Well I certainly won’t be the first to write this name this month, and defiantly not the last. Edwina Tops-Alexander made history last month in Abu Dhabi by winning the Global Champions Tour season for the second year in a row on her memorable mount Itot du Chateau. In addition, to top things off, her and Itot just won their first World Cup title of the year in Geneva last week.
Edwina is one of those wonderful stories that spans the globe and includes some wonderful characters along the way. Edwina has one of those lovely stories that makes you realize she has come so far and conquered insurmountable odds to become the top ranking female rider in the world. The blonde beauty’s story of success is very down-to-earth and it is one that every striving young female jockey should know by heart.
“Six months… I’m giving myself six months to decide whether I stay or not… to see if I can make it.”
Those were the words Edwina repeated to herself as she sat on the plane, crossing both the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean to get to Belgium. Can you imagine now, just over ten years later and here she is, the leading female rider in the world and written into our sports modern history.
She had saved up for a year and sold her car to pay for the plane ticket over. Edwina was committed and she wasn’t going to look back. Six months… six months was all she was going to give herself and six months was all it took to allow the world’s top ranking female rider to realize that perhaps big things were possible.
I wonder if Edwina knew when she sold that car and boarded that plane, that these actions, these moments in her life would eventually lead to a world ranking reign that has spanned almost 4 years on and off. It is truly remarkable that Edwina jumped to the number one female spot in the world in 2009 and has danced that line ever since.
Edwina, who just won the 2012 Global Champions Tour season title as well as her first World Cup title this year in Geneva, is certainly riding high but perhaps we should look back slightly to see the path that the world’s leading female rider took to land where she is today.
When she landed on the shores of Belgium, Edwina didn’t know what to expect. All she knew was that she had a job riding for her friends from New Zealand and her parents had managed to help her out enough to pay the way for her Grand Prix mount Mr. Dundee to make the trip with her. Edwina was 24 years old and knew next to no one and was known by few. But she would eventually know very many people and be known by everyone.
Her first big introduction would be Belgium’s very own Olympian Ludo Philippaerts. This introduction would prove to be very influential for it led to Edwina’s first major tutelage and opportunity to truly immerse herself in all things international. Ludo Philippaerts offered Edwina a position to ride and train with him in Limburg. Despite being overwhelmed by his accomplishments and reputation, Edwina remarked that the opportunity allowed her to catch a glimpse of a world that both “fascinated and attracted her.” The seed was planted and the young Australian jockey started to toy with the hope of one day competing with the very best.
Now it would be the arrival of a beautiful bay mare with plenty of scope that would prove how bonded Ludo and Edwina had become. Ludo bought the young 9 year old Jozita for Edwina and despite having plenty of work ahead of her, Edwina could not contain her excitement about this mare’s immense potential. Sure enough, both Ludo and Edwina were bang on when Edwina and Jozita landed in a world class jump-off in their first CSI5* Grand Prix in La Baule, France.
This would prove to be one of those moments as a rider where you show what you’re really made of and you display to yourself and the world that you’re capable of great things.
Edwina and Jozita would prove to jump a double clear and qualify for the jump off with France’s Edouard Couperie and Ireland’s then Peter Charles. Edwina and her scopey bay mare would jump a clear for the third time that day and land at 3rd place finish overall. Ludo was ecstatic and the young Edwina could not believe it, she had placed in her very first 5-star Grand Prix against a myriad of international riders and combinations. No one was more excited and happy then her boss and mentor Ludo Philippaerts.
This result was enough to show her mares deep rooted skills and insure Jozita a one way ticket to the United States to her new owner. Edwina was disappointed but aware that this was the business. It was time to try things on her own and take all the knowledge and training she had acquired with Ludo and start business for herself.
With a new German sponsorship and a horse that followed her from Ludo’s, Edwina was ready to take on the European circuit alone.
In 2002, Edwina would qualify for the World Championships with Quelle Dame Van De Heffinick, a difficult but hard working mare. Quelle had followed Edwina from Ludo’s and would be the mount for the youngest member of the Australian team. This was a big ticket and Edwina was over the moon at the opportunity to ride for her country in Jerez, Spain. The Australian team was relaxed as they were attending the World Championships for experience. Despite riding an incredibly difficult mare, Edwina enjoyed every moment experience, overjoyed at the opportunity to watch the French Team win the World Championships, making the rising lady rider hungrier then ever.
