friedrich was there for the first time in the Festhalle. The son of show jumper Janne Friederike Meyer-Zimmermann will be one year old in January, and when his mother was in the saddle during the tournament days in Frankfurt, father Christoph had to amuse the little one. “It doesn’t work without help,” emphasizes the 41-year-old Amazone. Reconciling top-level sport and being a mother is still a challenge when – as is the case at her home facility in Pinneberg – everyone is ready to lend a hand.
The team world champion from 2010 quickly recovered after her pregnancy break. From 270th place in the world rankings, to which she had meanwhile dropped, she climbed to 68th place at the end of an extremely successful year. Just two weeks ago, Meyer-Zimmermann won the World Cup in La Coruña, Spain, with the gelding Messi, who played a large part in the positive balance.
Federation FEI changes the rules
The equestrian athlete received a confirmation of her commitment of a completely different kind from the World Equestrian Federation FEI. He just changed the rules on maternity leave. Meyer-Zimmermann had campaigned for this based on painful experience with her “EqualEquest” initiative. Female riders who request a break due to pregnancy retain 50 percent of the world ranking points they gained in the same period of the previous year. So far they have had to do without tournament starts for at least six months. Meyer-Zimmermann didn’t want to wait that long in the spring and rejoined the company in Oliva, Spain, just before the deadline at the end of March. All credited points were withdrawn for this.
In the future, mothers will be able to climb back into the tournament saddle after just three months. Meyer-Zimmermann welcomes this as a “big step in the right direction”. But it’s not enough for her. On the one hand, the regulation only applies to the disciplines of jumping, dressage and driving. In addition, Meyer-Zimmermann would like “100% flexibility”.
Every rider should have the opportunity to decide for herself when to take tests again. “It’s a question of self-determination,” stresses Meyer-Zimmermann. The FEI requirement has nothing to do with maternity leave. If you get out of the saddle early, you could compete in a tournament the day after the birth. In addition, there is a risk that the riders will “tear themselves apart and trundle through Europe” in order to regain the points they lost and thus also start authorizations for top-class events again.
“It turned out well for me because there are many tournaments in Germany and national coach Otto Becker made it possible for me to play,” says Meyer-Zimmermann. Colleagues from other nations or young riders who are still working their way up will have it much more difficult. “One could think about a wildcard for returning mothers.”
The original provision was introduced in 2009 for the German championship rider Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum. “Times have changed,” says Meyer-Zimmermann. There are significantly more tournaments and opportunities to earn points. Women who had to take longer breaks than they wanted to because of a pregnancy without health reasons would be at a considerable disadvantage.
“Our sport has the unique selling point that women and men can compete against each other, because it’s not about strength, but about feeling and partnership with the horse,” says Meyer-Zimmermann. This equality should be ensured.
Dressage Olympic champion Jessica von Bredow-Werndl would therefore go even further. “I would like to keep 100 percent of the world ranking points,” said the 36-year-old. “Mothers should be given a helping hand and unnecessary obstacles should not be put in their way.” In retrospect, the world number one regrets the decision to apply for a tournament break at the FEI for the birth of her daughter Ella in August. When she wanted to start again early in October, she was not given permission to start.
Meyer-Zimmermann describes this interpretation of the rule as “scandalous”. “From my point of view, that was a professional ban.” Specifications are necessary to prevent such “arbitrariness”. Despite the “milestone” that has just been reached, the path to the goal is far from over. Many other riders should be encouraged to embrace the difficult but beautiful dual roles of mother and elite athlete as she did.
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