Fresh off a win at the Longines FEI World Cup™ qualifier in Gothenburg, Sweden’s Henrik von Eckermann is coming into the Omaha Finals with momentum on his side. The Swedish rider, a protégé of German legend Ludger Beerbaum, is not only turning in consistent results at major competitions, but has recently started his own venture, Von Eckermann Sports Stables.
Von Eckermann’s decision to pursue show jumping professionally stems from a love of horses and his competitive nature. As a youth he rode with his mother and developed an affinity for the animals on the family farm, but it was a trip to Gothenburg Horse Show that sparked von Eckermann’s interest in the sport.
“I was always very competitive, and as soon as I felt like I couldn’t make it to the top in a certain sport, I would try another one,” said von Eckermann, “My parents took me to the Gothenburg Horse Show to watch the showjumping when I was very young and it was at those times, at that show, when my interest for riding really started to grow.”
Von Eckermann spent his early 20’s studying, but never saw himself in an office job – the idea of riding professionally was always in the back of his mind. When the opportunity arose for him to train with Ludger Beerbaum, his longtime idol, von Eckermann jumped at the prospect. “Getting the chance to work for Ludger made me sure of my decision to pursue a professional career – even it the road wasn’t easy,” says von Eckermann of his move to Germany.
Von Eckermann remained with Beerbaum for 12 years, during which time he competed in the 2012 and 2016 Olympics, 2013 and 2016 World Cup Finals, and numerous European Championships and Nations Cup events.
“Ludger has had a huge impact on my career, I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for him. He has been the best teacher and mentor one could ask for and we have remained good friends and still support each other. At his place I learned how hard work pays off. Working there taught me a lot about riding and the sport in general, but I also learned a lot about myself.”
Von Eckermann is complimentary of his contemporaries as well, “There are many other riders I also admire, like Marcus Ehning, Daniel Deusser, Christian Ahlmann and Marco Kutscher – they are all unbelievably talented riders and I am very fortunate to also call them my friends,” says Von Eckermann.
Last spring, just months before Beerbaum shocked the equestrian world by announcing his retirement in August, von Eckermann made news of his own – he was leaving Beerbaum’s yard to launch his own venture, Von Eckermann Sports Stable. Having found a location at Karl Schneider’s property near Bonn, Germany, von Eckermann has embarked on the daunting task of running his own ship.
“It was something that was a long time coming,” says von Eckermann of his new venture. “It was one thing to make the decision on leaving Ludger’s and another thing to decide in which direction to continue after that. Those few months around September were turbulent, but in the end I simply followed my gut – and today I am very happy for that. Being on my own has been scary at times, but I am used to working hard and I enjoy challenges. I am happy to have found great support in the people closest to me and I am fortunate to have a great team working with me. Even if the days have been very long and there never seems to be enough hours in them, I have enjoyed every moment.”
When it comes to his training philosophy, von Eckermann simply says, “keep it simple.” Not riding under someone’s eye on a daily basis has its drawbacks, but von Eckermann seeks advice from friends at shows if there are issues he can’t resolve alone.
As if launching his own stable wasn’t enough, von Eckermann recently collaborated with PS of Sweden to design a new anatomical, eco friendly bridle. His mare, Mary Lou, wore the design in their latest win in Gothenburg. “I am a perfectionist and I was very excited to get a chance to design something on my own. I tried to solve all those little issues I’ve had during the years and create a simple bridle that works and fits the horses perfectly,” says von Eckermann of his design.
Speaking of Mary Lou, von Eckermann has had a string of über talented mares as of late such as the aforementioned Mary Lou, his Rio Olympic mount Yajamila, and the recently retired Gotha, who holds a special place in von Eckermann’s heart. “Even if mares are often tricky, I do enjoy riding them, because once you get them on your side, they give you so much more,” says von Eckermann, though he insists he’s gender neutral when it comes to choosing his mounts. “I have had top horses that aren’t mares, also – like Cantinero, Allerdings and Coupe de Couer – so I think the mare factor is just something people like to bring up.”
Mary Lou, an 11-year-old Westphalian, will make the trip to Omaha, though von Eckermann’s sights are set on the European Championships this summer in his home country. “I will bring Mary Lou to Omaha. She is still very inexperienced at this level, so I am not looking to win it – I hope she can gather some good rounds under her belt there. The main goal for the year will be the Europeans in my home country,” says won Eckermann.
His goal may not be to win, but for a man whose motto is, “he who dares, wins,” you just never know.
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By Ashley Fairfield-Remeza