Paardensport Vlaanderen vzw came to Vorselaar to record a video on Friday, because François ‘Swa’ Van Uytsel’s performance cannot be overstated. At the end of 2021 – when Jumping Mechelen could not take place due to corona measures – the rider also won the final of the Epplejeck Horse & Rider Cup in Azelhof in Lier. When Swa is there, competitors know a potential winner is coming. And not only did he win on Thursday with Falloch, but he finished seventh with Falloch’s son – Kingston – in the same final. “There is no age limit on horseback riding,” wrote Bardensport Flanders, who of course sees François as an excellent and inspiring billboard. The guy also played football until the age of sixty. “But training until 76 won’t work, and riding a horse will,” he laughs.
It is doubly gratifying that he achieved his victory after a difficult year from a medical point of view. François barely three months back in the saddle, after much physical misery. He always rides without a whip, without spurs and above all he seeks a good relationship with his horse to achieve his results. “I am not for punishment. If you get a bar, you should find the problem with yourself, not with your horse. That animal will never be able to explain what went wrong.”
That someone at the age of 76 still won a show jumping competition in Jumping Mechelen is truly punishing. In a month and a half, Swa will be 77 years old. He started riding horses at the age of 22.”Actually a very sad story, through my brother-in-law. His daughter had an accident with her horse. He asked me if I was interested in riding that horse. Then I went to take some lessons at a riding school. Valoch is still a descendant of that The horse. We continued to breed from the same bloodline. Good horses, but with a lot of personality and temperament, who always want to go ahead.”
“I was racing an LRV, but at some point I started driving in VOR and TRENS competitions. Until 2000 I regularly jumped prizes, but only now at a later age I already have such good horses. However, Valoch was not easy at first. Now she is 17 years old, but when she was younger, the girl Lin came to lead her. She easily jumped 1 meter and 30 with her, but at a certain point it was impossible to hold on to that horse. Then she ended up with some other riders. In a competition she saw my wife How battered she was. My wife said, “If it has to be like this, it better not happen.” Then Valush came home and took her for a quiet walk. Now she’s fine again. Lynn also drives with her again. We often compete Together. Lynn always jumps a little higher than me. We rarely train. I hardly dare say it. My fantasies – apart from Valoch I have her son – are out all day. Sometimes I go for a walk. But in reality, I just saddle them for a ride competitions. They love to do it, because they almost jump on the trailer.”
The fact that Swa Van Uytsel is now winning in Mechelen, while he’s already been back in the saddle for barely three months, makes it all the more special. Four months ago he suffered a heart attack on horseback, just before he had to enter the ring. “It happened in the match. I didn’t really feel anything in my heart, only in my stomach. I’ve been struggling for several weeks.” Lynn pick up. Sawa looked pale. Usually always very fast when housebreaking, now he barely hopped. Something wasn’t right. Swa nods. “Actually, I wanted to ride this race, but people convinced me to get off. In the hospital, I found out that I had a heart attack. Braces and bridges followed, but I kept losing weight. The masseur who lives behind us said it was not normal and advised me to go to the hospital again. It turned out that I still had water in my lungs, hospital bacteria, and corona infection. I was in the hospital for two weeks, but I really begged to go home. I could not receive visitors and missed the horses.”
In his first competition after his return, Swa immediately took first prize. He went on to win after that, which led to the grand podium at Jumping Mechelen on Thursday. “I’ve always dreamed of winning in Jumping Mechelen. In this test you start with 200 horses, the first 60 of which are allowed to go to Mechelen via qualifying competitions. During the jump I managed to make very short laps several times. Valoch did the thinking. My horses are really smart. Even if I mislead them for the fence, they adjust their pace. I’d very much like to race again in Mechelen in December 2023. Valoch is expecting a baby in August. We’ll have to wait and see if she’s ready by then.”
Will he break this pony himself? “Why not, with Lin’s help?”
The seventy something goes up a ladder, but that’s the only thing. “Lin also takes a step that’s less tiring for the horse. When I’m riding two horses, I get a cramp in the evening when I put my legs together. But it’s the only thing that reminds me of my age. As long as he keeps winning, and it doesn’t look hard, I’ll keep racing.”