Goch, Germany – December 17, 2020 – Over the past 35 years Holger Hetzel – Nations Cup rider, two-times German Vice-Champion, famous international trainer, official regional coach for Rhineland and equestrian event organiser – and his team have established an equestrian sport centre in Goch that is frequented by students and customers from all corners of the globe. The coronavirus pandemic in 2020 has obviously had a tangible impact on the 60 year- old horseman’s business. Here’s what he had to say about the past year and his outlook for 2021.
How did the coronavirus pandemic affect equestrian sports in 2020?
Holger Hetzel: In the same way it affected everyone else. It fundamentally changed competitive equestrian sports. The big four and five-star events were hit particularly hard and the majority of them were cancelled. It’s been a struggle for professional riders whose main income is competition winnings. Most of them moved down to two and three star level because those competitions could be held in line with coronavirus restrictions. It’s great that so many event organisers have been willing to put on competitions at that level, but you can’t cover your costs riding at two and three-star shows.
What personal insights have you gained from the pandemic year?
Hetzel: Until 2020 we lived in a world where the motto was: higher, faster, more. Show jumping was like a blue chip share that kept gaining in price, making all the shareholders happy. The coronavirus was a brutal wake-up call – a stock market crash that wiped out the equity value of show jumping. In that respect, COVID-19 has made us all a lot more humble.
How did you respond to the situation?
Hetzel: We adapted very quickly to the changes in the market and the virus-related changes. Back in the spring we had the vision of reintroducing competitions on the basis of a strict hygiene concept. The Rhineland Commission and the FN gave us their backing and, by the time May arrived, we’d turned the circumstances to our advantage and were ready to launch the first outdoor shows. In mid-May we were the first organiser to host a competition in West Germany since the beginning of the lockdown. It made us realise that our facility was the ideal place to host these new-concept competitions, so we held another four in the following months with an additional focus on young riders. They were very popular. Unfortunately, the rising infection rate made it necessary for us to cancel the last of the shows we had planned, as well as our Sport Horse Sales event.
What other things have you been doing?
Hetzel: In spring and early summer many riding clubs and equestrian businesses in Germany were struggling because teaching and training activities were banned. I thought about how we could help out and came up with the idea of giving free training to members of riding clubs so that the training fees paid by the participants could all go straight into the clubs’ funds. The riding clubs sent in their applications for training and I travelled to the five clubs that were able to generate the most income from the one-day training sessions at locations from Hamburg to Munich. We also had a brainstorming session with feed manufacturer Höveler, and they said they’d also deliver feed to the five riding clubs worth twice the amount of income they earned from the training day, which was also a big help.There have been a lot of travel restrictions in these last few months.
How did you cope with those?
Hetzel: One problem we faced was that we couldn’t train our foreign students in the summer months as usual, and our international horse selling business was very quiet becausepotential customers weren’t able to travel here. To some extent we got around that problem by using Facetime and video-on-demand services so that customers could watch ‘virtual try-outs’. We also realised that if the customer couldn’t travel to us, we could travel the horse to them. So in a few exceptional cases we transported horses out of the country for a trial at the customer’s place. This kind of an arrangement obviously only works if you’re absolutely sure about the horse. Another positive thing in this difficult year is that it showed us just how strong the relationships we’ve built up with our customers are.
What’s your outlook for the next weeks and months?
Hetzel: Personally, I think the next weeks and months are going to be pretty tough for us all. But by spring, when the first vaccinations start to take effect and the warmer weather reduces the risk of infection, things will start improving. That’s what we’re getting ready for. We’ll also be holding the shows that were cancelled at the end of 2020 as soon as we can in 2021.
How have you been making the most of a competition-free winter season?
Hetzel: The unavoidable winter break has been a positive thing for the horses. It’s given us the opportunity to focus a lot more on training the youngsters. In a regular winter season we don’t have the time for it because we’re always travelling to shows. It also gives the older horses a proper break from competitions, like they used to have.
What’s your long-term prognosis for competition sport?
Hetzel: As I said earlier, you can compare it to the stock market. The equestrian sport share price won’t be bouncing back to the pre-pandemic level in the next few months. But it will start to improve when spring arrives, and we’ll probably get back to where we were before coronavirus in 2022.
What do the next few months mean for your business?
Hetzel: First of all we’ll be focusing to a greater extent on buying, training and preparing young horses for competitions. We also have more time to think about what our customers are looking for. Mostly, the key to finding and training the perfect horse for a buyer is dedicating enough time to the process. Our customers will benefit even more from us having this extra time because we already know what they want.
What’s your plan for 2021?
Hetzel: One of the most important aspects of my plan is to keep my team motivated, active and positive. We’ll be adapting to the ‘new normal’ by introducing new structures and new services. And we’ll get through any challenges in 2021 with optimism, commitment, creativity, flexibility and a passion for our work.
Source: Press release from Wendy Scholten for Holger Hetzel
Photo: © Holger Hetzel / Maik Wallraffen