“I’m not a Marcus Ehning. I was never born a talent, and I’m still not a talent. But I’m a hard worker and I believe that hard work can take you just as far.”
By Sara Silfverberg. Photo by Lena Saugen
We don’t agree. Well, we do agree with Henrik being a hard worker and that he for sure is going to go all the way to the top. There’s no question about that. But not being a talent is simply wrong. We have just witnessed how he, for the first time, rode a dapple-grey gelding in such harmony, bringing out the very best of the horse; the eagerness to jump, the willingness to communicate and the bravery, that only Henrik can do. The horse looked like a million dollar after only thirty minutes of work with this Swedish ginger in the saddle. Now, that to us, is pure talent.
“If you challenge yourself and step out of your comfort zone, you have a good chance to succeed. To win. “
He is a natural redhead. But not in the hue of a crisp carrot. No, Henrik is the darker and deeper one, that relates more to Chestnut and darkened Amber. He has had one of the most remarkable careers, and now, being in his mid thirties, he has just taken the next step on the latter to the top; To become his own.
Recently he moved into the modern and fully equipped facility, beautifully nestled between the large maple woods and rolling hills close to Bonn, owned by Karl Schneider. We pay him a visit, curious to see how this Scandinavian rider has chosen to tailor his new life.
“I have never desired a yard big as Ludger’s. To handle a place like that, you have to be a Ludger, and there’s only one of him. Knowing myself and my capacity, I need to have it smaller and more compressed, so that I can have one hundred percent control of the business and the horses. This facility here is perfect for me. I have ten boxes, two grooms, and a full show schedule. In between, there are paperwork, office time and all the other things you need to care for when you are in the horse business. There are for sure a few gaps now and then fit for holiday or vacation, but I’m not going to fill my calendar more than this”, he laughs as he adds, “I’m old enough to not see the pleasure in working myself to death.”
We feel suddenly more than pleased that we have been prioritized to have this moment with him, between the everyday training of the horses and the busy show schedule. Though, we did not come unprepared. With a pleased and half-crocked smile on our lips, we unpack our bribes of freshly baked cinnamon buns, and newly brewed coffee that we’ve cunningly calculated would make up the one-hour theft of his precious time. Henrik buys the bait, and cannot hide his excitement over the juicy, newly baked cinnamon buns in front of him. He takes one, and as his lips become unsealed, he begins to tell the story of his life.
“I’ve always been like this. Focused and structured, he says. “When I was little, I was goal oriented as few. I tried a lot of sports to find one where I felt I could be the best in. I played tennis, soccer, hockey; you name it. As soon as I realized I wasn’t gonna make it to the stars, I quit and tried another one,” he says with a laugh. “And that’s how the horses came into my life,” he says as he recalls how it all started.
“My parents were farmers. They had cows, but included in the squad of four-legged animals on the farm, was two horses that were long-haired and naturally friendly beings. My mom and me used to take them out for a hack in the forest, and I enjoyed those times. At one point my parents took me to Gothenburg Horse Show to watch some show jumping. We sat and saw these riders tackle the big fences, controlling the horses in a perfect manner that demonstrated great companionship and communication, and I thought to myself; “Boy, this is something I would like to do.”
Henrik reaches for a second bun, his eyes sparkling as he tells his story. He is indeed a very good storyteller, we think to ourselves and encourage him to continue.
“These two horses we had at home were both pretty nice horses and good to learn the basics from, but none of them so talented that it could actually take me anywhere. One of them ponies was even quite dangerous, as he continuously fell into the jumps and took them down like jackstraws. One day both I and the horse fell on a tricky jump, which made my dad so worried that he said he’d had enough. So, off he strolled to Peder Fredricson and asked whether he had a good horse to sell, a horse that would take his son over the jumps without causing him injuries. Peder understood the situation and said he had a pretty decent former school horse we could buy. His name was Chess. Said and done. We bought Chess from Peder and started to compete. It all went very well. Chess was a gentleman. Instead of going through the fences we actually jumped over them as a change, and soon I was a part of the Young Rider team and took my first silver medal at the Young Rider European Championship.”
“I have never desired a yard big as Ludger’s. To handle a place like that, you have to be a Ludger, and there’s only one of him.”
Henrik’s crisp Nyköping-accent fills the room. His story reveals focus, bruces and hard work, but also friendship and learnings from his teenage years. More so, it reveals admiration for one person in particular. A person that will play the main part in ‘The life of Henrik Von Eckermann-fairytale’. Well, no need to hide a secret longer than necessary. It’s a man that goes by the name of Ludger Beerbaum.
“Ludger had always been my idol. When I was young, I remember watching horse shows and prizegiving ceremonies: Ludger was always number one, and he was successful with many different horses. Ludger was simply a star. He was what Zlatan is today, a hero and an icon. I had admired him for so long, so at one point in time I couldn’t help myself any longer and asked a friend of mine who worked at Ludger’s as a groom, if I could come down to him and learn. To my surprise and joy, he said yes, and agreed to a one-month internship. I was 22 years old and among the clouds.”
