What is your earliest equestrian memory?
My parents owned a riding holiday business in Hanover, so I grew up around horses. I started off doing a bit of everything, some eventing, show jumping and dressage. Horses have always been a way of life for me and my family.
How did you get into the breeding side of the sport? Has it always interested you?
I was 14 years old when I started breeding. I had a talented mare called Pistazie who had very good pedigree, but she got injured in the field. So, I decided to start breeding from her. A lot of the horses that I breed now still have her lineage.
As a breeder, what is your main ambition?
I think that with breeding the quality of the horse has to improve and adapt with the sport. But, in my opinion it is equally important to breed a healthy horse and for me these are the main elements of breeding. If you have a horse that has a lot of quality but is not healthy, it is such a shame. But if you have a healthy horse that does not have so much quality, it is fine, as there always people that want to compete at a lower level. Breeding nowadays is so sporty, and we now rarely breed a horse that cannot jump in 1.30-1.45m classes. I always try to find the best combination between the mare and the stallion. Nowadays, there are so many stallions at stud, so it is a hard choice. But it is one of the most important parts of breeding a good horse.
As a breeder, what is the proudest moment of your career so far?
I have bred so many horses that it is hard to pick just one horse. It is always great to breed a proven stallion, but we have also had lot of horses that have been very successful at the international level and that have competed all over the world. My biggest dream would be to breed a championship horse and, to further that dream, to have Gerrit riding it.
Has there ever been a time when pairings have had unexpected results?
I think that the mother’s dam is extremely important, and if I am honest, I will not breed with a mare that I do not think is good enough. I have been in breeding for over 40 years, and I have been lucky enough to ride a lot of the mares and stallions that I use for breeding so I know which horses would be best suited together. So, for that reason I have never really had any unexpected results.
How long do you keep the foal before it goes on to its next home or before you break it in?
We actually do not sell any of the foals – the earliest that we sell them is when they are in the end of their second year or when they are three years old. When they are this age, we will do some loose jumping with them so that we can see their talent, and we will also get a full vet check with x-rays. We then decide which mares will go to stud to have a foal before they are fully broken in. However, we do some work with these mares before they have their foals so that they have had some education. Once these mares have had their foals, they will go back to the sports stable around four years old.
How many horses are you breeding during the year?
In the last five years, we have bred between 20 and 30 foals each year.
Tell us a little bit about Gut Berl – it appears to be a real family operation?
Gut Berl is a big property. There are two stables on the property – one where we keep the sports horses and the other is the breeding stables. The stables that we keep the horses in work has 60 stalls and the breeding stables has two big indoor stable blocks where we keep the yearlings, broodmares, and foals. We have about 80 hectares of land so there is plenty of space for the horses to graze and be turned out.
We have one extremely good vet for the breeding side of the business. He has been with Gut Berl for over 20 years and is local to the area. I think that he probably knows the mother, grandmother, and even the great-grandmother of the foals that we have at the moment. We trust him implicitly and he is a close family friend – we work very closely with him with all aspects of the breeding programme.
Then we have two staff who take care of the mares and foals at the breeding stables. At the sports stables, where we have 60 horses, we have more staff. I think we have four or five home riders, some show riders, grooms, a stable manager and then the family is very involved. It is a big team, and we are like family.
Which of your young horses are you most excited about?
We have a quite a few very young horses that I think could be very exciting between the age of five and eight years old, but they must now prove their talent and we need to see how good they can actually be. We have a very nice nine-year-old, called Amigo 1841. Gerrit is riding the horse at the moment, and he actually rode him at CHIO Aachen, as well. We have a lot of faith and hope in this horse. It is hard to pick just one horse at the moment – but it is always so exciting to watch them grow and develop. Unfortunately, we do also have to sell some of the horses, and it is always easier to sell the good horses that we would like to keep!
You must be extremely proud of Gerrit and Ben 431 winning the Rolex Grand Prix at this year’s CHIO Aachen?
I am so proud of them. It truly is a dream come true. The season had already been successful but winning a Rolex Grand Prix at a Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Major is always something very special and something that not many riders achieve. I think we will always look back at that day and get goosebumps.
In the beginning, the biggest problem with Ben 431 was getting him under control and to make sure that he focused on the rider. We wanted to nurture this keenness and his love for his job, but we also had to make sure that he was working with Gerrit. Through this, Gerrit and Ben 431 have created a strong foundation, off which they have built their successes.
How positive do you believe the Rolex Grand Slam is for the sport of show jumping?
The Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping is so unique, as it combines four shows that have so much tradition. These four shows were always something that were a big deal to win back before the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping was formed. The prize money is phenomenal, and it is so important for show jumping. Everyone always remembers who won CHIO Aachen every year – in my opinion I think the Majors are now getting very close to championship status.
Out of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping’s four Majors, which is your favourite, and why?
I am German so I have to say CHIO Aachen. To me it is the biggest and the best of the four Majors, and of course now it is even more special since Gerrit’s win there. But of course, if you ask a Canadian, they will say the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’.
The next target for Gerrit and Ben 431 is the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’. They have had a great season thus far and it would be amazing if they can continue that form in Calgary. Ben 431 has had an easy few weeks since CHIO Aachen, he has done a lot of hacking through the woods and has been out in the paddocks – horses aren’t robots and it is so important to keep them happy and enjoying their job. He did some smaller classes last week and he is now preparing for the next Major.
Who has inspired you the most throughout your career?
Herbert Meyer, who was the German Chef d’Equipe from 1985 until the 2000 Olympic Games, which were held in Sydney. My first job was riding for him at his stables – I think I was either 16 or 17 years old. That is where I learnt all the basics, as well as so much more! He was the person that I would always go to for advice and someone I always looked up to. I have also always been inspired by other great riders. I make sure that I keep my eyes open and watch the best – you can always learn more and get better.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
The best piece of advice that I have been given is if you believe in something, especially in a horse, you have to keep believing in it and working with it even if you are having a hard time. If you truly believe in the horse, you will eventually achieve success with it and you will get the results that you want.
Source: Press Release from Rolex Grand Slam
Photo: © Lars Nieberg