics in Hong Kong in 2008, 4th place in the CCI **** in Badminton in 2009, best result ever obtained by a Italian rider in the historical British Horse Trials and 7th place individual and team silver at the European Championships in Fontanebleau in 2009. Roberto Rotatori is Federal Instructor Tutor and from 2011 to the end of 2013 he was a technician for the Italian Equestrian Sport Federation for Juniors and Young Riders. In his career as instructor he has taken his students to the highest levels of the discipline. Today Irham de Vaiges spends his time in the field, enjoying his retirement at the Malaspina Stables, Milan (Italy). He tells about his Olympic experience in Hong Kong.

"My first memory of an Olympiad dates back to when I was still a child with the Olympics in Montreal in 1976, the first to be shown on T.V. in colour that captured my attention completely and incomprehensibly. This was the moment when I realised how sport can be an expression of life lived, suffered and enjoyed deep down; that was the life that I wanted to live… The meaning and value of the Olympic spirit as it has always been conceived struck me on that occasion, as a child, perhaps unknowingly but able to understand the meaning… I entered the world of horse riding at the age of ten and in a short time I realised that this was the life I wanted to live, no matter in what form and in what role, for me all that existed were the horses and the stables. Of course, I would never have thought that one day I would be participating in the Olympics. My youth was devoted to "DIY" horse riding, not acquiring much more than technique but something perhaps even more important: an understanding and respect for horses. I sometimes wonder how it would have been if I had had the economic opportunities and a technical guide for the equestrian discipline par excellence, the combination, I will never know… a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then; many different experiences and so many friends in the world of high-skill horse riding that have helped me to grow as a rider. But the Olympics, this was really a forbidden dream! In 2006, thanks to the support and confidence of Giuseppe and Adriana Malaspina, I met Irham. It was one of those rare occasions where someone decided to invest in me: "A good instructor, yes, but it's not worth investing in him with all the strong riders that we have in Italy…". This is what people said about anyone who was considering giving me an opportunity… Irham was the classic 'lightning strike', it was 'him', tried out by half the riders in Europe but never taken into consideration, luckily for me! Everything happened quickly, lived with great intensity. Qualifications for the European Championships 2007, entry into the Italian senior team of the European Championships at Pratoni del Vivaro concluded with the team bronze and finally among the five representatives of Italy at the Olympic Games of Beijing-Hong Kong. A dream that was realised in approximately three years with me incredulous…The Olympic adventure began with the collection in Holland at the stables of Hans Horn, where I was able to work for the jumping test, to then reach Aachen for the quarantine and where I prepared for the dressage test with the Portuguese Daniel Pinto. On the day of the departure the horses were taken to Amsterdam airport to be embarked onto a cargo plane. I thought of Irham with his 'belly of iron' on that great aircraft, the first time for him… He arrived in Hong Kong, after twelve long hours of travelling and leaving the aircraft he was overwhelmed by a heat wave and the 80% humidity . But we were there, at the Olympics, thanks to a remarkable competition companion and to his owners who had believed in me. I was aware of being in the most important arena in the world, even if I still felt more like a spectator that one of the protagonists … It was only when, with the Games started, it was my time and I entered the field for the dressage trial that I actually realised that the dream of my life was about to begin… The competition began on Saturday, 9th August at the Sha Tin Hippodrome… The dressage test, the last to start for teams, held a unique atmosphere and there were many expectations on us as Italians, holders of a European team bronze medal. Entering field I had the feeling that Irham wanted to show the world all his greatness, as if he knew that the event was special and it was important not to go wrong! The competition closed with 40 negative points, our best result. There was thunderous applause, I was truly happy and grateful to the horse… What a sensation ! The cross country trial began on 11th August at the Beas River Country Club. I felt calm before the start of the cross, I knew that it was the trial in which we felt strongest. My only thought was 'be quick' because those who had gone before us had run out of time. Irham and I were 64th to start on a course where galloping wasn't particularly easy, it was rough and technical, full of sudden changes in direction, with 29 obstacles and 40 efforts over a length of 4,560 meters. Approaching the starting ring we were calm and focused… 'ten, nine… three, two, one…' a sudden roar of water stopped us from seeing beyond our nose… at least focus on the start and then 'go'. The obstacles were very close, too close, I wanted to let Irham gallop but I couldn't really allow him to ... past the third water, before the open-ditch, this was the time where it was possible to gain time on a flat galloping stretch and it was there that I asked him to let go into a gallop. It was scary! I was sure that a few seconds beforehand I would be able to make up what was needed for the distance and in any case to slow down to the right speed… But as soon as I touched his mouth I