Harrie Smolders: “We are ambassadors of the equestrian sport in China”
Harrie Smolders from the Netherlands is not only currently the best show-jumper in the world, but also a versed expert of the equestrian sport in China. He competed for the first time this year at the “Longines Equestrian Beijing Masters”, the FEI 4* show in the Olympic stadium in Beijing. We spoke to the current number 1 in the Longines World Ranking.
Question: How was your premiere at the Bird’s Nest?
Harrie Smolders: It is an absolutely impressive event here at the Bird’s Nest. This stadium is world-famous and being part of the show here is a wonderful experience. And in my opinion it is also super for the Chinese riders to be part of it.
Question: How do you assess the sporting competition with the Chinese riders?
Smolders: Of course, it is a bit of a gamble for us. Because of the quarantine regulations, we can’t compete on our own horses here, but actually ride borrowed horses. The equestrian sport lives from the riders knowing their horse inside out, that this partnership works one hundred percent in order to achieve the best result. Of course, this isn’t possible here because we compete on horses that we don’t know in advance and that we have to adapt to in just one day. So, the international riders have to have a stroke of luck to be allocated a horse that suits their style of riding. But the sporting aspect is not necessarily the most important one here…
Question: …it is much more about the development of the equestrian sport in China.
Smolders: Exactly. We are also ambassadors of the equestrian sport here in China. We get together with the Chinese riders, we try to convey to them what “horsemanship” means to us and why it is so important to see and understand the horse as a partner. I can imagine this makes a small contribution towards promoting the sport here.
Question: What is your impression of the Chinese colleagues?
Smolders: I know the Chinese riders pretty well, I have been following the development of the sport in China for around ten years, I was also the coach of a national team at the “Chinese Games”. As such, I know very many of them, one rider trained together wither me in preparation for the Olympic Games in Beijing or rather the World Equestrian Games in Hong Kong as well. So I am very well acquainted with both the culture and the equestrian sport here in China. In the meantime, they have achieved a very good level and above all there is a high number of extremely promising riders. The situation was totally different ten years ago, a significant development is recognisable here.
Question: The Longines Equestrian Beijing Masters is a very different weekend for the international riders too.
Smolders: Yes, indeed, of course it is pretty relaxed here, being able to compete without the pressure that we normally have on a long show weekend. We namely only have one horse here and as such plenty of time for exchanges. I additionally took advantage of this occasion to take a look at the historical Hutongs in the Old Town of Beijing. Sightseeing is not normally on my agenda during a show weekend. One is totally focused on the sport and doesn’t let oneself be distracted by anything. This weekend in Beijing is an exception here. It is fun.
Longines Grand Prix: Von Eckermann jumps to victory at the Bird’s Nest
Henrik von Eckermann is celebrating his victory in legendary Bird's Nest. Picture: Longines Beijing Masters/ Stefano Grasso
October 14th, 2018
The show-jumper, Ludger Beerbaum, had surmised that a Chinese rider could win the Longines Grand Prix for the first time this year. He was almost proven right. However, in the end an old acquaintance, Henrik von Eckermann, finished first at the “Bird’s Nest”, the legendary Olympic stadium of Beijing. The Swedish rider namely repeated last year’s victory.
Ciren Bianba, a Chinese rider, came second ahead of Daniel Deusser from Germany. Seven riders jumped clear in the first round built by Frank and Isabel Rothenberger to reach the jump-off, four of whom were Chinese. This in itself demonstrates the good development that the equestrian sport has made in China. The further promotion of this development is one of the key aims of the show. Ten international riders compete against the best riders of the Middle Kingdom, who have to qualify for the Longines Beijing Masters over the course of several months. Due to the quarantine regulations, the international riders have to compete on borrowed horses, “of course that turns it into a little bit of a gamble for us,” commented Harrie Smolders from the Netherlands, who is currently number one in the Longines World Ranking.
Things didn’t look to rosy for Henrik von Eckermann and Cincitty at the start. He picked up 12 faults in the opening jumping competition, however he jumped clear yesterday in the team competition and ultimately won the class with his team. Then, the highlight followed today on Sunday, when he crossed the finish line in 38.38 seconds after a speedy ride – nobody managed to beat this time, so he succeeded in pulling off the double. “I am delighted at repeating last year’s victory in this fantastic stadium, it is simply super,” stated Eckermann, who will now “fly home with a wonderful feeling.”