“If you would ask me what I’m dreaming of, I might answer medals and success. But it’s not the entire story. I dream of things like everyone does; health and strength and a better world. And one day, I might be ready to dream of a family, too.”
This is how it started. The tale where the Beerbaum stables in Germany would become what Henrik soon would call ‘home.’ After this month, and some time of struggle in between where Henrik figured out what he wanted to do with his life, he soon returned to the Beerbaum stables to be a part of the entire machinery. This time as a rider.
“I was in heaven. Imagine being at one of the best stables in the world, and my task was to ride. How could anything be better?” Henrik asks rhetorically and continues. “Over the next three-four years, I rode mostly young horses and learned a lot. But as in all learning journeys, I hit a plateau after four years, and suddenly felt that I needed to compete and feel the nerve. So I took courage and left Ludger’s yard for a year to build up, even more, competition experience, and when I felt I was ready, I asked if I could come back with a chance to do the bigger classes.”
“I also work on a mental level, in order to stay clear and focused, and not let the mistakes and failures touch me in a negative way.”
Well back ‘home’ everything fell into place. Henrik got his own part of a stable and trained close together with his friend and colleague Marco Kutscher who also was a part of team Beerbaum. Horses and successes came his way and soon, Henrik found himself representing Sweden in some of the biggest shows; Nations Cup in Aachen, the European Championships in Windsor, the Europeans in Madrid. Soon it was time for Aachen – a show that would qualify him for the London Olympics. Henrik brought Allerdings to Aachen, a horse owned by another German legend, Hans-Günther Winkler. The pair jumped well, and were selected to ride for Sweden in the Olympics, a performance that he remembers as a disappointment.
“It may be a bit exaggerated to say that ‘I love my horses.‘ It is a deep friendship you develop over a long time, and you become life partners. “
“Well, I honestly was the one that fucked up”, he says as he recalls the occasion. “Allerdings jumped fantastically but I got over excited and asked him to jump way too big over the water, and we got a hoof in. It was just my fault”, he says.
Henrik reveals that thanks to experiences like that, he has taken the chance to work with himself on a mental level, in order to stay clear and focused, and not let the mistakes and failures touch him in a negative way.
“Through the years, I’ve been working a lot with myself. I’m born a perfectionist, and I want to win. These qualities are great to have, but also sometimes these traits made me disappointed and angry with myself when I couldn’t perform as I had planned. What I’ve learned is just to see mistakes and faults for what they are, accept it and leave it behind. It cannot let it consume me to the extent, that it will effect my next ride. Just accept and let it go.”
“One of my strongest qualities is my gut feeling. When I get a gut feeling about something, I believe in it. Today I trust it to the point that I’m ready to deviate from plan in order to go with my gut”
He sips his coffee and continues in the story in a chronological manner, a storyteller as he is. “After the Olympics in London, Allerdings was sold, and Coupe de Coeur was still not fully recovered
“After the Olympics in London, Allerdings was sold, and Coupe de Coeur was still not fully recovered after an injury, and I was a without a horse. And then she came. Gotha.”
Henrik talks about her as she is the love of his life, and we cannot resist but ask him whether this is the case and he actually loves her.
He laughs, turns slightly red on his cheeks, but replies quickly. “It may be a bit exaggerated to say that “I love my horses.” It is a deep friendship you develop over a long time, and you become life partners. I have known Gotha since she was five. Now she is fifteen. It is ten years we have worked, played and been together. In fact, it’s probably the longest relationship I have ever had with another being. I need no more than a second when I see Gotha, to be able to tell whether she is doing well or not. It’s a quite rare and very unique relationship you have with your horses, call it what you may.”
“It may be a bit exaggerated to say that “I love my horses.” It is a deep friendship you develop over a long time, and you become life partners. I have known Gotha since she was five. Now she is fifteen. It is ten years we have worked, played and been together. In fact, it’s probably the longest relationship I have ever had with another being. I need no more than a second when I see Gotha, to be able to tell whether she is doing well or not. It’s a quite rare and very unique relationship you have with your horses, call it what you may.”
Henrik and Gotha teamed up, a lot thanks to Ludger’s generosity to let Henrik have her as his new horse. The combination became almost unbeatable. They won the Longines FEI World Cup in Mechelen, a Longines Masters Grand Prix in Hong Kong and shortly after a Global Champions Tour Grand Prix in Estoril. Close after, they were selected to represent Sweden during the European Championships in Herning, where they fought well and came home with a team bronze medal. Life was good, and Henrik couldn’t wish for more, but more he got. In a new horse that soon was going to become another star. The horse waiting for him was Qatar Armed Force’s Cantinero, a beautiful bay gelding with an enormous potential, but with a very low self-esteem that sometimes made him stop, not daring to jump.
“I spent a lot of time thinking about him, trying to figure out the best way to guide him forward. He was a hard nut to crack. As soon as he got a bit tensed or overwhelmed he stopped, but at the same time he was also very careful. I worked on the small things and started to build up his confidence.”
“If you don’t take these steps out in the unknown, you will never grow. If you don’t fall and hurt your knees, you will never learn to cycle. If you don’t risk something in life you will never learn.”
Henrik tells us he is blessed with a very strong gut feel. A sensation he trusts no matter what. And now the gut feel told that Cantinero after many months of preparation might be ready for the larger shows. “I had previously brought him to the international show in Gothenburg and after that to The Global Champions Tour in Hamburg. Both times he had stopped, and I had made a pretty airfare, in front of full stands and a stunned audience. Now it was time for Rome, and I felt that he was ready. I remember Ludger asking me whether it really was a wise decision to take Cantinero. And I said without hesitation ‘Yes.’ I knew it was right. And so we proved: we were double clear in the Nation’s Cup and we won the Grand Prix there. It was a magical moment.”
“I had previously brought him to the international show in Gothenburg and after that to The Global Champions Tour in Hamburg. Both times he had stopped, and I had made a pretty airfare, in front of full stands and a stunned audience. Now it was time for Rome, and I felt that he was ready. I remember Ludger asking me whether it really was a wise decision to take Cantinero. And I said without hesitation ‘Yes.’ I knew it was right. And so we proved: we were double clear in the Nation’s Cup and we won the Grand Prix there. It was a magical moment.”
Henrik talks about it with sparkling eyes. Those ten years at Ludger’s place has meant a lot to him. Ludger’s guiding hand. His friends and colleagues. The horses and the many shows. But everything that has had a beginning also has an end. Henrik more and more felt that it was time for him to try his own wings. Inspired by his friend Marco, who recently had taken the decision to start on his own, Henrik now dreamt of doing the same.
“Ludger has always been my guiding star. He has been the best possible trainer one can dream of. Not that he ever stood there and said ‘look up and heels down,’ he has just set a good example, in so many areas, for so many years. I’ve sat in the evenings and watched him riding, him and Marco. Studied how they rode, what they did, copied it and tried it on my horses. Still, I know I cannot ride like Ludger or Marco. But I’ve developed thanks to them, and I’m more than grateful for those years of inspiration. Ludger is unique. He has been, and still is, one of the best riders in the world. He keeps on working, keeps on riding, keeps on winning, he just delivers. When the team needs a double clear, he just goes in and nails it. Like it’s simple like that. Well, for Ludger it is.”
Henrik looks nostalgic. “I told Ludger what I felt I needed to do, as the next step in my career. First I was afraid he would be offended, but Ludger as the great leader he is, said he understood me and that he would support me on my journey forward, also outside his stable.”
Henrik moved not too far away. He was offered an opportunity by Karl Schneider to build his business at his yard. A facility that is well equipped and perfect for the equestrian sport business. “
“Me and Karl have always had a good chemistry. He is straight forward and has a good eye for horses,”
He tells about Karl Schneider, the owner of his new base.
“Karl’s place is nice. We agreed that I would rent a stable with ten boxes from him. The place is all that I wanted, small, compact and economically sustainable.”
“Karl’s place is nice. We agreed that I would rent a stable with ten boxes from him. The place is all that I wanted, small, compact and economically sustainable.”
In September 2016, one month after the Olympics in Rio, Henrik took farewell of the beautiful yard of Beerbaum’s that he had called home for a decade. Some horses came along with him; his Olympic ride Yajamila and a talented young horse Catover, and the rest of the stable quickly filled up with talented and gifted horses.
“Even though I’m fully living my dream”, he says with a warm smile, “it would be wonderful to secure a few of these nice horses by owners and sponsors so that the horses can stay for a longer time. I do dream of building a sustainable future for each and every one of these horses, where they can have the chance to develop, compete and show the world what they can do without the risk of them being sold.”
Henrik takes a breath, and as the story comes to an end, as he mentally gets ready to go out and mount his next horse for the daily training routine, he adds;
“Ludger has done a lot for me. He has been a great coach, trainer, rider, businessman, friend, and leader. With him, I have learned to grow in every area possible. He has been the best possible teacher, and I am very grateful to him. Just like Ludger has kept sending the elevator back down, I hope to do the same. To share my knowledge by taking students under my wings and let them have the same chance that I have had, to learn and develop. That is the least I can do.”
He takes his gloves and his hat, ready to give the next horse on the list some of his attention. We clean the table from the leftover over bribes and prepare ourselves to leave this beautiful yard behind. And as we do, we recall what Henrik mentioned when talking about leaving Ludger. About his motto in life.
“If you don’t take these steps out into the unknown, you will never grow. If you don’t fall and hurt your knees, you will never learn to cycle. If you don’t risk something in life, you will never learn. But if you do, if you challenge yourself and step out of your comfort zone, you have a good chance to succeed. To win. And that to me is what life is.
The one who dares wins”.