There are not many Premier League footballers who could tell the difference between a half-pass and a piaffe – but Asmir Begovic happily bucks the trend.
Stoke City and Bosnia goalkeeper Asmir has become an avid watcher of dressage, and he will be among the spectators on Thursday evening when the Equestrian.com intermediate dressage to music class takes centre-stage at the Ashford Farm CSI**** Bolesworth International in Cheshire.
Competing alongside the likes of London 2012 British team gold medal-winning star Laura Tomlinson and 2013 European team bronze medallist Michael Eilberg will be Asmir’s wife Nicolle, who made a Great Britain representative debut in Roosendaal, Holland last month, and continues to make impressive strides with her German horse Waldessarini.
Coached by multiple British Olympian Richard Davison, Tennessee-born Nicolle moved to Britain at the age of 10, and this time last year she was in Brazil to cheer on Asmir as Bosnia faced opening World Cup opponents Argentina at Rio de Janeiro’s iconic Maracana Stadium.
“We understand the demands of each other’s sport – the sacrifices you have to make, the commitment – and we understand how to deal with the ups and downs,” Asmir said. “We help each other with the mental support.
“I am getting to know a lot of the riders and people involved in the sport, and I am trying to educate myself as much I can and go to as many of Nicolle’s shows as time allows. Nicolle tells me I know the difference between a half-pass and a piaffe, so I will settle for that!
“The progress she has made in the last couple of years has been very impressive, and it is something I am very proud of. Her work ethic and commitment to the sport will probably allow her to go quite far. Hopefully, she can keep things going.”
Tomlinson and Eilberg apart, Nicolle will also be up against the likes of Becky Moody, Charlie Hutton and Matt Frost at Bolesworth, where her freestyle to music routine receives its debut performance.
“The higher the level you ride at, the harder it becomes technically,” she said. “The demands are increasing, but I love it, which is what pushes me harder to develop. Every time someone moves the bar higher, I push harder.
“Probably the biggest challenge is the sports psychology side of things. Because I have done everything in a very short space of time, I put an awful lot of pressure on myself, and I haven’t necessarily allowed myself that time, mentally, as an athlete to grow and mature.
“I get quite frustrated that I can’t learn faster. As Richard would say, I am already at saturation point, so the mental side is hard because I am a very ambitious person and sometimes I can’t keep up with myself!
“After Bolesworth, we will be knuckling down and training hard because I will be competing at Hartpury and Hickstead, so that’s really exciting, but Bolesworth will be great.
“It is amazing what Nina (Bolesworth International owner and show president Nina Barbour) is doing at Bolesworth. She has really taken on an amazing challenge and she has executed it very well with a superb show. It’s a fantastic venue, and she is so dedicated.”
In an extension of their sporting careers, Asmir and Nicolle are driving forces of the Asmir Begovic Foundation, and Asmir added: “We’ve had a very fortunate upbringing at times, and I’ve had a lot of luck in my career to be a able to achieve some good things, and the whole family is passionate about giving something back.
“The Asmir Begovic Foundation is aimed at raising funds to build sports facilities, either from scratch or rebuild current ones. It’s about encouraging people to be more active, more healthy, to socialise and make friends.
“We had a gala night recently, which raised about £50,000. So many people have been so generous. We’ve built a facility in Sarajevo, and we have also helped a local football club in England. We are always searching and looking for new projects.”
The Ashford Farm CSI**** Bolesworth International takes place in the spectacular grounds of Bolesworth Castle in Cheshire from June 18-21, and will run at four-star level for the first time.
Confirmed showjumping entries include Britain’s world number one Scott Brash, Australian Edwina Tops-Alexander, John Whitaker, William Whitaker, Laura Renwick, Holly Gillott and Spencer Roe, in addition to powerful Irish and overseas challenges.
Other highlights include an Express Eventing competition, a puissance and an eagerly-awaited elite sport horse auction, in addition to a pop concert featuring leading British band Scouting For Girls and a Gladiators competition that will see stars of the cult ITV series taking part.