At 20 years old, Bertram Allen (IRL) is ranked 7th in the FEI World Rankings. At the age of 11, he won his first pony class in Dublin and has been proclaimed a genius throughout the world. So what drives Allen? We met up with him in Dublin to find out.
By Frank Mulvihill. Photo by Therese Alhaug
He is quiet, unassuming and polite. “Thanks”, he said, as we finish our interview in a corner of one of the spectator stands at Dublin Show, the day after he rode for Ireland on the winning nations cup team.
I have been writing about Bertram Allen since he was about ten years old. While he was always mounted on ponies of quality, he was stylish and possessed a wealth of natural ability. On this day, everybody wanted a piece of him; one photo, one selfie, or just a salute or a smile. It is obvious that his recent achievements on the world jumping stage have placed him firmly in the public eye.
“Let them have their own specific training programme. It shouldn’t be the same for every horse. Make it easy for the horses, relax them so that they enjoy going to shows.”
Bertram Allen was just 17 years old when he was first selected to jump on an Irish Nations Cup team. At 18, he finished 7th in the Individual competition at the World Equestrian Games in Normandy where he was the youngest rider to compete. At 19, he finished 3rd in the World Cup final in Las Vegas and ranked 7th in the FEI World Rankings. Now he has just turned 20 and marked his departure from teenage years with a win in the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup in Dublin from where he travelled to Germany to jump on the Irish team at the European Championships in Aachen. In three years he has come from being unknown at the senior level of the sport of showjumping to being a recognized young talent on the world stage.
Raised in Enniscorthy, County Wexford, in the southeast corner of Ireland, Bertram and his siblings were born into a family with a strong equine influence. “My parents always had horses. My dad had racehorses and there was always a pony or two around. We started in the riding school and then got help from Mags and Con Power all the way through ponies. That was brilliant.” The Powers are well known in equestrian circles. Con jumped on the famous Irish team that won the Nations Cup in Dublin for the third year in a row in 1979. A former Army captain, his son Robert is an occasional showjumper but now a very successful national hunt racing jockey. Their daughter Elizabeth is also well known as an international eventing rider. Bertram and his siblings could not have had better support in their formative years in the sport.
Like most Irish riders, Bertram got a solid preparation for his professional career in pony ranks. “My days in ponies were great. I was quite competitive. I won every championship in Dublin – 128cm, 138cm and 148cm. I had just turned 11 when I got my first victory. I believe I am the only person to have achieved that feat. That was a great time, a great way to spend my youth, travelling to all the shows.” On 148cm ponies, Bertram won the European Championships gold medal, silver medal, and team silver medal twice on Acapella Z.
Casandra van het Roelof was another of his successful 148cm ponies. “She was very competitive. She won a lot. Both of my 148cm ponies were exceptional.”
Experiences like these have helped to shape this rider. His calmness and composure in the arena are what one would associate with a person of more senior years but he carried with him a wealth of experience at the top level as he moved from ponies to horses.
Then came an opportunity. In the Irish education system, students have an opportunity to take a break from examinations-based study in the 4th year of secondary school. Here they can take an alternative course that exposes the student to a wide range of topics, many of a non-academical nature, including work experience. “At sixteen, during my Transition Year in school, I moved to Germany – and never came back! I don’t think that was the plan but, I suppose, looking back it was obvious that it was going to happen. Four years later I am still there.” Bertram is based in Hünxe near Dusseldorf in Germany in a yard formerly owned by Irish rider Jessica Kürten. “It was difficult at the start, I didn’t have any horses. Then slowly we started to build up a string. We have twenty horses there now.”
And for any ambitious young riders what advice does he offers?
“Travel. Get away and see what is abroad. See something different. Then if you want to go back home that is fair enough, but go and see how to do it firstly.”
Bertram doesn’t have any involvement in breeding. Instead, he tends to buy horses as five-year-olds and produce them himself. He has become synonymous with the grey mare Molly Malone V. Molly is by the KWPN stallion Kannan (Voltaire x Nimmerdor) and out of a Cavalier (San Patrignano Mister) dam. She was bought as a five-year-old on the Sunshine Tour in Spain. Irish riders Billy Twomey and Anthony Condon produced her before Bertram took over the ride. “I’m so lucky that she turned out to be such a star.” With this mare, Bertram has accumulated many excellent results. In 2015, these included victory in the Grand Prix de la Ville de Dinard in France and the Grand Prix of Twente in Geesteren, The Netherlands.
His other Grand Prix horse at this moment is Romanov. This 1998 chestnut stallion is by Heartbreaker (also by Nimmerdor) and out a mare Narzisse by Fedor (Klimax) by Darco. This year the pair was 7th in the Global Champions Tour Grand Prix in Estoril and won the Global Champions Tour Grand Prix in Paris. “He was bought for Billy to ride and when I was progressing from ponies to horses Billy said that I should take him over to get me going. While I started with Romanov, Molly stayed with Billy to help her develop. It all worked out great.”
Managing and planning for international competition is a demanding affair. Horses need to be in peak condition and form. In this respect, Bertram emphasizes the importance of a good support team. “Travelling is demanding on horses but they become used to it and it doesn’t take much out of them when managed properly. Marlene, my groom, ensures that the horses are prepared for travelling. Marlene is brilliant and my sister April (21) is also here now and is a big help to me.
And what about nutrition? “Connolly’s Red Mills, the Irish feed company is on board now. They are brilliant. They ship feed out to my yard. They also work with Foran Equine, an Irish company who are nutrition specialists and they send a person out to me regularly to look at the horses.” On the veterinary side, Bertram’s horses get a weekly visit to check that they are all in the best of health.
