All that was missing to mark the end of a sensational year was winning the Rolex IJRC Top 10 Final in Geneva.
In this interview he tells us who Henrik really is as a rider, a horseman and a man with thousands of qualities. He speaks of his past, his present and who knows…what the future too may hold.
Henrik, you were once a young rider in Ludger’s stables and there you began your first experiences in the great sport. Who was that young man and who has he become today?
I have always been a worker with goals to be achieved involving what I wanted to become and I always tried to work hard towards these goals, sometimes with not a great deal of patience perhaps. If you ask me what I was like before, I would say I was maybe a little more frustrated and felt I would not reach these goals, I was a long way away from them and afraid I might not succeed. But over time things started to fall into place, a few things of course, because of fantastic situations that came up allowing me to ride very good horses and this improved increasingly constantly as time went by. The man I am today is the result of something that changed a lot in my life, which was, of course, having a family, a fantastic wife and our incredible son and the team we have now built together. That includes everyone around us, whether the horses’ owners or grooms or the woman in the office. This whole team is an incredible team; everyone knows about our sport and without this team things would be very difficult, but we have managed to build a great one.
Life is made of opportunities…
Yes, and chances too as I say; you need a bit of luck in life but you also need to take chances. If they are there in front of you, you need to take them and that was something that I must say I did well. When I got opportunities, I grabbed them and made something out of them. That has been important.
You are a very sensitive rider and you have a big heart as one can see when you ride King Edward. Together you are perfection, a perfect partnership, one soul and one heart. What does riding mean to you?
For me, of course, winning is what matters most, it is the end of the tunnel, but what I look back on is the way we got there. When I look back at the World Championships, I don’t see myself standing on the podium with a medal, I look back at how we embarked on the journey to the World Championship and how we progressed along the way with a few small hiccups. But we still had our goal, our way of planning for it and how we would achieve it and then success came, which to me means the work done with these horses every day. I believe that winning is something done at home. One does so much at home and all the work you put into it could be gone in 40 seconds, losing everything because you make a mistake or something happens. But when it all works out of course it’s a fantastic moment. The same also applies to yesterday (Top 10 competition), I felt such joy of course because I won and I hadn’t won this class before. There is no doubt about that! But it was also because after the World Games, this was one of my goals. I wanted to win here, I wanted to win this class and we had made a plan for what we believed was the best way, because, even if you have a horse like King Edward, you cannot keep them on peak form all the time.
You have to choose, you have to pick your moments, you have to let the horses run down and then get them fit again, because I believe that there is a time for keeping them not only physically fit but also mentally healthy. The day on which a horse no longer enjoys jumping one is starts to lose. You need to have the feeling that they want to be in the ring …
He wanted to win and he knew what he was doing…
And, of course, along the way, one finds a way of telling him that this is the day; today is the real day and I think that is amazing about our sport. It is a shame when some people don’t see that, because this is what I understand. This is what we do with our horses every day, we try and it’s a nice feeling …
Is this also the reason for which you are enjoying a long career at the top level, and the reason for which a horse like King Edward is always on top form at important events?
Absolutely, this is what makes a horse, this is horsemanship. I mean I always say that bringing horses to the top level is not difficult if you can ride, but keeping them at that level for years and years and then retiring them when they are just getting old but still fresh is another matter. The right time to retire a horse is a fantastic moment and of course it’s a very sad moment too, but somehow you feel good because it is a success anyway. It was the same with Mary Lou. She did so much and then suffered an injury, then we came back and I had the feeling the injuries had changed her and I just wanted to stop. You don’t want to keep on going because you know, you have this feeling, but the horses they try and try. In the end you are the one who has to say okay, now that’s enough. As I said, it’s a very sad moment, but we owe them that, that’s what we do.
What advice would you like to give a young rider who would like to become like you?
That you must be aware that you need a lot of patience in our sport and have long-term goals; don’t plan for the short term, you know, you need patience, you need a lot of patience with animals. In the course of the years one gains a lot of experience and experience is very important. I have ridden hundreds of horses but every horse is different. One cannot just ride one and think that if you’re good at that, you will ride the next one well. You know, there’s always something new. There has never been a horse I have ridden that is exactly like another, never. There are always some small things that change, they are individuals. What I believe is that it is important to adapt to that and try and understand the horse, be with the horse. I think we have to be very careful about that nowadays, as sometimes one has the feeling that we are losing that concept a bit. You know, it’s all about the competition and all that, but to do well at shows over the long-term, you need to understand the horses and be with them. It’s not just about sitting on them and riding around. Go into the stable, watch the horse’s behaviour, see what are they telling you. Discover this partnership, because even if you have a great horse and you get good results, there will come a time when this will change and it is then that you have to understand the horse so as to be able to change that path and make a comeback. This because for all horses, it doesn’t matter if it’s King Edward or whoever, there are times when they drop back a little and it is then, at that point, that good riders can see what needs to be changed, what is missing in the horse, what the horse is telling us so we are able to get it going happily again. The fact is that you need to ‘feel’. If you don’t ‘feel’, then you don’t know what you’re looking for and then you will never solve the problems.
Do your dreams perhaps include your son becoming a rider and a champion like you?
Many people ask me this and I don’t know. I have not had this feeling that “ah, I would like you to”. Every time I look at him, I think he is a gift, you know? And I just want him to be happy whatever he does. My parents, I have to say, treated me in a fantastic way. They always supported me whatever direction I chose. I mean when I was young, I was doing all sorts of things, tennis, hockey, everything and they always supported me. They said ‘you should do whatever makes you happy’ and this is what I will try to do with my son as well. Whatever makes him happy and he believes in, I will support, then if he wants to be a rider, fantastic, he’ll have a lot of possibilities because I have a bit of knowledge.
It will definitely be his own choice, because if you want to compete at this level you have to be so passionate and so crazy that if you are not, then it’s better not to do it at all because then one wouldn’t be good enough anyway.
It is difficult now to envisage the future. The Paris Olympics are without doubt the next goal but no one can predict what will happen. Horses are not machines. I take things one day at a time and do my best to prepare for the future, but we shall see. For the moment I am enjoying this extraordinary period.
From January/February issue: