Dutch dressage rider Adelinde Cornelissen and her horse Parzival’s hopes of a winning a medal at the Rio Olympics were thrown into disarray when Parzival was struck down by a mystery illness. Faced with an agonizing choice between a podium finish and her horse’s welfare, then, Cornelissen did the bravest thing imaginable.
As was the case for many Olympians, the road to Rio had been a long one for Cornelissen and Parzival. The pair first began riding together almost 15 years ago, in 2002.
Two years later, they stormed to victory to secure their first senior national title in their native Netherlands. It was the beginning of a beautiful partnership, and the two soon clocked up an array of accolades.
In 2009, for example, Cornelissen and Parzival took gold at the European Dressage Championship before winning the Dressage World Cup Final in 2011. And a year after that, they were ready to compete in their very first Olympics in London.
Incredibly, the dynamic duo claimed silver in the individual dressage and also took bronze in the team competition. Not content with stopping there, though, Cornelissen then set her sights on the Rio Olympic Games in 2016.
So it was that she and her chestnut horse embarked on a grueling four-year training schedule to help them realize this dream. And as Parzival would be 19 years old by the time the games came around, Cornelissen hoped that it would be his final championship before retirement.
Furthermore, while the athlete hoped that she and her horse could have one last hurrah, she had no idea what surprises were in store for her once she got to Brazil. Following a promising season and a smooth journey to the Olympic Games, then, Cornelissen began to get Parzival settled in his stables.
“The first days in Rio went according to plan,” the Dutch rider informed her fans in a tell-all Facebook post. However, things soon took a turn for the worse when Parzival’s health quickly deteriorated.
When Cornelissen went to fetch the horse for his training session one morning, she noticed that his head was badly swollen. In addition to this, he had a high temperature – and it looked like he’d been kicking the walls.
However, Cornelissen noted that “he still didn’t look sick. He was eating and drinking and, while walking, I had a hard time keeping up with him, as always.” But, having spent so much time with the horse, Cornelissen was still concerned.
She therefore called in her team of experts and vets, who thoroughly checked Parzival from head to toe. It was then that they discovered an insect or spider had bitten the equine, sending toxins pumping throughout his body.
What followed was a race against the clock. With Cornelissen and Parzival due to compete just 24 hours later, vets prescribed the horse a number of fluids to help flush the poisons out of his body. At this point, the dynamic duo’s chances of replicating their Olympic success looked slim.
Vets also X-rayed the horse’s jaw, took swabs from his nose and tested his blood in order to eliminate any other causes of his symptoms. Thankfully, the results came back clear, and all the Dutch dressage team could do was wait and see if Parzival’s condition improved.
By early evening, Parzival’s swelling and temperature had come down – but he wasn’t out of the woods just yet. Clearly concerned for his welfare, Cornelissen spent the night at the stables in support of her four-legged friend.
After a sleepless night, Cornelissen awoke to find Parzival’s temperature back to normal and his swelling almost entirely gone. And, following a long and agonizing discussion with her team, Cornelissen made the difficult decision to go ahead and compete with her horse.
Cornelissen took Parzival out for a quick warm-up and noticed that he “didn’t feel very powerful,” which was to be expected after the night he’d had. Still, only moments later the pair were out in the arena ready to compete in front of thousands of people.
After just a few movements, however, Cornelissen suddenly stopped her routine, saluted and left the arena. “When I entered I already felt [Parzival] was giving his utmost and being the fighter he is, he never gives up,” she explained.
But Cornelissen didn’t want to push Parzival any further. “In order to protect him, I gave up, she said. “My buddy, my friend, the horse that has given everything for me his whole life does not deserve this.”
Cornelissen’s powerful commitment to her horse captured the hearts of animal and sport lovers alike. Her post on Facebook about the disappointing turn of events received over 6,000 shares and was liked almost 40,000 times.
She has since thanked fans for their support and revealed that Parzival has recovered well. And, despite the “overwhelming” attention, Cornelissen is just glad that her horse is “happy and healthy again,” because nothing is as important as that – not even an Olympic medal.