Successful coach: Henrik von Eckermann
The winning team is congratulated by Mr Dennis Li (right), Vice President Longines China, and Mr. Samuel Guélat, International Advertising Manager Longines . Picture: Longines Beijing Masters/ Stefano Grasso
October 13th, 2018
The Captain cheered his team on from the entrance to the arena. And the fact that Henrik Eckermann (SWE) kept his fingers crossed evidently helped: Hunag Zuping jumped clear in the fifth fastest time. Since Eckermann finished third himself, the victory in the team competition at the “Longines Equestrian Beijing Masters” was secure. After Yuan Maodong had collected four faults and one for exceeding the time, it didn’t actually look like a victory was on the cards. However, the course built by Frank Rothenberger, who is receiving support from his daughter again in Beijing, proved to be tricky and many of the riders picked up faults. At the end of the day, Eckermann’s coaching paid off. The French rider Pénelope Leprevost’s team finished second, ahead of the team of Jane Richard Philips (SUI). The team jumping competition is one of the central classes of the show at the “Bird’s Nest”, the Olympic stadium of Beijing, since it stands for the joint approach. The aim is for the Chinese riders to profit from the experiences of the ten international top stars. The highlight of the “Longines Equestrian Beijing Masters” is on the agenda tomorrow, namely the Longines Grand Prix.
248 + 1 horsepower in the Bird's Nest
BMW 530 Li in the "Jump and Drive" . Picture: Longines Beijing Masters/ Stefano Grasso
October 13th, 2018
The spectators were tempted to jump over the kick wall to give some of the participants a push. However, taking the bends slowly was definitely the exception to the rule, in the "Jump and Drive" most of the pilots knew exactly where to find the accelerator on the BMW 530 Li. Bo Wang steered the 248 horsepower limousine round the course in the Olympic stadium the fastest – including excessive use of the handbrake. And because her team colleague, Chaolu Hadan, had previously jumped clear with Contemporary, they secured the victory in this class. The "Jump and Drive" is traditionally one of the most popular competitions at the “Longines Equestrian Beijing Masters".
Opening jumping class: China first
Jirigala Erdeng took the victory with Brikibo vd Bosbeek. Picture: Longines Beijing Masters/ Stefano Grasso
October 12th, 2018
“It won’t be long now,” prophesied the show-jumper Ludger Beerbaum. He was referring to a Chinese victory in the Longines Grand Prix on Sunday. In the opening jumping competition of the Longines Equestrian Beijing Masters on Friday, the hosts claimed the top placings. Jirigala Erdeng took the victory with Brikibo vd Bosbeek, Tongyan Liu finished second with Ku Bu Qi.
The result can be understood as a statement regarding Sunday, because both riders made it clear that they have just one aim here in the legendary “Bird’s Nest”: to win. They put in correspondingly fast rounds, in spite of all her experience Malin Baryard-Johnsson (SWE) had to make do with third place. And a further announcement proved that someone definitely intends to put words into action: Daniel Deusser (GER – “I am taking this here very seriously”), came fourth after jumping clear, ahead of Christian Ahlmann (GER) and Penelope Leprevost (FRA). Lauren Hough (USA) put in a brilliant performance. Her flight was so delayed that she only had one minute preparation time with the horse, during this minute Ludger Beerbaum explained the course to her, which she subsequently mastered without picking up any faults – the ride earned her 8th place and lots of applause from her colleagues.
On Saturday the focus will be on the team competition, before the battle is on to win the Longines Grand Prix on Sunday.
Daniel Deusser: Beijing Premiere
Daniel Deusser. Picture: Longines Beijing Masters/ Stefano Grasso
October 12th, 2018
Daniel Deusser almost felt the same way as his horse Gringovantelzenhout. When the pair rode into the “Bird’s Nest” for the first time on Friday morning, they were incredibly awestruck. Both of them,
At the “Longines Equestrian Beijing Masters”, ten of the best show-jumpers in the world meet up with the best Chinese riders. They compete against each other in the Olympic stadium of Beijing, however on Saturday a team competition is also on the agenda. Whilst the Chinese athletes are competing on their own horses, the international riders have to borrow horses due to the quarantine regulations. The eighth edition of the Beijing Masters is a premiere for Daniel Deusser. The current number 6 in the Longines Rankings is particularly impressed by the stadium and the setting: “The Bird’s Nest is incredible, totally amazing, what a sensational stadium.”
It goes without saying that Daniel Deusser would also like to ride to victory here, even if the concept is different to that of other shows. The focus here lies on the exchange between the international and the Chinese riders, Deusser and co. are to share their experiences and thus help the ambitious Chinese riders to establish themselves at international level. “I am very eager to see what happens here and am very much looking forward to the days in Beijing,” commented the top German rider. Even if the extreme pressure to do well on one’s own top horses is lacking, Deusser is taking a very ambitious approach to the show: I didn’t fly to Beijing just to take part. I take the event very seriously, so there is a certain amount of pressure there, not to the same extent as usual, of course.” He is also curious to see how well his international colleagues do, “it is going to be exciting to see how well we get on with the borrowed horses.”