It was also the chance for Edwina to meet someone who would prove to be one of the most influential people in her life; a member of the Dutch team and an Olympic gold medalist Jan Tops.
2002 would be a big year for Edwina. She would compete for her country on the international stage in Spain for the World Championships and meet her future husband. Moving to Valkenswaard in Holland would be a big move for the rising star but in many ways the yellow brick road that would ensure a future of truly great things. Edwina and Jan would prove to develop a deep and strong relationship that rooted itself from a shared love for the sport and common passions; “hard work and horses.”
Hard work and horses is exactly what would shape the next 3 years for Edwina as she shaped a career with Jan that would lead to international titles that even this ambitious Aussie could not foresee.
A fortune teller would prove her legitimacy when she told Edwina that 2005 would be a big year for the future Olympian. She spoke that something incredible would come at the beginning of 2005 and sure enough, this fortune teller was right.
Edwina was competing in Florida when Jan would do something that he would come to do time and time again; announce that he had found a horse that could change Edwina’s career forever.
“I’ve found the horse of your dreams.”
Pialotta was a horse with a strong and well established reputation. She had competed on the international circuit with Rolf-Goran Bengtsson of Sweden. Pialotta was one of those incredibly experienced horses that some riders come by in their career maybe once; a horse that gives you the confidence and the understanding to tackle anything. Pialotta did just that for Edwina. She was a horse that could match Edwina’s courage in the ring while offering her confidence to tackle all that she dreamed about.
“Jan always told me that Pialotta was one of the best horses in the world” said Edwina as she marveled over how this mare had appeared in her “life as if by magic.”
So after winning the CSI5* in Valkenswaard as well as earning 2nd in the Global Champions Tour Grand Prix of Estoril and the Grand Prix of Brussels, Edwina and Pialotta found themselves in a new year and a year that neither of them would forget. 2006 would be the year of the World Championships in Aachen and once again Edwina was preselected for the Australian team.
Jan keeps the pressure light and both him and Edwina make the pilgrimage to Aachen with modest expectations. Edwina has had the best possible preparation and starts things well as they take each day as it comes. Before anyone can catch their breadth, Edwina and Pialotta have jumped very well…. better and better through out the competition and before they know it, Edwina has come through the Semi-Finals to qualify as the fourth rider in the Final ride off. Edwina is beyond words and cannot believe it.
At 32 years of age, Edwina has made it to the ultimate test of horsemanship and perseverance; the top four rider ride off at the 2006 World Championships. It is Edwina amongst a collection of horses and riders that would all find themselves immortalized into the history books; Meredith Michaels Beerbaum with Shutterfly for Germany, Beezie Madden and Authentic for the United States, Jos Lansink and Cumano for Belgium. This was history in the making and Edwina was a part of it.
50,000 spectators would bare witness to Jos Lansink’s amazing win aboard Cavalor Cumano. Here was Edwina Alexander, at 32 years old and an unexpected feature to the four rider, four horse ride off. For the first time in history, three women reached the “Final Four Ride-Off.” It was only the third time in history that any woman had advanced to the “Final Four” and Edwina was part of that piece of history.
She drew Jos Lansink’s grandeur grey stallion first and wondered how she would ride such a large and strong stallion around the massive track but in fact Edwina managed very well and jumped a clear round. Beezie Madden’s Authentic was next and sure enough, despite the gelding being rather difficult, Edwina would manage another clear round. It would only prove to be disappointing aboard the amazing Shutterfly. Known for his sensitivity, Shutterfly was clearly very upset about all the new riders and it took over 15 minutes to place Edwina’s saddle on the geldings back. He was clearly nervous and tense and Edwina did what she could to ease both his nerves and her own.
Edwina would jump the amazing Shutterfly with a mere fault and thus assure herself 4th place with Jos, Beezie and Meredith in the Jump off for podium placement. It would prove to be a moment of bittersweet victory for the rising Australian star. She knew that it was unexpected for her to make the final four and yet she watched Jos hold his Gold medal and wondered if she should have prepared better or thought more positively. Would it have allowed her to earn a spot on the podium?
Nevertheless, after 2006, anyone who didn’t know of Edwina did now and she was permanently etched into every equestrians mind. Edwina rode with the best of the best and came out to showcase just exactly what she was made of. It was an incredible feat and an amazing tribute to just how hard Edwina was willing to work and how deep she was capable of digging. Following the World Championships, Pialotta stayed with Edwina until 2008. The mare was able to compete steadily until she was 17 years old. However, she was not alone in Edwina’s top tier of international mounts.
