“We have a special love for thoroughbred horses,” says the former eventing rider and racing horse owner Ole-Christian Hallerud. Together with his wife Vibeke, he recently renovated the old barn at the family farm in Lommedalen, Norway, into a modern stable housing four racing horses. Including the special 6-year-old gelding Match Maker.
Text Therese Alhaug. Photo Lena Saugen
With a talented, quite newly purchased thoroughbred in the stables, Vibeke and Ole-Christian have high hopes for the upcoming racing season. So has the local horse-farmer, neighbor and co-owner Pia Skjærsveen.
The married couple shares a deep interest in horses and especially thoroughbred horses.
“I believe the thoroughbreds have got an undeserved bad reputation, Ole-Christian says. “I find them both intelligent and quick learning with strong personalities. They connect strongly with those handling them”.
Ole-Christian explains how a lot has changed to the better lately in how racing horses are being treated, handled, fed and trained, which have resulted in calmer and more harmonious horses.
“Norwegian coaches have reached a top professional level, which is seen through Norwegian horse racings outstanding results lately,” he explains.
“I believe the thoroughbreds have got an undeserved bad reputation.”Ole-Christian Hallerud
We visit the Hallerud family at their farm in Lommedalen, Norway, in early April. Despite a fully winter scenery, snow is melting as spring has made its first approach. Inside the beautifully refurbished barn, their four horses enjoy their afternoon portion of hay. We sit down in the middle of the stable to talk about thoroughbred horses and Ole and Vibeke’s way of training the 6-year-old talent, Match Maker.
But let’s go back to eventing – where it all started; the challenging equestrian sport combining three disciplines: dressage, cross-country, and show jumping. Ole-Christians previous career as an international eventing rider is maybe also the reason behind his slightly different approach to training racing horses.
Growing up next to Øvrevoll racing track outside of Oslo, horses became a natural ingredient for the young Ole Christian Hallerud, who represented Norway in eventing as a junior, young rider and senior rider. Together with his thoroughbred horse Lothario, the duo won the bronze medal in the Senior Nordic Championship in 1999 before deciding to put his riding boots on the shelf to raise a family and chasing a successful career in Real Estate Business.
Still, the ambitious young man couldn’t leave horses entirely. His engagement as a steward an later Norwegian Jockey Club’s chairman kept him occupied from the inside.
“Keeping the horses at home is mentally and physically refreshing but also hard work.”Vibeke Hallerud
“During some years with watching the races from the sideline, I gradually found myself back riding again,” he says.
Only this time, it was the racing track, not eventing, that kept the young Hallerud occupied. Ole Christian’s wife, a previous international groom and leisure rider, also took up riding little by little before falling in love with Palermo, a racing horse which she describes as a true gentleman. Very soon, they were offered a share, and the couple couldn’t resist the opportunity. Time went by and before they knew it, they were listed as the owner of two racing horses.
“In the beginning, we kept the horses at the race track with a coach, still unaware of what the future would bring,” Vibeke says. “But when Palermo was to be retired, we decided to bring him home to Lommedalen.”
Almost twenty years had gone by since Ole-Christian decided to stop riding when a rare opportunity came along as the farm next door was offered for sale. The possibility to keep their retired horse at home and at the same time being able to keep the younger horses at home for the winter season was attempting, and they started renovating the barn.
“Usually, racing horses get a break in the winter season,” Vibeke explains.
Soon they had four horses at home. A lifestyle they both seem to appreciate very much.
“We never planned for this to happen. But we appreciate this new lifestyle very much. Coming home from work and sharing this interest with my wife, adds a natural energy boost,” Ole- Christian says.
“Keeping the horses at home is mentally and physically refreshing but also hard work, of course”, Vibeke adds.
“Ole-Christian is doing all the riding at home as well as giving the horses some gallop work at the tracks, which is quite unusual for a horse owner in this game.”Vibeke Hallerud
Vibeke, who works as a nurse on a daily basis, is in charge of the daily caring of the four horses. At the same time, Ole-Christian has found his way back in the saddle.
“He is doing all the riding at home and he also take them to the track for training, which is quite unusual for a horse owner in this game,” Vibeke says, smiling.
Compared to watching the horses from the sidelines, following up on the horses at home seems to have offered an extra spark to the two thoroughbred enthusiasts.
“When you see the horses every day, you learn to love them, Ole-Christian says. “You sense them in a way that allows you to adjust every tiny bit of the daily care and training. You become a bit of a nerd. Every day you try a little harder. Then, in the end, no matter what they achieve, at least you know you did your best.”
