Current World and Olympic champion and World Cup winner Henrik von Eckermann has had a couple of amazing years with his horses Glamour Girl, Iliana, and of course King Edward. Sure, Von Eckermann is a great rider, probably one of the very, very best out there, but without great horses a great rider doesn’t win as much as Von Eckermann has won. So what’s his secret? What does he look for when he is scouting horses? And which one of his three super stars does he take to the European Championships?
“For me, if I am looking for a horse for myself, I look for the temperament of the horse, if it looks like a clever one or not. And I like them ultra careful with a big stride. But their temperament and cleverness are the most important to me. I look for horses that one day hopefully win something. And to win in today’s sport, they need to understand their job. They need to be clever in the ring. For me, that’s more important than a spectacular jump. There are some horses that jump quite normal at home, nothing amazing. But then in the ring they know how to go clear. Those horses are clever,” says Von Eckermann. “And I am very lucky that my ones have that quality.”
My feeling needs to be good
So how exactly does Von Eckermann figure out if a horse is clever when he is trying them out? “It’s more the feeling you get when you sit on the horse than anything else. That’s why looking at horses is one thing, but feeling is something else. When I sit on a horse, I don’t care how it looks; if my feeling is good, I go for that, even if it doesn’t look great. Glamour Girl is a good example of a horse that doesn’t jump spectacular when you look at her,” says Von Eckermann about the mare that was sold as a 6-year-old in the Dutch Sport Horse Sales and came to Von Eckermann when she was 8 years old. “When you look at her, she doesn’t seem to have the last scope, but if you see her jump the triple combination in Valkenswaard, she jumps it easily. She has the mindset for it. And that is what I look for, for horses that have the mindset for the sport, like I said in the beginning.”
What is scope?
“Glamour Girl is a bit of a mare. At home she has a lot of things on her mind, but when she gets in the ring she is extremely clever and knows her job in a fantastic way. First of all she has a big stride. That is also very important to me. I do not like it when a horse has a small stride. The scope is much easier with a big stride. Even when you have the smallest horse like King Edward. He is a very, very small horse, but he has a huge stride and that’s why he is such a scopey horse anyway.
Iliana has a fighting spirit in her that is very, very high. She wants to do well. That fighting spirit helps her to create scope. If they jump an oxer you would not say they have the same scope as King Edward, but scope is always a question. What is scope? In the end, scope is the ability to jump the jumps. And the right mindset makes the difference.”
Results never lie
But how did Von Eckermann know Glamour was clever when he got her? “We got her when she was almost 9 years old and she had already good results. So we knew there was something she was doing right. I always say: the results never lie. It doesn’t matter who sits on the horse. If the results are good, the horse is doing something well. Of course, the rider has a big influence, and I am not speaking about the biggest classes but still: the results never lie.”
I don’t want to question their carefulness
When I am looking for a horse for myself, I want to have the feeling that they are ultra careful. We cannot buy them when they are older, we have to buy them when they are still coming up, so they haven’t proven yet what they can do. That means there will always be question marks if they are gonna be good enough in the end. But the question mark I’d rather have is that I don’t know if they have the scope to jump the biggest jumps. I don’t want to question if the horse is gonna be careful enough. Everything in today’s sport is so delicate with quicker times and thinner poles, so the horses just need to be very careful. And then, with my riding I try to put so much trust into the horse that the scope will come with time. I try to give them a secure feeling and then, when they get more confidence, they will jump bigger jumps. That is my approach.”
Iliana on grass, King Edward on sand
With three horses at the top level, Von Eckermann finds himself in a great position to map out the best shows for each horse. Even at championship level. For the upcoming European Championships in Milano he has chosen to ride the Cardento-mare Iliana. “We made a plan at the beginning of the year that the Europeans would be a big goal for Iliana. I felt that she had the potential to do it and my goal with King Edward was the World Cup final. So he needed a break after that. Second of all the Europeans are on grass and I don’t want to jump King Edward on grass. I want to keep him barefoot. That suits him better. I did try to ride him on grass because I wanted to ride Aachen. I went to Peelbergen with a pair of shoes that we were thinking of, but like I said: I always go with my feeling and something just didn’t feel right. Of course I am so afraid to make a mistake, but you can never regret a round you never jumped, so I took the shoes off and said: you know what? There are enough shows on sand, Paris next year is on sand, I stick to the sand with King Edward. Iliana feels very very good on grass, so that was a good combination for me. I decided to stick with King Edward on sand and do Iliana on grass.”
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Text by: Dinette Neuteboom