realised that I had no power… I started to call him using my voice and drawing on all the tools I had available to me, even pulling him back harder but, tired of being held back for the umpteenth, he made a point of galloping even more against my efforts. Meanwhile that enormous ditch was getting nearer and nearer… 'No! A terrible distance! Now what would I do? Everything except slow down, he just didn't want to know. I thought of a hundred or more solutions in those few seconds but in the end I decided to wait for him, to let him do it without hindering him. It was the wisest choice… but no! He changed his mind at the last second and 'bam' there was a strong jolt followed by an equally dramatic jump ahead of the horse. At that moment I thought that even without wanting it, I could have done worse but Irham with his never understandable sense of preservation, I still don't know how, managed to successfully overcome that obstacle… but he wasn't finished yet… Fortunately, everything continued for the better…. And then, finally the end… The most beautiful moment, I would say magical, when you realise that everything has gone well and you were able to make the expected contribution for the team. I was happy, I was grateful and thankful to my companion, the only true protagonist of that undertaking. I still have vivid memories of his breath, his smell, his ears pinned back as he galloped faster to protect himself from the rain and his generous sense of protection towards me. The show jumping test: the toughest test for me and to be remembered. If Irham in dressage and in cross felt strong, in the jumping trial we still hadn't managed to find the note with which to express ourselves with serenity and rigour. It was strange, however, having a horse with that sense of duty, always ready to give the best of himself, able to save himself in the cross, and the riders that have ridden him… I thought it was not simply a lack of respect for the poles but something less trivial. Whatever it was, it was necessary to overcome that difficult situation… From the morning at seven the wait was long. Then it was my turn. Irham's mood was high, focussed as never before. Thirteen obstacles, sixteen jumps… The number 9, blue obstacle, and there was an error. A deafening roar, 'the lights faded', as if the stadium had collapsed … obstacle 10 was there, in front of me. I had to stop Irham, I couldn't jump it, but he didn't understand and wanted to do it. I managed to stop him and in that moment 'the lights came back on again', was the obstacle there, and if not then where was it? It was a black-out only in my head and this has never happened before nor afterwards in my life, just right there, at the Olympic Games. My position in the rankings at that point was shooting up dramatically and we finished our Olympic adventure in 29th place and team sixth. The error disregards the individual and team hopes but what remains is the Olympic dream lived, an experience that no-one can ever take away.

Roberto Rotatori reappears today on the eventing competitive scene with two new promising participants, the Irish Castlerichmond SRS and the Sella Italiana Pura del Castegno. With these two horses the Italian rider has in fact returned to the limelight after withdrawing Irham de Vaiges, at the beginning of 2010. An important return of the Italian rider, especially liked by all the fans given the technical and professional level but especially due to the human qualities of the 47-year-old Lombard rider. "I went back to basics - says Roberto Rotatori - but now I have the good fortune to have in the stables two horses as exceptional as Castle and Pura. In fact Castlerichmond SRS and Pura del Castegno have been shown to have the numbers to become top horses: "I start with young horses and work exclusively to develop them gently and gradually with the hope of having them ready in a few seasons. The idea is to have a group of young quality horses looking for owners who want to invest and share a dream. My dream is to participate again in the Olympics and to be competitive. In combination events in Italy it's not that easy to find owners as in show jumping, as it is almost inconceivable to buy horses that are ready, but if you are lucky enough to find the right foals, you can still hope to compete at the highest levels". In 2014 Roberto Rotatori competed with Castlerichmond SRS (French Buffet XX x Hermes de Reve) at the world championships of Le Lion d'Angers obtaining the best ranking (13th in the six-years category) from among the horses of the Italian representative. "Castle is an amazing horse with a huge awareness of his quality. He has been with me from the end of four years; I discovered him in Ireland in 2012 at the Goresbridge auction. At Le Lion the horse achieved a good trial, perhaps under judged in dressage, in the cross, a clear round in time, and he proved his worth as a jumper. It's a shame that because of an out of time penalty in the final show jumping trials this cost us several positions in the rankings. But that's okay because his performance was also greatly appreciated by many of the 'top riders' in the competition who have considered him a horse for the future". Again in the last season in Arezzo, Italy, the Italian rider won with the final of the young horses circuit for five years with Pura del Castegno. "With Pura I have been lucky. She was being ridden by a girl who was doing dressage, I liked her immediately". The steed, born and reared at the Guerino Boglioni Castegno facilities (Brescia) thus came to us at the stables of Roberto, in Hans Horn, where I was able to work for the jumping test, to then reach Aachen for the quarantine and where I prepared for the dressage test with the Portuguese Daniel Pinto. On the day of the