One of the most difficult equestrian competitions to qualify for is the FEI World Cup Finals. So, Wellington resident and dressage rider Sahar Daniel Hirosh was shocked to receive an e-mail inviting him and 18-year-old gelding Whitman to compete in Gothenburg, Sweden in late March and early April of this year, representing his home country of Israel.
“I wasn’t sure if it was a mistake or not. I didn’t expect it. It wasn’t even on my agenda,” Hirosh said. “I was aiming for the European Championship. I didn’t think that the World Cup would be an option because qualifying is harder.”
Hirosh sent three e-mails requesting confirmation before he was willing to celebrate and was greeted with the response of a smiley face and clarification — “Yes, you did qualify.” The first person Hirosh shared the wonderful news with was Whitman’s owners, Salomon and Jane Suwalsky.
“I could not make it without the owners’ support and the whole team,” said Hirosh, who gave most of the credit to his equine partner. “In every [equestrian] sport, at the end of the day, the horse has to want to do it with you. The horses are so amazing with their ability to connect, and if you treat them right, they just give you their heart.”
One huge issue that came up immediately was the cost for such a trip. The FEI does provide some funds, but to transport a horse and rider around the world and back is nearly $40,000. “I remember when we got the call, with Israel being a small country, we didn’t have the funds, so it was troublesome. I told my partner, and he’s so supportive. He said, ‘Don’t worry, you are going to make it there.’ We managed to raise the funds within 48 hours,” Hirosh recalled.
Friends and supporters from around the world rallied and raised the funds for Hirosh and Whitman to make their historic journey.
Receiving the invitation is an honor that holds significance to more than just Hirosh on a personal level. He is the first Israeli rider ever invited to compete at the FEI World Cup Finals in dressage.
Unfortunately, less than a week later, Hirosh received the devastating news that the 2021 World Cup Finals had been canceled due to a virus, but not COVID-19.
The current outbreak of equine herpes virus (EHV-1) in Europe affects horses neurologically and is highly contagious, which is why the Fédération Equestre Internationale made the difficult decision to cancel the World Cup Finals
“I know that is what is right for the horses, but the community and all around the world that made it happen and raised the funds — that was the most wonderful thing,” he said. “I mean, yes, the World Cup is a dream, and it is still a dream, and it would have been amazing to have been the first Israeli to go and represent my country in the World Cup. I am hopeful for next year, but in today’s world, any day that we can wake up can be a good day.”
Hirosh explained that his love of the sport and the horses made it clear that this was the best decision for the animals.
“Growing up, I did show jumping and dressage,” he said. “And then after the army, I switched to dressage, and I always had a passion for it. I like the sport. It’s the connection, the relationship and partnership with the horse. You have a lot of factors and discipline, and it is an amazing feeling when you become one with the horse.”
Hirosh noted that the funds raised for the trip were returned to his donors after the cancellation.
While the World Cup Finals may not be in Hirosh and Whitman’s immediate future, they do have their eyes set firmly on competing in the European Championships this September in Hagen, Germany.
“At the moment, I am going for my personal best. Europe is the big league, the top in the world,” he said. “I am going with the idea to go in and be the best combination we can be — me and Whitman.”
Hirosh moved to the United States in 2001 and moved to Wellington permanently four years ago, where he has proudly put down roots. “I have really good friends who are like family,” he said. “I have a life partner, and we have a home in Wellington together. I love Wellington, and this area is such a beautiful community.”
Whitman is stabled in Loxahatchee, where Hirosh goes every day to work with him and Suwalsky.
“I get to wake up every day and do what I love,” he said. “[Whitman] is an amazing horse, and I get to have breakfast with him and his owner every day. It’s just working and having fun.”
Hirosh and Whitman have also been competing at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival. To follow the team’s progress, visit Sahar Daniel Hirosh’s Facebook page www.facebook.com/sahar.hirosh.