Another mature and experienced horse would find himself under the piloting of Mrs. Tops-Alexander. A very intelligent chestnut gelding by the name of Socrates would come together with Edwina in Arezzo, Italy and join the now famous lady rider from Down Under in winning Grand Prix’s in Zurich, Vigo, St. Tropez and Gothenburg. Edwina was the first lady jockey to win the Grand Prix in Zurich and it proved to build Edwina higher and higher towards to inevitable top.
But what all the dreams are made of, what every rider’s wishes about is what happened with Itot du Chateau.
Jan and Edwina decided to take a trip back to Australia for the 2007 holiday season for 10 days. Unbeknown to Edwina, Jan had his sights set on the Olympic games in Beijing for his future wife but didn’t say anything. They landed in Sydney and Jan made the decision that would change Edwina’s life forever. He made the call to confirm that he and Cees Van Opstal (Cevo) would purchase Itot du Chateau from France’s Michel Hecart. On New Year’s Eve, Jan announced to Edwina and her family that they would return to Valkenswaard with a very important and very special addition to the team.
Edwina could barely contain her excitement and as soon as they arrived home, she ran to the stables to meet Toti. Edwina would be the first to admit that she was taken back by how small the little French horse was. Itot du Chateau was the smallest horse to compete on the international circuit since Jappeloup. “Could it be a sign?” Edwina asked herself.
Well it certainly was a sign for when Edwina hopped aboard Toti and started jumping for the first time, it was a match made in heaven. “It felt as though I had ridden him all my life.”
Itot du Chateau would prove to be instrumental in pushing Edwina into the very stratosphere of international show jumping. Edwina and Toti were the only double clear for Australia in the Team segment of the Beijing Olympics, having only known each other for 8 mere months. They would go on that year to win the World Cup in London Olympia before really showing everyone what they were made of in 2009.
Edwina and Toti became a truly regarded combination when they won the GCT Grand Prix in Valkenswaard against Eric Lamaze and Hickstead as well as Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum and Shutterfly. Sure enough, this win would consolidate Edwina amongst the very best and ensure her as the world’s leading female rider. A title she would dance with for the next 4 years.
Now we stand here, almost half a decade later and Edwina has not only kept hold of the leading female title predominately but won two consecutive Global Champions Tour season titles back-to-back (2011 and 2012). She is the first rider in Global Champions Tour history to do so. Following her first World Cup win for the year in Geneva last week, we can admire a career that has spanned two hemispheres, five continents, two decades and two world’s vastly different from one another.
Edwina has shown to the rest of the world that if you want something badly enough, if you feel in the very essence of your being that you belong somewhere, then stop at nothing until you find yourself in the position you envisioned. In Edwina’s case, that was on top of the world surrounded by the horses that she loves. Edwina has ascended to the top tiers of our sport and she would be the first one to tell you that the love for her horses is what carried her there. She remembers every moment and every horse that took part in her path to greatness.
Dare to dream, for Edwina stands as a shining of example of just what happens when you dare to dream big enough.
Some Questions for Edwina..
Rides for: Australia
Born: March 29th, 1974
Age: 38 years old
Born in: Sydney, Australia
Based in: Valkenswaard, Netherlands
Ranked: 8th in the world
Top Career Horses: Jozita, Pialotta, Socrates, Itot du Chateau
Stable: Stal Tops
Trained by: Husband Jan Tops
Olympic pedigree: 2008 Beijing Olympics and 2012 London Olympics
Olympic result: 20th Individually in London and 9th Individually in Beijing
First rider to: earn €1 Million in winnings on the Global Champions Tour
Biggest wins last year: “winning in Cannes and of course winning the overall GCT Final was good”
Recent wins: Winning the Global Champions Tour series for the 2nd year in a row in Abu Dhabi, 6th leg of the World Cup in Geneva
Most influential horses in your career: “Itot du Chateau and for sure Pialotta. She was a famous horse when I got her, so there was a challenge there to be able to ride such a good horse”
Whats your favorite Horse show? “Indoor I’d have to say Lyon and outdoor, that’s hard, I’d have to say Valkenswaard. It’s a great atmosphere there.”
You never leave for a show without? “My pillow”
What would you do if you weren’t a professional rider? “I would like to be an interior decorator. Fashion design I love, I love fashion. I wanted to be a fashion designer but I couldn’t draw.”