departure the horses were taken to Amsterdam airport to be embarked onto a cargo plane. I thought of Irham with his 'belly of iron' on that great aircraft, the first time for him… He arrived in Hong Kong, after twelve long hours of travelling and leaving the aircraft he was overwhelmed by a heat wave and the 80% humidity . But we were there, at the Olympics, thanks to a remarkable competition companion and to his owners who had believed in me. I was aware of being in the most important arena in the world, even if I still felt more like a spectator that one of the protagonists … It was only when, with the Games started, it was my time and I entered the field for the dressage trial that I actually realised that the dream of my life was about to begin… The competition began on Saturday, 9th August at the Sha Tin Hippodrome… The dressage test, the last to start for teams, held a unique atmosphere and there were many expectations on us as Italians, holders of a European team bronze medal. Entering field I had the feeling that Irham wanted to show the world all his greatness, as if he knew that the event was special and it was important not to go wrong! The competition closed with 40 negative points, our best result. There was thunderous applause, I was truly happy and grateful to the horse… What a sensation ! The cross country trial began on 11th August at the Beas River Country Club. I felt calm before the start of the cross, I knew that it was the trial in which we felt strongest. My only thought was 'be quick' because those who had gone before us had run out of time. Irham and I were 64th to start on a course where galloping wasn't particularly easy, it was rough and technical, full of sudden changes in direction, with 29 obstacles and 40 efforts over a length of 4,560 meters. Approaching the starting ring we were calm and focused… 'ten, nine… three, two, one…' a sudden roar of water stopped us from seeing beyond our nose… at least focus on the start and then 'go'. The obstacles were very close, too close, I wanted to let Irham gallop but I couldn't really allow him to ... past the third water, before the open-ditch, this was the time where it was possible to gain time on a flat galloping stretch and it was there that I asked him to let go into a gallop. It was scary! I was sure that a few seconds beforehand I would be able to make up what was needed for the distance and in any case to slow down to the right speed… But as soon as I touched his mouth I realised that I had no power… I started to call him using my voice and drawing on all the tools I had available to me, even pulling him back harder but, tired of being held back for the umpteenth, he made a point of galloping even more against my efforts. Meanwhile that enormous ditch was getting nearer and nearer… 'No! A terrible distance! Now what would I do? Everything except slow down, he just didn't want to know. I thought of a hundred or more solutions in those few seconds but in the end I decided to wait for him, to let him do it without hindering him. It was the wisest choice… but no! He changed his mind at the last second and 'bam' there was a strong jolt followed by an equally dramatic jump ahead of the horse. At that moment I thought that even without wanting it, I could have done worse but Irham with his never understandable sense of preservation, I still don't know how, managed to successfully overcome that obstacle… but he wasn't finished yet… Fortunately, everything continued for the better…. And then, finally the end… The most beautiful moment, I would say magical, when you realise that everything has gone well and you were able to make the expected contribution for the team. I was happy, I was grateful and thankful to my companion, the only true protagonist of that undertaking. I still have vivid memories of his breath, his smell, his ears pinned back as he galloped faster to protect himself from the rain and his generous sense of protection towards me. The show jumping test: the toughest test for me and to be remembered. If Irham in dressage and in cross felt strong, in the jumping trial we still hadn't managed to find the note with which to express ourselves with serenity and rigour. It was strange, however, having a horse with that sense of duty, always ready to give the best of himself, able to save himself in the cross, and the riders that have ridden him… I thought it was not simply a lack of respect for the poles but something less trivial. Whatever it was, it was necessary to overcome that difficult situation… From the morning at seven the wait was long. Then it was my turn. Irham's mood was high, focussed as never before. Thirteen obstacles, sixteen jumps… The number 9, blue obstacle, and there was an error. A deafening roar, 'the lights faded', as if the stadium had collapsed … obstacle 10 was there, in front of me. I had to stop Irham, I couldn't jump it, but he didn't understand and wanted to do it. I managed to stop him and in that moment 'the lights came back on again', was the obstacle there, and if not then where was it? It was a black-out only in my head and this has never happened before nor afterwards in my life, just right there, at the Olympic Games. My position in the rankings at that point was shooting up dramatically and we finished our Olympic adventure in 29th place and team sixth. The error disregards the individual and team hopes but what remains is the Olympic dream lived, an experience that no-one can ever take away. 3rd block Roberto Rotatori reappears today on the eventing competitive scene with two new promising participants, the Irish Castlerichmond SRS and the Sella Italiana Pura del Castegno. With these two horses the Italian rider has in fact returned to the limelight after withdrawing Irham de Vaiges, at