Bertram became the youngest rider to win a round of the Global Champions Tour when successful in the Longines Grand Prix de Paris in 2015. From a starting line-up of eighteen competitors, the 19-year-old Irishman was one of five through to the jump-off round on the stallion Romanov, as was his Irish teammate Darragh Kenny on Sans Souci Z. Also, in the barrage were the league leader, Portugal’s Luciana Diniz with Fit For Fun, and French riders Philippe Rozier and Penelope Leprevost. The outcome: Allen first, Diniz second and Kenny third. At just 19 Bertram was the youngest in history to win such an event.
It would appear that breaking records is part of what he does. A double-clear round for Ireland in 2013 at the Nations Cup in Linz, Austria, at just 17 years was another. In 2014, he was the youngest rider to compete in the showjumping competition at the 2014 World Equestrian Games [WEG] in Normandy, France, and his victories at every level in pony championships in Dublin are without equal.
Riding for Ireland is important to Bertram. He is proud of his country’s equine heritage. “Everyone knows Ireland has as many good riders as anywhere in the world. Sometimes it’s difficult to find the owners or find work but a lot of us are lucky and are ranked high enough in the world. We are winning classes somewhere every weekend.”
Investec Team Ireland manager Robert Splaine is full of praise for his youngest team member who has been on his radar for many years. “In this sport, many riders with talent may never fulfill their potential due to lack of opportunities, enthusiasm and so on. We have a wonderful system in Ireland to help support our children to advance through the sport. I was well aware that Bertram had been winning prolifically from his years in ponies and later juniors. He was well mounted and talented and it was obvious that this wasn’t a hobby with him. He has a supportive family and it was clear he had a future in the sport.”
But what are the characteristics that epitomize the 20-year-old?
“He believes he can win every competition and sets about doing that. He has very good reactions. I have seen him make quick adjustments to get himself out of difficult situations.
I don’t know any rider who has won as much at such a young age. Bertram is mature beyond his years and punches well above his weight. Youth is on his side and serves him well, although there is no substitute for experience. Nations Cup competitions apply the ultimate pressure on riders and my own belief is that as he experiences more Nations Cup competitions he will develop into a prolific rider.”
“ He believes he can win every competition”
According to his FEI Rider Biography, Bertram’s sporting motto is ‘Keep everything simple and do not complicate things’. Face to face it becomes clear very quickly that he is what one might call ‘a thinking man’, but one could easily forget that he has only just said goodbye to his teenage years. Every now and then one gets a glimpse of the innocence of this otherwise mature and accomplished gentleman: “Mam and Dad live at home but I am on the phone to them every day.” His parents play an active part in his career.
And what about his equine philosophy?
Allen offers the following advice: “Let them have their own specific training programme. It shouldn’t be the same for every horse. Make it easy for the horses, relax them so that they enjoy going to shows.”
Anyone who has ever moved to live in a different country for even the shortest of times will understand how many adjustments must be made. It’s not easy. Taking the plunge at just 15 years of age and meeting the challenge of setting up a new home without your family gives one an insight into the motivation and conviction that Bertram possesses. That is also evident in the jumping ring where he sees no challenge as being too great. At the time of our interview, his mind was focused on the European Championships in Aachen. “Aachen is important for us as a team. We will see what happens. I would also like to qualify for the World Cup finals again. That was a good experience. And I would love to win a medal at a championship, but qualifying for the Olympics would be really special.
“Keep everything simple and do not complicate things.”
Bertram Allen has been riding on the crest of a wave since 2013. But the game of jumping is fickle. At Dublin Horse Show in 2015, he acquired a new horse, Hector van d’Abdijhoeve (Cabrio van de Heffinck x Utriolle van de Heffinck). The eight-year-old was produced by fellow Irish rider Thomas O’Brien from Galway. The combination had jumped three clear rounds when finishing 5th in the Young Horse Championship in Dublin and had just 5 faults in their first 1.60m in Lisbon Grand Prix in 2015. Unfortunately, at the Glock Show in Austria just three weeks later Bertram suffered an injury when riding this new horse. A broken clavicle (collar bone) meant the world’s Number 7 was set to miss competition for at least 6 weeks. Such occurrences define the sport. Up one minute, down the next. However, for Bertram Allen, six weeks was too long and he fought his way back to riding in just four so that he could begin his preparation to travel with his Irish colleagues to the final of the Furusiyya Nations Cup league in Barcelona. A few weeks later, riding Quiet Easy, he won the $130,000 Longines Speed Challenge in Los Angeles. That determination continues to define the Irishman, in victory or in the face of adversity. It is that trait that also creates an expectation of the next installment of the Bertram Allen success story. My guess is it won’t be long!
- Hometown: Wexford, now based in Hünxe (GER)
- Competes for: Ireland
- Notable Achievements: Individual Gold and Team Silver in the pony class at the European Championships in 2010.
- Team Silver and Individual Silver at the European Championships in 2011
- Individual Silver medal at European Junior Championships 2013
- Junior Grand Prix in Germany in 2012.
- World Championships for six-year-olds in Lanaken 2013.
- Five-Star Lummen Grand Prix in Belgium 2014.
- Longines Grand Prix at the Discover Ireland Dublin Horse Show 2014.
- Longines Grand Prix de Paris in 2015
- Grand Prix de la Ville de Dinard 2015
- Grand Prix of Twente in Geesteren 2015
- Bronze medal at World Cup Finals in Las Vegas, 2015