With four Olympic gold medals and more German national titles than any other rider, Ludger Beerbaum is the master of showjumping. Together with Swiss watchmaker Longines and CEO of Beijing Dashing Equestrian Cultural CO Ltd. Jing Li, Ludger Beerbaum is also initiator of the Longines World Equestrian Academy. This academy aims at promoting the equestrian discipline of show jumping in China by teaching best practice to professionals working in this sport through a whole program designed by Ludger Beerbaum and implemented by a team of experts under his supervision.
Time to have a chat with this talented rider and trainer.
Has it always been clear to you that you wanted to be a showjumper?
No, definitely not, I was not as the cliché often goes born into it or “put into the cradle” for it, as in my family the equestrian sport was not even practiced or popular, and as a young child and as a boy I did not have the urge to mount a horse. I was rather sceptical about horse riding but I did have a proper amount of respect for horses. I grew up in a farming culture, and there were always animals around, and for as long as I can remember, there were always horses. In the beginning, we only had cold-blooded breeds, just in order to do proper agricultural work, they were not meant to jump with. In the beginning, I really did all kinds of things: school, football, handball, volleyball, but when I was about 10-11 years old, I had a friend who was really obsessed with horse riding, so I took up the sport too and started horse riding.
Can you still remember your first horse?
My first horse? I can still remember my first girlfriend (laughs). My very first horse was a school horse. The horse that I then rode for my first well-known event, my first tournament, was a Polish mare, “Dunia“.
With which horse did you build the most beautiful memories?
That is a difficult question. I am in the fortunate position to have worked with a dozen really exceptional horses, with which I have had many different beautiful moments, defeats, successes, so it is difficult to single just one out. If I think about it a bit longer, maybe the horse that I had as a junior, the first horse that was a bit better and with which I became German junior champion and also won a bronze medal with the juniors in Italy, the first time away from home. This was a competition mare, in the years when I was about 16 to 19. I had incredibly beautiful first successes as junior, which have paved the way. My first horses have opened all doors.
Did you learn anything from your horses too?
A lot already. Most of all about my character, which was rather tumultuous when I was younger to say the least, and I tried to have it my own way regardless, something that my teachers at school also considered as one of my flaws. Working with horses has somehow taught me that to get forward, you sometimes have to take a few steps back too.
When looking back at your career, are there things that you would do differently now?
If I have to give you a detailed answer now, then I would say that there are many things that I would have done differently with the experience that I have today, with a better insight into things. There are many small things that I would definitely do differently, but in general, the first big decision to do this professionally was kind of a big decision for my family, as I broke off my studies and then really rode as a professional and thus earned my living, but I would do it all over again now. So, I don’t regret my basic decisions, but there are many details when working with horses, like perhaps allowing the horses a little more time, maybe not doing one thing or another, I would surely do some of those things differently.
Which successes were the most beautiful for you?
Well, I was very-successful, but quite honestly, I’ve also experienced many defeats. This is normal, of course, during such a long period of time (30 years). A great one was, for example, in Athens, when we had to give up the fifth gold medal because the fetlock of Goldfieber was treated with an ointment and it was not indicated that it contained metasone, and therefore the horse tested positive with only 0.1 nanograms of metasone. That was a very painful defeat, that’s not a big secret. I think that a lot of ambition is needed and the necessary drive, and somehow also the will to improve and I believe that today, although I am already old and grey, I am better placed and better prepared for tournaments and I can ride better than 10 years ago, not to mention 20 or 30.
Today, you are a role model for many in the equestrian sport – Did you have a rider to look up to?
Yes, already in my first years and with my first horses. Later, I worked with Frank Sloothaak for 5 or 6 years. This was a great example, in the daily work and also when training horses and then going to tournaments. A bit later during international tournaments, I got fascinated with John Whitaker, who was different, because he was English, and also because his way of dealing with horses was a bit different.
Do you think that the jumping sport is on the right track? Have there been many changes during your entire career?
That is a difficult question. I think we first have to agree on what you think is good and what I think is good or what the outsider thinks or the fan, or if we were now to discuss the subject with our Federation, for example, talk with a tournament organizer or young riders or with a pro who is now in the top 3 of the World ranking list, we would come to different points of view. Therefore, I can’t objectively answer the question with just yes or no, to be completely honest. I believe that there are a lot of positive things, and that the jumping sport has become very popular, because of the globalization that has taken place in the rest of the world. There were 15 five-star tournaments in different continents 15 to 16 years ago, and today there are more than 90. New markets have access to our sport, and that also affects the German market without any doubt. I want to see that as a positive thing but it needs to be organized, canalized, and we need to make sure that nationally and regionally, the riding sport has a chance, that young riders (whether girl or boy) have access to horses and have a chance to access the top sport. These are big challenges and there is, I believe, a lot to optimize.
What would you do differently, just to encourage horse riding to more people, to inspire them and to promote the sport?
In short, what we do in Riesenbeck already. You have mentioned it before, Riesenbeck international is a platform, where we have the mission to, in the international, national and also regional sports, organize courses, invite young people that are really just at the beginning of finding their way in this sport. We are at the moment not at five stars yet, only at two, but the Longines world equestrian academy is twice a year our guest. These are young Asian people that are still at the very beginning of their career that come over. But we also do things regionally, here in Kreis Münsterland and Kreis Steinfurt, riders have the chance to take amateur examinations twice a month, and I believe this should also be offered by the federation, by the national associations but also especially by the Federation in Warendorf, and be supported, because I believe that this is the first step towards the horse riding sport for many people. It is not about a lot of money yet, so the cost is the same, and if we win as many people as possible and find interest, then we do not need to worry about our sport’s future.
Part II of the interview is coming online next month.
Interview by Equestrian Lifestyle Blog – L.M.