He is also particularly looking forward to seeing what the sporting level of the show is like: “I haven’t got a clue how well the Chinese ride and if we can keep up with them with our horses.” Especially since the efforts of his show jumping colleague, Ludger Beerbaum, have achieved such a good development among the Chinese equestrians that it actually does seem possible that we could see a Chinese victory in the Longines Grand Prix for the first time on Sunday. That wouldn’t be a problem for Daniel Deusser: “It might be a good thing, if they leave us trailing behind here,” he grinned.
Aachen and the Chinese – a team
October 11th, 2018
On Friday, the “Longines Equestrian Beijing Masters” kicks off at the Olympic Stadium of Beijing. The Chinese organisers from “Dashing Equestrian” are also receiving support from Germany. In addition to the show-jumper Ludger Beerbaum, the organisers of the World Equestrian Festival, CHIO Aachen, are also on-site at the “Bird’s Nest”. We spoke to the CHIO Show Director, Frank Kemperman.
Question: How has the Longines Equestrian Beijing Masters developed over the past eight years?
Kemperman: The show has got better and better and increasingly more attractive. We have achieved a great deal together with our Chinese partners and improved a lot. But, I find it much more important that over this period of time the quality of the riders and horses has significantly improved. Of course, they haven’t reached the quality that exists in Europe yet, but one sees that the sport in China has developed. The Chinese will be able to claim some of the top placings here this year. Things are progressing step by step.
Question: How is the team from Aachen involved?
Kemperman: We are here to provide support and assistance to make sure the show is successful. At the start, some people were sceptical, but in the meantime we have become a real team and work very well together.
Question: The special thing about the show is its concept.
Kemperman: Yes, it is unique worldwide. Normally, the Chinese riders can sit on the stands and watch – here they can compete against some of the best riders in the world. From the very beginning, the concept aimed to develop the sport and bring the best riders of China together with international top stars. In my opinion, this is a great experience for both parties. Not to mention the exceptional venue of course – the Bird’s Nest is fantastic, an incredible building.
Question: When will we see the first Chinese riders among the world elite?
Kemperman: One also sees very many young people here in the side competitions – the time will come that some of these riders will be able to establish themselves on the top circuit. There are already several Chinese riders, who keep on returning to Europe, to improve further and learn more. Other show-jumpers have been the inspiration here – for example Sameh el Dahan from Egypt recently won in Spruce Meadows. The Japanese are also incredibly strong. So why shouldn’t we see the first Chinese rider among the top 100 of the Longines ranking soon?
The Bird’s Nest is being given a shine
October 10th, 2018
Banging, hammering, sawing – that is presently the acoustic setting in one of the most impressive stadiums in the world. Two days before the “8th Longines Equestrian Beijing Masters” begins, the preparations at the “Bird’s Nest” are in full swing.
Two diggers are being used to get the warm-up area ready, a huge crane is still stood where the “Equine Park” exhibition grounds are soon to be opened. The “Bird’s Nest”, the legendary Olympic Stadium of Peking is being spruced up. It is being made chic for the best riders in Chinese, who from Friday onwards are going to be competing against ten of the top show-jumpers in the world. However, they won’t just be competing against each other, they will also learn from each other, the priority lies on exchanging experiences and the development of the equestrian sport in China.
Heading the international riders is the number one in the Longines Rankings, Harrie Smolders from the Netherlands. Henrik von Eckermann and Malin Baryard-Johnsson from Sweden are on board, Lauren Hough from the USA, Pénelope Leprevost from France, Jane Richard Philips is competing for Switzerland, Gregory Whatelet for Belgium and Ludger Beerbaum, Daniel Deußer and Christian Ahlmann will be jumping for Germany. Due to the quarantine regulations they will be competing on borrowed horses, whilst the Chinese participants will be riding their own horses. This is also one of the reasons why the co-organiser Beerbaum, thinks that a Chinese rider might take the victory in the concluding “Longines Grand Prix 4*” on Sunday at this 8th edition of the event. “So far experience was able to tip the scales, but the Chinese have caught up,” commented Ludger Beerbaum. Further highlights are the team competition and the Jump & Drive – in this class the participants complete the first part of the course on a horse and then switch over to BMW horse power.
