Imagine you buy a horse as a 6-year-old, and produce it all the way to Olympic level. That is what Switzerland’s Janika Sprunger did with the now 10-year-old mare Bonne Chance. “It is such a close communication with her,” Sprunger says. “If you have so much trust in a horse it changes everything.”
The first time Janika heard about Bonne Chance was back in 2012, when the mare was six. “Actually we were not looking for a horse, but then Gilbert De Roock told me that he had a really nice mare for me. He showed me some videos, and I really liked her but it was in the beginning of the season and I said ‘Let’s stay quiet a bit’. But, then I followed her over a few shows and she was always doing such a good job and I thought she could really fit me. So, I begged at home that we go try her and finally we did,” Janika says with a smile on her face. “I jumped two or three young horses there, but I only wanted her and I was really sure about the feeling. She had such a light jump, without effort and was small and sensitive – but I could feel that she had a lot of power.”
It was the end of summer when Janika’s sponsor finally bought the mare. However, things did not turn out quite as she expected. “When Bonnie came, I was a bit surprised because she was a bit more hectic than I thought. There were a few things she did not understand, and she could freak a little bit and did not realize what I wanted from her. For a long time, she did not accept my hand and she was very hot – still she is, but now she channels it in a better way. It took a while before she started listening to me. She always jumped very good, but she made silly mistakes because our communication was not the best.”
To illustrate how far this little chestnut mare has come, Janika tells a story of how hard it could be for Bonnie to cope with the atmosphere at some of the shows: “As a 7-year-old I took her for the youngster competitions in Lyon, and it is very loud there with the warm-up just behind the tribune. It was impossible for me to ride her. I had to warm up outside, and then I went in to jump one fence and then outside again because she was freaking out with the noise. But, one thing she always had – in the ring she would never let me down. Maybe she was a bit more tense, but she would always do her job.”
Janika took it easy with Bonne Chance, opting to give her time. “She did a few good things as an 8-year-old, but maybe not as much as I did with some other horses the same age. She did one or two CSI2* Grand Prix classes at the end of the season, but she was not ‘Wow’ or ‘She will be the next Palloubet d’Halong’,” Janika says referring to her former super star that was sold to Qatar.
Then, at the beginning of Bonne Chance’s ninth year things started to happen. “I took her to the Sunshine Tour. Still today, it is a fact that she prefers the outdoor shows – it’s more space and it’s more quiet. There it was warm and sunny, and she loved it. I did not bring Uptown Boy there, and with Aris I really wanted to build him up a little. So, it was just her for the big classes there and it was really big! But, she did not mind. Course by course she was getting better and better, and I felt like she started to understand. Surprising all of us, she won the CSI3* Grand Prix there the second week. At this point, I realized she was getting somewhere! I could ask more on the flat, I could calm her down easier and I could help her more on the jump. She was also accepting my hand better. Then she went on to win a CSI3* Grand Prix in Italy, and then the CSIO5* Grand Prix of Falsterbo. She did great Nations Cups too, and suddenly we made it to the Swiss team for the European Championships in Aachen.”
In Aachen the pressure was on. The Swiss needed to qualify for the Olympics, and were without their number one rider Steve Guerdat. Janika and Bonnie did not let their chance slip away. “She did a fabulous job in the team competition, and we got the bronze medal and the Olympic qualification we came for. We qualified for the individual final, but then I decided it was enough for her as we had qualified for the Games and I had from that moment decided I wanted to aim for Rio with her,” Janika explains.
After Barcelona, Sprunger decided to give Bonne Chance a good rest. “Then I took her a bit to the indoor shows as she has to learn it. The performances were good, but not really consistent. She won a big class in Geneva, but most of the time I kept her as a second horse and I did not jump her in the Grand Prix in either Geneva, Basel or Zurich. After, I felt a bit like I lost the connection with her and I was thinking maybe she could not find the shape back. After all, she gave me a lot as a 9-year-old. It happens sometimes, that the horses bloom early and never find their shape back.”
At this point, Janika sat down to make a good plan for Bonne Chance. The mare never flew, so Sprunger made the decision to take her with to Doha as a part of her preparation for a possible trip to Rio. “It was a big step for her. For me it was also important to see how she would fly, and it was not such a long flight. In Doha, she showed me that she was back in shape and she finished 6th in the Grand Prix. It was really huge tracks, so for me that was an important result. She was with me and fighting for me. Then I found the confidence back,” Janika says.
After an easy April, it was back to the Nations Cup circuit in May. Bonne Chance showed super form, and at her last team appearance in Falsterbo she was double clear to help the Swiss to the victory. “After I took her to Ascona, and jumped two 1.45 with her. Now, we train small things at home – gymnastics and exercises – and we hope we are ready!”
For Sprunger, her results are just a percentage of what she views as her success. “When I sold Palloubet I was thinking a lot about how I would make it back to top level,” she reflects. “I know I am not Daniel Deusser or Marcus Ehning. But, I spend crazy much time with my horses and I love building them up. If a horse suits me – and it has to as I can not make something from whatever – I can do a good job to bring it up. Palloubet and Bonnie are good examples. To produce horses is my biggest joy! For me, this is another way of having success. I know I can not win week in and week out against the likes of McLain and Kent so I see success in another way,” Janika continues.
“And now I get to go to the Olympics with Bonnie, my baby!” Janika smiles. “Bonnie has such a special character, and is so clever. It is such a close communication with her. I just hope I will ride good, because I know however big, however wide or however spooky it will be – she will not let me down. This gives me a good feeling, and I am looking forward to the Games – and I am actually somebody who is often a bit pessimistic but if you have so much trust in a horse it changes everything!”
There is also another factor that makes Janika’s Olympic debut special. “What also makes me very happy is the fact that my two cousins Léa and Ellen Sprunger go for the athletics for Switzerland. So I meet them there! That is a big thing; we are three cousins from the same family competing in Rio!”
As to her expectations, Sprunger says: “It is hard to say. I really dream of a team medal; the Swiss team has proved this season that we are among the favorites and we also showed that we have what it takes at the Europeans last year. But, we need good days. I will try my best to get in for the individual final as well, and then you have to ask me again!”
“For me it is a childhood dream to go to the Olympics. And, in the end the most important is that the whole experience will be a good one – both for Bonnie and me!”
Text by Jannicke Naustdal for © World of Showjumping / Picture © Jenny Abrahamsson
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