Paralympic champion Michelle Georges gives advice to promising contestant Leon Benard: “My golden advice: always follow your gut feeling”

One is a famous racer, and the other is determined to also become a top international racer. For Leon Bennard from Bruges, the meeting with Michel Georges is one of the highlights. “If you gave me the opportunity here and now to sign for a job like Michelle, I wouldn’t hesitate for a second,” he says. “She is a role model for me.”

With five gold medals and one silver in three Paralympic Games and again two world titles at the last World Cup in Denmark last summer, Michelle George (48) is one of the great ladies For Belgian and international equestrian sports.

Someone talented young looking for and wants to emulate. This is also the case for Leon Benard. The 20-year-old has won two Belgian titles in junior events and now also collects honorary titles as a professional athlete. In the world, he is credited with a great career, something that Michelle George also believes in. “I’ve taken a good look at your course so far,” she says on the balcony of Sport Vlaanderen in Waregem, in the shade of the Gaverbeek hippodrome. “You’re doing well.”

Have you talked to each other before?

Michelle: “Never. It surprises me, because I regularly train the riders who are in events. Lyon snuck through the net for a reason.” (smiling)

leon: “Of course I know Michelle. In the equestrian sport she is unforgivableAbsolute top. Our sport is a small world, but this is the first time I have had the opportunity to speak to Michel. I was really looking forward to this.”

When did you start riding, Leon?

leon: “I was five years old when my parents bought me a Shetland pony. Since then, I haven’t gotten out of the saddle, so to speak. I was immediately sold.”

“You can go a long way with common sense” – Michelle George

Michelle: “Here you start. Whether it is football, cycling or horseback riding, you must enjoy it. The foundation of everything. I was twelve when I was first allowed to taste equestrian sports. I lived in the hippodrome in Ostend at the time and saw those wonderful animals actually pass through my bedroom window. I entered the stables 36 years ago and never got out. I think Leon and I share the same vision. We have talent, but you have to have the time and space to develop it.”

leon: “True. It is hard work every day and the path to success is nothing but roses, but satisfaction remains great when you reach a goal.”

Michele has been collecting beautiful palm trees in recent years. impressed?

leon: “If you give me the opportunity here and now to sign for a similar job, I wouldn’t hesitate for a second. What Michelle has achieved is simply impressive. I hope I can write an equally beautiful story.”

Michelle: “Hard work, Leon. (winks) No, I’m also satisfied with the way my career has gone, but I didn’t get it as a gift. Still, by the way. People put the bar high for me. When I enter a competition, I am expected to receive a prize. It only increased the pressure, but it also keeps me sharp at the same time. Many people are shocked to hear that I still have a full time job (Michelle serves as president of the Academy of Technology at Acodis in Kortrijk, editor.). Sometimes you have to look for a match between the job and the sport.”

How important is your entourage to perform well?

leon: “I am fortunate that my parents have always been behind me. They support me in everything I have done – and still do. I cannot count the miles they have covered for me. Without them I wouldn’t be that far today.”

Michelle: “I even consider it one of the greatest conditions for building a successful career. You have to make sure you have all the edge factors under control as much as possible. During the Paralympic Games in Tokyo last year, I couldn’t control the climate. Then I followed my gut feeling. I quit my mare, Better than 8, I take a few days of complete rest right away, while my fellow riders train hard. In hindsight, it turned out to be the right choice.”


leon: “It is recognizable. You must always do what is best for your horse.”

Michelle: “I couldn’t give Leon better advice. Common sense goes a long way.”

What do you like most about Michelle?

leon: “Her perseverance. Michelle is 48 years old, but she still belongs to the absolute world top. Moreover, her life could have been completely different. But she resisted. Through willpower.”

Michelle: “In 2008 I was walking with a horse in our private stable in Amogis, where I was still living at the time, when the wind was blowing over the roof of the stable. The horse in question ran in disarray, clasping the rope I was carrying around my left leg. I dragged Several meters and several fractures. As a result, I had to go under the knife several times, but during the last operation, the anesthesia in my back was completely wrong. I was paralyzed from my waist to my feet on my left side. Hemiplegia, as it is officially called. I also realize that I I could be in a completely different situation now.”

leon: “That’s what I meant. A lot of people would totally lose heart, not Michelle. She was bitten. You can only take off your hat for that. Her leadership is invisible.”

