"Do you ride horses?" I asked the man next to me, to break the ice. A group of Olympic leaders were on a tour of European cities to promote the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics, about a year before the games, and an after-dinner performance of dressage was just about to start for the guests of honor from Korea.
The performer sitting on horseback just then was the daughter of the host, a German businessman, and the Olympic-standard riding ground could be viewed through a glass wall from the audience seats inside the dining hall. The young woman was a dressage athlete hoping to compete in the coming Seoul Olympics.
"Well, yes, sort of …" was his answer. At that moment, I realized that I had absolutely no knowledge of riding, raising or breeding horses; and so I could not think of a following question.
Someone nearby then told me he was Dr. Reiner Klimke, the famous and legendary winner of six gold medals at the Olympics. If anyone does not recognize a person, "he must be a spy from the north" in a South Korean-style expression, and I felt perplexed in this way.
My German friend, who was working at the Korean Embassy in Bonn at that time, found the situation hilarious. She even commented, "Good for you! Why should everyone on earth know his name? It is absolutely fine for you to ask him if he could ride a horse!"
After adding his sixth gold medal in the Seoul Olympics, Dr. Klimke died in 1999.
The recent scandal in Korea refreshed my memory of that dinner in (then West) Germany as the video clip of eventing skill training of another young woman, also an aspiring dressage athlete, appeared numerous times recently on our TV screens. She had posted nasty and churlish comments about her privilege and her parents' wealth online, which unleashed a storm of criticism.
I have searched the history of horses in Asia and particularly in Korea. Contrary to my vague guesswork that the traditions of equestrian sports, golfing and hunting ― that required vast green spaces for practice by a small number of........