Jumping over obstacles

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:22 AM ET

Obstacles on the Spruce Meadows turf can be extremely difficult. They're often intimidating for an inexperienced horse and rider, testing their mettle at every turn.

So far for Ljubov Kochetova -- the first competitor from Russia to compete at the famed venue -- they haven't been overly kind either during the National tournament.

Still, those fences are nothing compared to what she and her husband, Eduard, had to overcome just to show at the world-famous venue.

"Visas. It's the most difficult part to compete," Eduard said. "It's hard to prove she's a top rider and needs to compete overseas."

For example, last summer Kochetova qualified for the World Cup final in Las Vegas but the 24-year-old from Moscow couldn't acquire the visa necessary to compete.

This week, their second groom -- they arrived at Spruce Meadows with five horses and only one groom -- couldn't come because he didn't receive the paperwork needed to come to Canada from Poland.

And that's just the recent struggles.

Imagine what it takes to become the top show jumper in Russia, especially without the financial wherewithal so many others throughout the world have at their disposal.

Kochetova -- who's twice qualified for the World Cup final, has already earned a place at this summer's World Equestrian Games -- received her first horse as gift from a farmer who'd sold it to her parents instead of selling it for meat, knowing how much the youngster dreamed of riding.

The same farmer, a neighbour near her home outside St. Petersburg, first set her on a horse at the age of two.

Then came the generosity of a family friend who gave her a show-jumping horse at age 12.

"He had three and no time to work them," she says with her husband interpreting. "He gave it as a present."

From there, though, she's worked to make it to the international level, toiling in a country with basically no interest in the sport.

Still, something right is happening. The Kochetovas have a stable of a dozen horses -- based mainly in Poland -- which normally compete throughout Central Europe.

Now, with the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games a long-term goal, they decided to compete in Canada for the first time, having been steered to this side of the Atlantic by friends in Europe, and will stay through the North American tournament in July.

Despite the difficulties and fatigue -- asked if she's having fun, Kochetova sighed a heavy "yes" -- it's paying off, albeit in small doses.

Riding a seven-year-old Russian-bred Oldenburg named Volten, she won the 1.40-metre $10,000 Shell Trading Barrage, earning $3,000.


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