Exclusive: Marcus Ehning Interview (Part 2)

Marcus Ehning and Comme Il Faut 5
Credit : Scoopdyga

Wednesday 30 November - 14h05 | Yeelen Ravier (translated by Ian Clayton)

Exclusive: Marcus Ehning Interview (Part 2)

Part 2 of Grand Prix Magazine's exclusive interview with  German show jumping star Marcus Ehning. Today, the veteran champion talks about his Rio Olympics disappointment this summer, his thoughts on the format changes to equestrian sports at the Olympic Games, and the current state of show jumping in Germany following the retirement of beloved teammate Ludger Beerbaum.

 - Exclusive: Marcus Ehning Interview (Part 2)

With Prêt À Tout
Credit : Stefano Grasso/LGCT

(See Part 1 of the interview here

G.P.: How did you prepare for the Rio Olympics? 
M.E.: I didn’t do anything special in terms of preparation. Speaking from a sports perspective, it’s a championship like any other, so I didn’t change anything. I just targeted my competitions and gradually refined my work so that Cornado could attain his peak form at the right time. We were completely prepared and eager to get out on the course. Alas, destiny decided otherwise…

G.P.: How did you become aware that Cornado was injured? 
M.E.: During the warm-up the night before the opening class, I felt that something was off with him. The following morning, when I took him out to unwind him, everything went well for five minutes, but when we really began to work, I felt that something was bothering him. After doing the first checks with the team veterinarian, we made the decision to not take to the course. Honestly, even if his recovery takes time, it’s nothing very serious and nothing that is going to hurt him later in his career. However, we didn’t want to take the slightest risk, neither for him nor the team, all the the more so as Otto Becker had an experienced pair ready to replace us. 

G.P.: On this point, the choices made by your team manager about who would be on the Olympic team caused some controversy, with certain people feeling that Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum and Fibonacci 17 (SWB, For Feeling x Corland) should have been on the team from the start.
M.E.: To be frank I don’t listen to this type of rumour; I actually totally don’t care. In every country, particularly high-profile countries, there are always comments and questions. A lot of people talk about our sport without really knowing what goes on behind the scenes.
For Otto, this selection process was very difficult, including the announcement of his decision.  Ludger Beerbaum, Christian Ahlmann, Daniel Deusser, Meredith and myself all deserved to participate at these Olympics given the level we are at with our horses. It wasn’t easy to choose four, or even five, as other good pairs were also knocking on the door. But a choice had to be made. Unfortunately for me, once I got there, the rules of the sport forced me to declare myself forfeit.

G.P.: How did you take that?
M.E.: To be honest, very badly. Very, very badly even. We had spent so much energy and made so many efforts to prepare for this event…

G.P. : Simon Delestre, who experienced the same thing as you, decided to come back to France before the start of the competition. Did you think about doing the same thing?
M.E.: I won’t judge Simon’s decision. I think it was totally understandable, and being around his family undoubtedly helped him. I thought about it too, as I have to admit that I wasn’t feeling very good. But my teammates, most of all Ludger, really wanted me to stay for the team competition. So I did it for him, for them — to help them. I only went home after that event.

G.P.: What was your reaction to the team medal won by your teammates after the jump-off against Canada?
M.E.: It was really good — they fought like lions. It was a great reward after all those months of work. Even though I didn’t ride, I was sincerely happy for them, for us and for German sport in general. The competition was very tight in Rio, but we were able to get a medal, which is what we had come for. It was great sport!

G.P.: Several weeks later in Barcelona, you got back together with the team for the global final of the Nations Cup. This time, it was you who prevailed in the jump-off against Great Britain. It looked like you were very emotional….
M.E.: It was really an unforgettable weekend. Prêt à Tout responded perfectly to my expectations. The jump-off was intense! Competing against the Olympic Champion, it meant something. We were really happy to win this final, myself even more so as I hadn’t been able to ride in Rio. It was a little bit of revenge on the bad fate I had suffered before. Moreover, it was Ludger’s last Nations Cup, so obviously emotions were running high. We wanted to be there for him. 

G.P.: What does he mean to you?
M.E.: Over the course of twenty-five years — a quarter-century — Ludger built the German team and was one of its leaders, if not THE leader. This man has participated at practically all the big championships and all the important Nations Cups. He was always fighting for the team. To date, he remains the most medalled rider in our sport! Ludger is a legend in Germany, so obviously this last competition in Barcelona was very moving. It gave us a lot of desire to win the final, if only to thank him for everything he had done for us. It was a beautiful moment, and I know he was very touched by it as well.

G.P.: Had he talked to you about his retirement before announcing it in Rio? 
M.E.: Honestly, we’d had some private conversations about it during the season, but nobody really knew. We knew he was thinking about it. In fact, he had talked about it publicly for a few years now, but hadn’t definitively made a decision. So we learned about it during the Olympic Games.

G.P.: In Barcelona, Daniel Deusser stated that for a while now, the Mannschaft has been missing something necessary to win these big competitions. And it is true that your last title goes back to the European Championships in Madrid in 2011. What’s your take on that?
M.E.: I think it’s just the way sport goes. We are always among the best teams in the world, but we don’t dominate at big competitions like we did in the past because our sport has changed and nations have gotten closer to each other in terms of their levels. Still, we weren’t far from getting the gold at the World Equestrian Games in Normandy [fourth, 3,99 points difference with the Netherlands — editor’s note), at the European Championships in Aix-la-Chapelle (second, with a difference of 3,58 points with the Netherlands — editor’s note], as well as in Rio [third, 5 points different from France — editor’s note]. I believe that overall we performed quite well at these three championships. We were just missing a bit of luck. 

