Henrik von Eckermann becomes the new Rolex Grand Slam live contender at The Dutch Masters
It was an afternoon of electrifying sporting drama at The Dutch Masters, with the world’s best horse and rider combinations taking to the arena in the Brabanthallen for the first Major of the year. Course Designer, Louis Koninckx laid a tough course, which saw only five reach the jump-off to battle it out for the Rolex Grand Prix title.
Rolex Testimonee, Steve Guerdat (SUI), secured the first double clear, after producing a series of thrilling turns to shave seconds off the clock. Many thought he could not be caught but it was clear from the outset that Sweden’s Henrik von Eckermann only had winning on his mind. Together with his 13-year-old bay mare, Toveks Mary Lou, the pair crossed the finish just 0.63 seconds faster than Guerdat to clinch the prestigious Rolex Grand Prix title and become the new Rolex Grand Slam live contender.
It was so close between you and Steve Guerdat, how did the jump-off feel for you?
It was great! I knew that Steve was very fast, he knocked three-seconds off Daniel’s (Deusser) time, so I thought to myself, I need to hurry up! There were only five in the jump-off, and it is nice when there are so few because then you don’t have so much competition to worry about. I just tried really hard, I wanted to win it, I gave my best effort to win it and here we are!
Toveks Mary Lou performed so well today, what is she like to ride?
She always performs so well. She is so special, it’s like she knows what is going on, she thinks ‘ok it’s Sunday today, it’s the big day I need to be the best I can be’. She always tries that little bit extra for me and it makes her a fantastic horse.
You’re the new Rolex Grand Slam live contender, is CHIO Aachen in your calendar?
Yes, it is absolutely, I really would like to go there. I am just so happy with what has happened today, and we will take it from here.
How are you going to celebrate tonight?
I have to drive the lorry home with Mary Lou in the back and I am happy for that. My girlfriend, Janika, the groom and I will head home together smiling! But the feeling I have now is amazing and that is enough, I don’t think we have to do any thing special.
Lastly, is The Dutch Masters a special show for you now?
Absolutely! I have ridden here quite a few times now and it is a fantastic event. Every year it gets better and better, they always try to make it more and more special. The atmosphere is always electric, and the crowd is always behind you.
Rider interview with: Harrie Smolders
What’s it like to compete at The Dutch Masters in front of your home crowd?
This show is very special to me, it was my first experience of professional show jumping and I came here for the first time at a very young age.
Have you seen a transformation of The Dutch Masters since it become one of the Majors?
This show has always been very nice, bit since Rolex became more involved it has certainly had an upgrade. There is now one extra ring and the facilities are even better. It really is a world-class show.
What motivates you to keep striving to be the best?
I was World No.1 one last year but there a lot of things in Show Jumping that I haven’t won yet. One thing is for sure, I would really like to win Major this year!
Do you get nervous when competing?
It depends, when you feel you have a good chance to win and this is your moment and your day, you really don’t want to mess up for the horse which can put on the pressure. You always want to make sure you do the best job and don’t mess up for anyone.
Does competing at one of the Majors put extra pressure on you?
Not necessarily extra pressure. They are four very different venues and you have some horses that suite venues more than others. But, the best horses in our sport are allrounders and they can compete at any venue.
Do you prefer riding in indoor or outdoor arenas?
I don’t really have a preference. For example, CHIO Aachen and The Dutch Masters have very different atmospheres and arenas, but they are both world-class events. Tomorrow, here, you will see the best horses and riders, who are all in the best shape. Whether its Aachen, Geneva, Calgary or here, everyone is focused on the four Majors and they are the ones that the riders want to win.
Which is your favourite Major to compete at?
My favourite competition is The Dutch Masters, for sure! It’s my area, this is a show with a lot of history for me and it has a lot of character. I always want to perform well here.
Who is your biggest competition in the Rolex Grand Prix?
I watched the classes over the weekend and I do think last year’s winner, Niels Bruynseels, has a really good chance, he is in really good form. I also think Danielle Goldstein with Lizziemerry, she looks like she is ready to win a Major, the horse has the experience and the capability to win one of them.
Behind the microphone with: International Equestrian Commentator Ed Holloway
Ed, how did you get into commentating?
It was a total accident. I was grooming for my sister at a Pony Club tetrathlon and the commentator didn’t turn up. A dear old lady, Mrs. Baxter said I need you to help Ed, would you fence judge or commentate. I was going for the fence judging but my mum and Mrs. Baxter pushed me into the commentary box and I’m very glad they did.
How do you prepare for a Rolex Grand Prix?
I have a big database of riders and horses, results wise, so I will be particularly focusing on the 40 for the Rolex Grand Prix. I will be updating it, finding out any of their latest results, which will give me an idea of their form and to who I think is going to win. So, it’s some last minute work plus work that’s been going on for a few years.
Do you feel extra pressure commentating at one of the Majors?
You certainly want to give it your very, very best. You know that everyone is there for a huge sporting occasion and that puts a greater onus on you as a commentator to nail every line. You have to perform at your very highest for a Rolex Grand Prix.
What’s your favourite part of the job?
It’s simply being the generator of energy and the atmosphere. You create the atmosphere. I say the sport is the painting and we put the gloss on the painting. Try and make it sound wonderful. That is a great privilege at this kind of level.
Which riders do you think have the edge for the Rolex Grand Prix on Sunday?
Steve Guerdat is World No. 1, he’s looking very much in form. I think Daniel Deusser is also winning a lot. Marcus Ehning having won two legs last year in Geneva and in Aachen has got to be one of the favourites. It’s wide open the field but they would be my front runners.
How many shows do you go to each year?
I go to between 30 and 35 each year.
Does that take you all over the world?
Yes, it takes me to the USA a few times, I now go to China, quite a lot in Scandinavia, Germany, Holland and Polland. It’s a busy calendar.
Do you get nervous before you are about to start?
Not really, you are aware you want to make it your best work. You put a little bit of pressure on yourself, I wouldn’t describe it as nerves. It’s more excitement that you want to deliver your finest work each time.
Do you have any special warm up exercises that you do?
Absolutely not. I like to walk the course. I like to know the distances on the course and I like to have my research well and truly done so that I can go there well prepared. But that’s the only warm up I do.
Do you have to take special care of your voice?
I used to have whiskey but now I use herbal tea and some throat lozenges and that keeps me in good form.
What has been your career highlight so far?
The best moment for sure was the World Equestrian Games in Aachen. I got a call from Frank Kemperman before that and that was very special. That was an incredible atmosphere and definitely my career highlight.