Olympics-Mankini to medallist? Eventer Rose on an uphill ride to Paris

By Thomson Reuters Jun 6, 2024 | 4:29 AM

By Tassilo Hummel and Cordelia Hsu

PARIS/SYDNEY (Reuters) – As Shane Rose steered his horse over a fence once again – just two months after nearly breaking 20 bones in a training accident – the Australian sensed his bid to get back in shape in time for the Olympics was less far-fetched than some had thought.

“That was the final tick that I needed,” the three-times Olympic medallist told Reuters in an interview. “When I could do that and could do it reasonably well on my first attempt, there was no chance that I was not going to be fit enough for Paris.”

Rose, who grabbed global headlines when he sported an orange Borat-style ‘mankini’ costume during a riding event earlier this year, had been on track for Paris with his brown bay gelding Virgil when things came to a halt in mid March.

Only days after securing his ticket to Paris, the 51-year-old eventer fell from a horse during a cross-country schooling session. Rose underwent hours of surgery with a broken femur, pelvis, elbow and some broken ribs.

But he wasn’t prepared to give up on his Olympic dream.

“The recovery was long and not necessarily painful, but painstaking,” Rose said during an interview at Bimbadeen Park, an hour southwest of Sydney.

He needed to spend the first four weeks in bed before being gradually allowed to start exercising, first in a swimming pool, then in the gym.

In May, when doctors allowed him to stand on his own feet again, Rose was straight back on horseback. Having no memory of the accident helped him going back to work swiftly, he said.

“I have no anxiety at all… the fact that I can’t remember is a blessing.”


The first weeks after the accident, Rose said, were his longest time off horseback since he was a toddler as they were his means of transport to get around when he was growing up in rural New South Wales.

His optimistic demeanour have made the father of four a darling of Australia’s eventing scene.

Rose’s Paris trip was briefly put in jeopardy, however, after he wore a mankini at a ‘fancy dress’ event near Sydney and a complaint was made to Equestrian Australia.

Crowds of internet users, and sponsors, however, rallied behind Rose.

The athlete’s unconventional appeal is a blessing to a sport often perceived as elitist and historically dominated by a handful of European nations and a small group of athletes with often very long careers.

German dressage queen Isabell Werth, for example, has won seven gold and five silver medals since her 1992 debut in Barcelona and will celebrate her 55th birthday the week before competing in Paris.

Combining showjumping and dressage with a cross-country race over natural and artificial obstacles, eventing is particularly demanding for riders and horses alike.

Paris’s equestrian events will be held in what were once the hunting grounds of the French kings at Versailles and the five-kilometre cross-country circuit underneath linden and oak trees is set to produce spectacular images.

But Rose’s accident, followed by the tragic death of British rider Georgie Campbell after a fall during a tournament in England only two months later, are a reminder of the dangers of the sport.


“Horses are a big, powerful animals,” said Rose. “Our sport is more dangerous than most.”

The International Federation for Equestrian sports (FEI) said in an emailed statement the sport “does carry inherent risks, but our job is to minimise those risks”.

The body said its data showed the number of total falls in eventing competitions had decreased by roughly a third over the last 10 years.

Rose, who had facial reconstruction and was placed in an induced coma for a week after a kick to the head by a horse in 2006, said he needed to be patient despite racing against the clock to be fully fit for the Games.

“I only had one shot of getting to Paris. If I had any setbacks along the way, it probably would have meant that I lose my opportunity,” he said.

Now, he was starting to feel confident enough to get back into training on Virgil, even though he still needs a little plastic stool to get up into the saddle.

“I need to put myself back at risk the next period of time to make sure that I am fully fit and my horse is ready,” said Rose, who has won two silver and one bronze medal with Australia’s eventing team since his Olympic debut in Beijing 2008.

During his recovery, his wife Niki, also a professional rider, made sure Virgil was kept in top shape and Rose said he knew he could count on the gelding.

“I’ve had him for nearly 15 years so there’s not much we don’t know about one another.”

(Reporting by Tassilo Hummel and Cordelia Hsu, editing by Nick Mulvenney and Christian Radnedge)