“Talent is only one piece of the puzzle” – Leon Benard

You are so excited, Michelle.

Michelle: “Leon puts it right, I think. This impulse is also of crucial importance. If you don’t have it anymore, you better stop. I now consider my age to be plus. I’ve been through everything, and I know what’s coming my way. But at the beginning Every race I feel the adrenaline coming back. That’s why I do it.”

leon: “Every match gives me some kind of kick. These are the moments where you give your best every day. All eyes are on you and as a rider you become one with your horse. This feeling of harmony is indescribable.”

What is the secret to reaching the top of equestrian sports?

Michelle: “I can’t help but say what I’ve been doing for years: work hard and hard, believe in your dreams, never give up and put your horse first. You work with animals, you should never forget that. If your horse feels good, you’ll go a long way” .

Do you know yourself in Lyon?

Michelle: “Otherwise we wouldn’t be sitting here at the table together. Leon has the right mindset and lives one hundred percent for his sport. As a professional, he can also fully focus on that. I see someone who has a clear goal in mind: to get to the top. I’ve carried that mindset with me all along. my career”.

Michelle was already involved in a serious accident. Aren’t you afraid of a serious fall, Leon?

leon: “When I’m on my horse, I turn the handle. Don’t think about it, otherwise you threaten to get banned and things go wrong. I am always as careful as possible, but at the same time I am well aware that there are dangers associated with our sport. I hold the wood, but I haven’t broken anything yet “.

Is Michael an inspiration to you?

leon: “Believes. You keep putting in the best performances together and almost always come home with medals. That’s not given to everyone. Talent is one piece of the puzzle, but the long hours of practice and behind-the-scenes work make the difference. People don’t see it, but that’s what matters. As a contestant Young man, I can only look with an open mouth at what Michelle is doing.”


Michelle: “I love to inspire young athletes. I’m just doing my best, but role models are needed. Not just in sports, in our entire community. If I can get children and young people interested in equestrian sports, that’s great. Both on a recreational and competitive level. After all These years, I also look forward to emerging talents. When I see someone breaking through what I have trained, my heart always jumps for joy.”

Where lies Leon Benard’s great ambition?

leon: “I want to build the best career possible, but I don’t want to rush. Learn to walk first and then walk. I would be lying if I said the Olympics is not a goal. Every athlete wants to go there. Maybe it will happen in Paris in 2024, but in four years I definitely want to.” To be there in Los Angeles.”

Coming back with medals like Michelle?

leon: (smiling) “This would end everything. But for that I have to do a lot of work first.”

Michelle: “Never forget the Olympic thought, hey. Participation is more important than winning. But it is a characteristic of top athletes to shoot as high as possible. I got myself into that again.”

© Christophe de Moynck

Why is equestrian sport so beautiful?

Michelle: “First of all: every sport is beautiful. You have to be able to put your soul into it and I can do that when I work with horses. I especially find the fact that you can be as attuned as possible to your horse. Gradually you learn to communicate with your horse, and you understand your animal very well. .and the fact that you’re outside a lot also plays a role. I feel free on my horse.”

leon: The emotional aspect also plays a role. What we do comes straight from the heart.”

What advice would you give me to say goodbye to Leon?

Michelle: “Actually, he actually said it himself: Work step by step. Set goals for the short, medium and long term. And keep the fire burning. I never felt like I had to.”

leon: “Then I can reassure Michelle. The enthusiasm is too great for me.”

Michelle: “I realize that you can lose every now and then. You can learn a lot from that. But make sure the resilience is always greater.”

Do you have another dream, Michelle?

Michelle: “I basically want to keep what I have in my hands now. Everything that comes with it is extra. And I want to see young talent progress. Boys and girls love Leon. From now on I will follow his path closely.”

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