By Katie Roebuck | FEI.org
DURING 2023, a different flag was regularly making an appearance on the international Eventing circuit.
Zimbabwe now has a five-star rider in Julia Norman and she’s full of enthusiasm for what can be achieved with the African nation. Perhaps even a place at the 2028 Olympics.
Norman, based in Wiltshire in the UK, became a Zimbabwe citizen last winter. Her late mother was born in that country and her grandparents lived there for nearly 20 years. Because of this heritage, it was possible for Julia to get a Zimbabwean passport.
Norman said: “We went out to Zimbabwe last year. Nigel Philp who is involved in Zimbabwe Eventing has become a good friend. He’s very passionate about the sport and helped us meet the Minister of Sport, Kirsty Coventry.”
Before embarking on the trip, Julia had met the Zimbabwe ambassador in London. From there, it was quite straightforward for Norman to gain citizenship.
Norman said: “I never realised it was a possibility because mum had a British passport, but because she was born there and lived there it became apparent quite quickly that I was eligible for a passport. That was December last year, so I have been riding for Zimbabwe for all of this season.”
From GB to Zimbabwe
Switching nationality from British to Zimbabwean has some obvious appeal for a serious competitor. The GB Eventing squad is incredibly competitive – they make up seven of the current World top 10! Great Britain are the Olympic Team gold medallists, Yasmin Ingham is World champion and Ros Canter is the reigning European, Badminton and Pau champion. World No.1 Oliver Townend recently won Burghley five-star, but nobody is guaranteed a place on Team GB for the 2024 Paris Olympics.
Julia and Ardeo Berlin finished fourth in the 4* in Ballindenisk in April, wearing Zimbabwe’s flag with proud. They had to retire early from the famous 5* at Pau in October, but she was full of praise for her No.1.
In the future, she will also be eligible to represent Zimbabwe at the FEI WBFSH Eventing World Breeding Championships for Young Horses (six and seven year olds) at Le Lion D’Angers. Once your horse is qualified, your national federation invites you to compete at the prestigious championships in France. Spaces allocated to each country are limited and for GB riders, the invites are highly sought after.
Representing a less illustrious equestrian nation has certainly been of benefit. She’s been able to produce her youngsters in a time frame best suited to them, away from the pressure of fitting into a system set by a national requirement.
This year, Norman has been free to continue her career path of competing, breeding and producing future stars up the levels. Representing Zimbabwe has added an exciting new goal for her.
Dreaming of LA 2028
Norman is hoping Zimbabwe can assemble a national team together in time for the LA 2028 Olympics. While the best hope is to attract overseas riders who have Zimbabwean heritage, any success could be transformational for equestrian sports in the African nation.
She said: “We want to build a team for the future, but it takes time. The long-term aim is the LA Olympics. There is a lovely equestrian community out there of riders, really passionate people, but we need to find UK-based Zimbabweans. The top level in Zimbabwe is two-star which is limiting, but so many countries have to be based in the UK anyway so we wouldn’t be the only one.”
Paying Tribute to Mum
Norman is also thankful for her loyal owners who have embarked on this new exciting venture with her; Chas Bright, Bruce Fraser and the Kapriccio Syndicate to name a few.
She will be heading back to Zimbabwe in November; she’ll be holding training clinics and enjoying a holiday with her husband Tristan and young son, Max. Zimbabwe is a well-known safari destination and home to the famous Victoria Falls.
For Norman, the memory of her late mother, Gill, who died nine years ago, is never far away.
She said: “Mum would pinch herself that she has allowed me to do this, we never dreamed of these possibilities, the Olympics would not be a possibility without this. My Grandma is still with us and she loves Zimbabwe, she is so excited and so are all her friends out there. Mum would have loved it.”