Today I am going to tell you a story. A true story which may sound like a movie. Indeed, if it were an American story, it would have probably already been adapted into a movie. But this is not a Hollywood story, our story comes from Germany, where it’s known as “the legend of Stockholm”.
The main characters are West German Olympic rider Hans Günter Winkler and his horse Halla, a national hero, a kind of German Seabiscuit. (do you know Seabiscuit’s story? We talked about it in our article about horses starring in movies).
Why the “legend of Stockholm”? It’s 1956. The Olympic Games will take place for the first time down under, in Melbourne, in the month of December. But not for all the athletes. The equestrian competitions took place months before in Stockholm, because of quarantine laws in Australia not allowing the transport of horses.
Germany was not having a good time then. With the country politically split in two nations, The Germans had not fully recovered from the hardship of post-war era.
Sport helped the country to rebuild a sense of national pride. Two years before, West Germany national football team won for the first time the World cup in Switzerland, beating football power Hungary in the final game, a glorious feat that would be remembered as the “Miracle of Bern”.
Just two years after that exploit, German sport fans could testify another miracle, the “legend of Stockholm”.
Final round of the team jumping. No surprise to see the German riders competing for the gold medal. At the beginning of the competition, though, it seemed that luck was not on their side.
In the first round, Winkler pulled a groin muscle at the penultimate obstacle, after his mare took off early and threw him out of position.
The pain did not allow Winkler even to stand sitting in the saddle. Without him, the German team would have been eliminated and lost an assured medal. But Winkler did not want to give up. After he was given tranquilizers, Winkler could comfortably sit. However, drugs that could reduce the pain also made him quite unconscious, and therefore he was only given black coffee before his final ride to reduce his dizziness.
He totally trusted his horse Halla. And Halla repayed him with an incredible performance.Just a few years before, Halla was considered a “difficult horse” no one could ride because of her bad temper.
There is no other tie stronger than that between a rider and his/her horse.
“She knew that something was wrong” Winkler said after the triumph. That day he could barely steer her through the course. The rest was up to her.
Halla completed a clear course, giving to her rider and the German team individual and team gold.
It was a great triumph for the Germans, perhaps not as much for the Italian team. The silver medal was awarded to the “Azzurri”, led by brothers Piero e Raimondo D’inzeo, together on the podium also individually (behind Winkler and Halla, of course).
The D’inzeo brothers would have had their share of glory four years after, when the Olympics were held in their hometown, Rome.
In 1956, it was Winkler and Halla’s turn to give birth to the “legend of Stockholm”. The rider became one of the most celebrated German athletes of his time. The mare is still one of the most successful horses at the Olympic Games, with a total of three gold medals.
It is all due to the special tie they built together year after year, even when nobody believed anymore in Halla, who was meant to be an “unexpressed talent”.