“When you see the horses every day, you learn to love them. You sense them in a way that allows you to adjust every tiny bit of the daily care and training.”Ole-Christian Hallerud
Finding Match Maker
In 2019 a new adventure was about to start as Ole-Christian travelled to the UK to purchase a promising thoroughbred accompanied by co-owner Pia Skjærsveeen and the professional coach Cathrine Erichsen. They decided to look for an older and already proven horse with good physics and a satisfying race record, which turned out to be a challenge in terms of their budget. But then a bay gelding with sparkling eyes passed by.
“I remember seeing ‘Match Maker’ at the auction. It was more of a coincidence, Ole-Christian says. “We had been struggling with finding a suitable horse that could meet our budget. Then a solid and calm four-year-old bay gelding, out of ‘Declaration of War’ with dam ‘I’m In Love’ showed up. I immediately looked him up. His racing record showed a few good results, yet not many. We decided to take the risk, even though we knew the lower price proved something was not right.”
“I remember seeing ‘Match’ at the auction. It was more of a coincidence. I immediately looked him up. His racing record showed a few good results, yet not many. We decided to take the risk, even though we knew the lower price proved something was not right.”Ole-Christian Hallerud
After the purchase of Match Maker, Ole-Christian realized the gelding had been struggling with quite many injuries.
“We still believed his type of problems could heal well by progressing slowly and giving him time. A bit disappointing, even though we knew this was the possible case.”
They decided to give Match Maker a chance and settled for a solid training program at home for the 2019/2020 winter season.”
As a previous eventing rider, believing in a varied training plan, the five-year-old gelding was put in a system to strengthen him mentally and physically – all the way supported by their professional coach Cathrine Erichsen.
“We did weekly dressage sessions and gymnastics using poles and small jumps next to hacking out. Twice a week, we took him to the track, and once a week, he was offered a day off, ” Ole-Christian says.
In 2020, during Match Maker’s first season in Norway, he was placed in all his 6 starts including a memorable runner-up finish in the Polar Cup at the Norwegian Derby, only beaten by the big star Duca Di Como. Things seemed to be working as planned.
By the end of the season, Match Maker was again transported home to the family yard for the winter, being put back in the same training system with guidance from coach Cathrine Erichsen.
“We did weekly dressage sessions and gymnastics using poles and small jumps next to hacking out. Twice a week, we took him to the track, and once a week, he was offered a day off”Ole-Christian Hallerud
Hopes for the 2021 season.
When we visit Ole-Christian and Vibeke, there’s just a few weeks left for the 2021 season to kick off. Match Maker seems to be fit, watching us from his stable window. The winter has gone by with strengthening weekly sessions in the indoor combined with hacking out in all different terrains. Luckily, Lommedalen offers all kind of variation outdoors, from climbing to flat jogging, and Øvrevoll racetrack is just a 15 minutes drive away.
“In a few weeks, we will bring him back to the track for the season, for coach Cathrine to take over the reins,” Ole-Christian says.
Hopes and dreams
Old and new pictures decorate the old brick wall in the small barn, from eventing to racing highlights. With a busy career in Norway’s leading property company, being around horses seem to add a certain spark to the 50-year-old horse owner.
“Horses give more energy than they take, Ole-Christian says. “I sometimes spend early mornings enjoying some speedy rounds on the track before I hit the office. An excellent substitute for coffee! An unbelievable feeling,” he says.
Match Maker plays with the rope, eager to get out, as Ole-Christian leads him out to his paddock.
“Let’s hope he will be ready for his debut in Copenhagen in a few weeks, ” the passionate horse owner says.
“I sometimes spend early mornings enjoying a few speedy rounds on the track before I hit the office. An excellent substitute for coffee! An unbelievable feeling.”Ole-Christian Hallerud
Sun goes down on Klampenborg racing track in Copenhagen, Denmark, as Match Maker shows the way in Danish Jockey Club Cup, ridden by Per Anders Gråberg, one of Scandinavias best jockeys. The duo is topping the podium in Saturday’s highest paid race.
Behind the prestigious triumph are; Norwegian Jockey Club’s chairman Ole-Christian Hallerud, his wife Vibeke Hallerud, co-owner Pia Skjærsveen and coach Cathrine Erichsen.
The 6-year-old Match Maker has now won four races in 12 starts, two of the victories have been taken in England, one at Øvrevoll, Norway and now one at Klampenborg in Denmark. In seven starts in Scandinavia, Match Maker, who was second in the Polar Cup, has not been outside the triple.