A native of East Germany, Christian Heineking now calls America his home and has made his mark on the U.S. show scene, winning more than 40 Grand Prix since 2013. Having won the Las Vegas World Cup qualifier, Heineking heads to Omaha with NKH Caruso, a horse that’s performing better than ever.
Heineking was raised in Germany and always had a keen interest in horses. After completing school, he took part in an internship at the Redefin Federal Stud of Mecklenburg, where he was primarily charged with training young and developing horses. By 17, Heineking was a professional rider, never considering a life without horses.
Heineking’s move to the United States was gradual, initially arriving in 2008 on a 2-year visa to work with a friend. He then renewed for another year and the story continued, until Heineking met his wife, Erin Davis, and officially made the U.S. his home.
He’s been based at October Hill Stables for 4 years now and admits that balancing his family life with riding isn’t always easy. “Yeah, that’s a good question,” Heineking replied when asked how he does it, “its not always easy but my wife rides (Mrs. Heineking will compete in the Omaha Grand Prix on Saturday night) so it helps that we travel to a lot of horse shows together. Now with the baby – she’s 2 and ½ now –I try to get home between shows to see her for a few days.”
The baby is also on the show circuit, taking leadline classes by storm for the last two years. In fact, during the phone interview Heineking mentioned the pony was on the trailer, heading to Pin Oak for the latest stop on his busy leadline tour (results of the leadline class were unavailable at time of publication).
Much is made of the difference in European and American riding styles, though Heineking sees similarities. “I don’t think you see a big difference at the top level. The European riding style has gotten a lot lighter over the last 15 years. Also, at the top level you see all riders doing a lot of flat work, says Heineking.”
While at the Redefin stud, Heineking was busy competing young horses. Since coming to the U.S., he’s spent more time in the Grand Prix ring and developing horses to the sport’s pinnacle. In terms of training philosophy, Heineking preaches fitness. “I think the horse always needs to be in the best condition it can be physically and mentally, feeling good,” says Heineking, adding, “a big part of my training is flatwork and gymnastics at home. I also do a little hill work for conditioning and get them out in the field for a gallop so they do something different than always being in the ring.”
Heineking is most proud of his current string of horses, which have been performing well as of late. “We’ve trained nearly all of our horses to the top level which is something I’m very proud of, I’m very happy with how all the horses are going now,” he says.
At the top of that list is NKH Caruso (formerly AJE Cluny), the 13 year-old gelding with whom Heineking won the Las Vegas qualifier in November. “I’ve had him 3 years this spring and he’s getting better and better at each show. When he came he was a bit spooky, always questioning everything. Now he’s a little older and in a routine and getting better and better,” says Heineking of his World Cup mount.
Omaha is a friendly venue to Heineking, who has won 4 out of the last 5 Grand Prix there. While the competition is now a world-class affair, there’s no counting out Heineking to make it 5 of 6.
By Ashley Fairfield-Remeza