By Rohith Nair
(Reuters) - The Olympics being postponed by a year proved to be a blessing in disguise for France's equestrian team whose horses were not quite ready to defend their crown at the Tokyo Games this year, French show jumper Kevin Staut has said.
The International Olympic Committee moved the 2020 Games to July-August 2021 after the coronavirus pandemic brought global sport to a virtual standstill, forcing organisers to cancel, postpone or suspend sports events scheduled this year.
Staut, who led France to the team jumping gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics, is in lockdown in Normandy and the 39-year-old said the extra 12 months gives the team time to train and prepare their horses for top level competition.
"To be honest, competing in the Olympics this year was going to be difficult and the horses that were supposed to go there were not really ready for it. It's a good thing that we have one more year to prepare," Staut told Reuters.
"In France, we're rebuilding our team. We have to stay positive, we have one more year to build a stronger team. The horses that were supposed to go this year will be the same next year.
"For France it's even better as we'll have one more year's experience."
It is a sentiment shared by fellow French equestrian Astier Nicolas, who won gold in the team eventing and silver in individual eventing at the Rio Olympics.
"I'm one of the lucky guys because my horse is young and sound, so it will probably only get better next year," Nicolas, 31, said.
Staut says the lockdown also gives the horses, who are used to competing nearly every weekend during the busy showjumping season, a bit of a breather.
"I'm training the horses normally, flatwork and jumping a bit," he added. "I won't say it's a vacation for the horses but we can slow down a bit and they're also happy. I'm lucky I have some horses with experience.
"When we know that the first show when we return (to competing) is two or three weeks away, we'll improve their training, jump a bit higher at home.
"Then we can travel to other stables... to train and jump a course and get them ready. We can come back to the normal competitive level we need after one or two shows."
Staut has 13 horses in his stable that is situated close to his house, allowing him to work with them on a daily basis.
"Athletes competing at a high level have their own stables or rent stables... They have enough space to train the horses," he said.
"I'm in contact with riders in other smaller countries, like Belgium or Holland. They don't have as much space as here but it's fine for the moment.
"We don't know when the situation could be normal, it could be June or July. We have to be patient."
(Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru, additional reporting by Shadia Nasralla in London; editing by Pritha Sarkar)