October 9th, 2018
“The Chinese are ready to take the victory in the Longines Grand Prix”
The “father of the Equestrian Sport in Germany” is how they respectfully refer to Ludger Beerbaum in Peking. The 55-year-old always has to grin when he hears the description, even if he has meanwhile got used to the fuss they make about him in China. Since its premiere eight years ago, he has been co-organising the “Longines Equestrian Beijing Masters”, a 4-star show that brings Chinese and international riders together. We spoke to Ludger Beerbaum before the show.
What makes the show at the Bird’s Nest so special – besides the exceptional venue?
Ludger Beerbaum: There are several shows in China in the meantime, but the exchange between the European and Chinese riders is definitely what makes the Longines Equestrian Beijing Masters so special. For example, as well as courses, the concept also foresees team competitions, where each team comprises of one international and one Chinese rider.
How do you assess the development of the show?
Beerbaum: The show has grown year for year. More and more participants and more spectators. Furthermore, the entire infrastructure – such as the quality of the footing or the stables – has continually improved. And most importantly: The quality of the Chinese riders has improved significantly too. It wouldn’t surprise me if we don’t experience the first Chinese winner on Sunday in the Longines Grand Prix. So far the Europeans always claimed the top rankings, even if they rode on borrowed horses because of the quarantine regulations. Up until now their experience tipped the scales, but now I could imagine that riding their own horses the Chinese show jumpers are ready for victory.
Is this development true for the whole country, has the equestrian sport developed well in China?
Beerbaum: In terms of quantity, yes. There are more horses, more registrations, more shows, more entries every year. However, in terms of quality there is still plenty of room for improvement. In terms of the training, care and keeping of horses as well as in looking after them, the shoeing, feeding and everything that goes with it. There is still an awful lot of catching up to do. But this is also due to the fact that the borders still aren’t completely open yet. Getting a foothold here is a slow process. Compared with the European or American standards, China is still a developing country as far as equestrian sports are concerned.
What form could the further development take on?
Beerbaum: The cooperation with European companies has to be intensified. The willingness to bring know-how into the country has to grow. The association work has to be professionalised too, nothing has happened there at all in the past ten years. The will has to be there, if something is wanted here, things move very fast.
So it is all about infrastructural themes?
Beerbaum: Not solely. The horse as a cultural asset also has to receive a different acceptance. It has to be seen more as a partner. It is neither a simple working animal, nor is it comparable with a tennis racket that I can just throw in the corner. Topics like breeding, keeping, responsibility for the well-being of the horse have to improve here. We are working hard and constantly on this issue. Little strokes fell big oaks.
A life-time task for you?
Beerbaum: Phew – that sounds rather foreboding. But yes, it is a very long-term task that I have taken on.
October 7th, 2018
Strong development at a legendary location
The location is just as legendary as when the premiere was held eight years ago: The Bird’s Nest, the Olympic Stadium of Beijing, is an impressive setting, when ten of the world’s best show-jumpers compete against China’s top riders. The “Longines Beijing Equestrian Masters” (October 12th-14th, 2018) has however not remained the same. The show has undergone constant development, at the same time it is also the most important show for the Chinese riders.
The co-organiser, Ludger Beerbaum, also emphasised this development: “We are very pleased to see that the equestrian sport has become a highly participated sport in China.” Beerbaum, who is also responsible for the Longines World Equestrian Academy, organises the show together with the Aachener Reitturnier GmbH (ART) and “Dashing Equestrian” from Beijing. “The Longines Beijing Equestrian Masters is part of a long-term strategy to develop professional equestrian sport in China,” is how ART General Manager, Michael Mronz, explained the concept behind the event. The Masters is not a “travelling circus”, which top international riders meet up and compete at and fly home again afterwards. The priority lies in the exchange with the Chinese athletes.
190 of the latter will compete against ten international top stars, headed by the Dutchman Harrie Smolders, the current number one in the world ranking list. Henrik von Eckermann (SWE, No. 4 Longines Ranking), Daniel Deusser (GER, No. 6) and Gregory Wathelet (BEL), Christian Ahlmann (GER), Malin Baryard-Johnsson (SWE), Penelope Leprevost (FRA), Jane Richard Philips (SUI), Lauren Hough (USA) and of course Ludger Beerbaum (GER) are also awaited. “We are honoured to witness the best riders from all over the country and around the world perform on the stage we have set up,” stated Ms. Li Jing, President of Dashing Equestrian.
A record number of 235 horse/rider pairs will be taking part. In addition to the Longines Grand Prix on the final Sunday, the “BMW Elite Class” - a “team championship”, diverse competitions for young riders as well as the popular “BMW Jump and Drive” are on the agenda. The aim behind this exchange with the international stars is to introduce the strongest aspiring Chinese talents to top competition sport.