the beginning of 2010. An important return of the Italian rider, especially liked by all the fans given the technical and professional level but especially due to the human qualities of the 47-year-old Lombard rider. "I went back to basics - says Roberto Rotatori - but now I have the good fortune to have in the stables two horses as exceptional as Castle and Pura. In fact Castlerichmond SRS and Pura del Castegno have been shown to have the numbers to become top horses: "I start with young horses and work exclusively to develop them gently and gradually with the hope of having them ready in a few seasons. The idea is to have a group of young quality horses looking for owners who want to invest and share a dream. My dream is to participate again in the Olympics and to be competitive. In combination events in Italy it's not that easy to find owners as in show jumping, as it is almost inconceivable to buy horses that are ready, but if you are lucky enough to find the right foals, you can still hope to compete at the highest levels". In 2014 Roberto Rotatori competed with Castlerichmond SRS (French Buffet XX x Hermes de Reve) at the world championships of Le Lion d'Angers obtaining the best ranking (13th in the six-years category) from among the horses of the Italian representative. "Castle is an amazing horse with a huge awareness of his quality. He has been with me from the end of four years; I discovered him in Ireland in 2012 at the Goresbridge auction. At Le Lion the horse achieved a good trial, perhaps under judged in dressage, in the cross, a clear round in time, and he proved his worth as a jumper. It's a shame that because of an out of time penalty in the final show jumping trials this cost us several positions in the rankings. But that's okay because his performance was also greatly appreciated by many of the 'top riders' in the competition who have considered him a horse for the future". Again in the last season in Arezzo, Italy, the Italian rider won with the final of the young horses circuit for five years with Pura del Castegno. "With Pura I have been lucky. She was being ridden by a girl who was doing dressage, I liked her immediately". The steed, born and reared at the Guerino Boglioni Castegno facilities (Brescia) thus came to us at the stables of Roberto, in Truccazzano close to Milan. This Italian bay has a genealogy (Stedinger x Don Gregory) that is completely dressage: "I am not an expert in genetics but I look at a horse for what it is. This steed struck me, I sensed her quality. She has large movements, a lot of power in jumping, a beautiful gallop and a strong will. Then there are her super genetics, which is no bad thing. Today, also in combination events, good horses are truly necessary. Once, with a clear round in cross, you could climb the rankings, and the horses were mainly English thoroughbred or otherwise very lively and sensitive subjects. Today, on the other hand, a combination horse, to be truly competitive, must be able to do everything well. In addition to galloping they need to be good in the dressage tests in at least level M or M advanced and to be able to jump in the obstacles field. And this has decisively opened the market for the discipline to German horses or, in any case to German lines, obviously with a physique and gallop appropriate to our skills". 

Sport and competition for Roberto Rotatori, however, go hand in hand with the complete harmony with the horse: "In my case, ultimately, there is a great passion and respect for the animal. I aim to give the best to my horses, both in terms of quality of life and management and work. I keep saying, I am not a phenomenon, but I apply myself, dedicating to them all my time, as in fact should anyone who like me has chosen this way of life. I am convinced, however, that creating a good relationship is fundamental. If you are successful, and I repeat, this for me is the first essential goal, then it is certain that the horse will always help us out and, in a discipline such as combination events, where very often we as riders can be rather inaccurate, we might say, one way or another they contribute to resolving the situation. What I am about to say will seem romantic but I want my horses to have fun together with me and to have the same desire to win.
​Castlerichmond SRS and Pura del Castegno have been with me from the age of four years and they had a preparation based on full compliance with the respective physical and mental characteristics. In general, the work that I have carried out with them has been and still is varied. That's why it's not easy for young horses to simultaneously learn different things because I think that it is important not to stress them with the monotony, for example, of the same type of exercises. Today the horses are all well tamed and equally well-prepared, and this helps. At the beginning it is however important that it is all a game. For example, the first jumps of the cross with Castle and Pura we did together. Holding the reins I jumped the ditch, I came off from the talus and fell into the water. They followed me calmly with extreme confidence because they trusted this man. And it is precisely this trust that must be maintained, indeed exalted, until it becomes complicity. However, I mainly work with them on flat ground, very much in the countryside but not necessarily for jumping. My horses also spend a lot of time in the paddock.
Towards the end of the winter I start to do some show jumping with them. The ideal is in fact to do a little of everything, but without going over the top. I repeat, it is essential that the horses enjoy themselves. Because if they aren't having fun, they will begin to say no and at that point I also stop having fun and then I prefer to do something else”.