G.P.: Some observers feel that this relative decline is in part linked to the fact that the best German riders, including yourself, devote yourselves a bit too much to the Global Champions Tour, to the detriment of the Nations Cups. What do you think about that idea?
M.E.: It’s completely false! We honour all our selections for the Nations Cups. Obviously, we also compete on the Global Champions Tour, but these two circuits don’t always run at the same time. As well, in the Grands Prix of the GCT, we don’t always ride our top horses, which we save for the biggest and best competitions. 

GP: Today, there are at the same time more competitions and less classes. Here in Lyon, for example, there aren’t more than two a day [as opposed to three up until 2012 — editor’s note]. In certain CSIOs on the Saturday, there is sometimes only an intermediate at 1.45 m and a Derby. In addition, certain classes are not always useful for all horses. In order to train them, it’s important to find the right competitions. Today, we have the choice, which is a good thing!
In any case, it is wrong to say that the top riders are letting down the Mannschaft. I can simply point to the fact that we are still in the European Division 1, that we won the global final this year, and that we regularly win medals. 

 - Exclusive: Marcus Ehning Interview (Part 2)

Credit : Scoopdyga

G.P. : What do you think of the pool of riders and horses in your country, and of its federal system? 
ME: First of all, Ludger’s departure leaves a real hole. In Germany, we have a lot of excellent riders, more or less young, and we have very good organizations and infrastructure. However, I think we have too few pairs heading for the top level. We have to find more horses capable of shining in the big championships, and distribute them more amongst the riders. I think we’re heading in the right direction, all the more so as there are several of us — including Ludger and myself — training young riders. It’s beneficial and it will pay off in the end!

GP: What are your thoughts about the emergence of the young German riders Philip Houston, Christian Kukuk and Niklas Krieg? 
M.E.: They are good riders. At the same time, they’re just starting. Philip competed in his first CSI 5*s this season. He still has to confirm and maintain his place at this level with more horses. Same for Niklas, even if he has already had quite a few results. Christian is an excellent rider, really. I think he has a bright future ahead of him, even more so as he is lucky enough to be developing at Ludger’s fantastic stables. As I was saying, all these young riders also have to be accompanied by good horses.

G.P.: Yann Chartier Capitaine, from France, is currently working for you. What is his role? 
M.E. He has been my training rider for several years. He’s someone who is very kind and humane. He has a very good connection with the horses, a real sense of horsemanship and rides very well. He also rides my mounts in competition when I can not, and also has his own horses. He helps me a lot, I am very lucky to have him alongside me. 

GP: What are your next objectives? 
M.E.: I don’t really have any for the moment. I want my horses to feel good mentally and physically, and for us to be competitive. I want to continue to live with my family, to take advantage of that and contribute to their happiness. It’s the most important thing!

G.P.: At the start of September, you and your wife had your fourth child. How is he doing? 
M.E.: Lyas is doing very well, just like Nadia ! They are living at the house in Germany. Having children is really the most beautiful thing that can happen in life. My family is essential for me. When work and sports are going a little less well, it helps keep things in perspective. It’s an enormous support!

G.P.: Are you already thinking of the World Cup final next year in Omaha, in the United States? You could become the first rider to win this competition for the fourth time. Does that motivate you? 
M.E. : Yes, of course. In any case, if I participate in a championship, it’s to win it! I am always motivated, but I don’t put pressure on myself. We’ll see.

G.P.: Will you participate in the Global Champions League next year? What do you think of the new circuit?
M.E.: I don’t know if I’ll participate in it yet. It could be pleasing for me, but I haven’t yet been approached to join a team. It’s an event that is completely different than others, and which could help increase the visibility and democratization of our sport. It could also allow certain horses to be more recognized and valued. However, it’s clear that the FEI and the promoters of the GCL [Jan Tops and Frank McCourt — editor’s note] are going to have to find a compromise. I think this circuit has a future, and more generally that this evolution is positive as long as it doesn’t overturn the basis of the sport and that riders feel good there. 

G.P.: What do you think about the FEI’s moves to reduce Olympic teams to three riders for the next Games in Tokyo?
M.E. :  I am totally opposed! I find this idea to be useless and absurd. I don’t understand why the FEI wishes to modify a format which has never caused a problem to anyone in the past. Our federation and all the German riders are against it. All through the year, we have tried to talk to the directors of the FEI to share our point of view, but they don’t want to listen to anything! Now the decision is practically made [approved at the General Assembly in Tokyo in November before being submitted to the International Olympic Committee — editor’s note]. I think it’s very bad for our sport. In Rio, we saw very well that teams reduced to three riders [as a result of forfeitures or disqualifications — editor’s note] were competing with ten times more pressure. Just being at the Olympics is already a very heavy load to bear… This decision could lead to a lot of misconduct…

G.P.: You are an idol and a role model for almost all riders, amateurs as well as professionals competing at the high level. How do you deal with that status? Does that add more pressure to do the right thing?
M.E.: Honestly, I don’t pay too much attention to it — I prefer not to concentrate on that. Obviously, with certain people, riders and others, I sense this slight admiration on their part. I know that people are often looking at me. That’s nice, but I am only doing my work. I love my work, my sport and my horses, to put it simply. I don’t necessarily have the desire to project a certain image of myself or of horse riding. I just want, and need, to create a partnership with my horse in order to advance together comfortably and correctly. In any case, I don’t feel any particular pressure, at least not more than other riders!

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