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Christophe Ameeuw: The man behind Ecuries d'Ecaussinnes, EEM and the Longines Masters Series

Tuesday, 15 January 2019
Interview

Photo (c) Jenny Abrahamsson Where it all began... Christophe Ameeuw at home at Ecuries d'Ecaussinnes in the idyllic countryside of the village Ecaussinnes, Belgium. Photo (c) Jenny Abrahamsson.

It all started with a small breeding and trading stable, back in 1997 when Christophe Ameeuw founded Ecuries d'Ecaussinnes in the idyllic countryside of the village Ecaussinnes – a short drive from Brussels, Belgium. 

Twenty-two years later, Ameeuw controls one of the biggest showjumping empires in the world: EEM – the creator, owner and organiser of the Longines Masters Series – at the same time as he keeps busy with Ecuries d'Ecaussinnes which today serves as the European base for riders such as Eric Lamaze and Kara Chad. 

“In the beginning, it was only ten boxes here and a very small indoor,” Ameeuw explains as we walk around the beautiful property at Ecuries d'Ecaussinnes. “Five years ago, we build the new part – where Eric Lamaze had his European base in 2017, as well as 2018. The new building also serves as the EEM headquarters, and we have our offices with 25 employees working there.”

“We use our breeding to carry our name around the world”

Photo (c) Jenny Abrahamsson "We have bred some good horses and we are very passionate about it!" Ameeuw says. Photo (c) Jenny Abrahamsson.

“We still do a bit of breeding here, but not big,” Ameeuw says. “We have had a long-time cooperation with Joris De Brabander that has been successful, and have bred some famous horses with fantastic results such as Utamaro d'Ecaussinnes (William Whitaker), Venezia d'Ecaussinnes (Thierry Rozier) and Agatha d'Ecaussinnes (Lauren Hough). They fly the d'Ecaussinnes-flag all over the world which makes me very proud,” Ameeuw tells. “There is even a ship named after Utamaro d'Ecaussinnes. The CMB (Compagnie Maritime Belge) had one of their big tankers christened after Utamaro,” Ameeuw smiles. “But, I don’t call myself a breeder – for that I have too much respect for the real breeders. But, we have bred some good horses and we are very passionate about it! We use our breeding to carry our name around the world and this is very important to us.”

“We use mares that have been on top of the sport themselves, jumping the Grand Prix classes. We have some very good stallions such as Malito de Rêve, Lecoultre de Muze, Missouri Van’t Ruytershof and Cariati D’Elsendam Z. In 2018, we had seven foals. It is mainly my wife Fernanda that takes care of this part of the business, but I also enjoy it,” Ameeuw smiles. 

Square meter by square meter towards paradise

Photo (c) Jenny Abrahamsson “This is my paradise, it is my dream,” Ameeuw says about Ecuries d'Ecaussinnes. Photo (c) Jenny Abrahamsson.

It’s all about the family at Ecuries d'Ecaussinnes. Not only is Fernanda very much involved in running the stables, the couple’s 12-year-old daughter Louise also rides and represented Belgium at the 2018 European Championships for children. “During the weekends, I’m the truck driver, the groom as well as the movie man,” Ameeuw laughs about being a showjumping dad. 

Today, Ecuries d'Ecaussinnes is divided into two parts. The vintage part – where Ameeuw has his horses, and the newly build part that is reserved for clients. The older part is completely charming, with 62 stables in every little nook and cranny. There are another two stable buildings situated next to the outdoor ring, as well as a small indoor. This used to be Kevin Staut’s home for the five years he was the rider at Ecuries d'Ecaussinnes, and was also Lucy Davis’ base during the summer of 2017. The stable at this part of the property is also used for the popular Academy Masterclass trainings organized at Ecuries d'Ecaussinnes. 

The new stable is hyper modern, with 45 boxes, a majestic tack area, a huge indoor full of light and a spacious outdoor as well as a grass ring, completed with paddocks and a walker. “Over the years we have developed it here, into what it is today. It is very nice to have the two stables, completely separated – riders can come in and have their own space,” Ameeuw says.  

“When I was little, I groomed and rode in the stable that was here. I grew up close by here, and my parents had a small stable in the garden. I used to come here with my one pony and one horse to train with the teacher. In my summer holiday, I worked here and helped out. Twenty-two years ago, I bought it. Back then it was just the small stable and indoor as well as a piece of land. Year after year, I have bought square meter by square meter here to expand the property. Every time I did a small business, I would use the money to buy a bit more land – but it was quite difficult,” Ameeuw explains. 

The peaceful surroundings at Ecuries d'Ecaussinnes is a far cry from the hectic and jet-setting life Ameeuw lives today. Having brought his Longines Masters Series from Paris to Hong-Kong and New York, means a whole lot of travelling – 200 days of the year to be precise. 

Although it is obvious that Ameeuw lives and breathes his brainchild EEM, he is the sort of guy that loves to be at home – for good reason. Outside the family house, there is the “zoo” with a number of small ponies, a donkey, Poppa the pet pig, Jaqueline the goat as well as Isidor the dog – the two latter behaving as sister and brother. Jaqueline likes to walk Ameeuw to his office down the hill, but can get deeply offended when not allowed inside – and once even went as far as launching a revenge attack on her master after being upset by a closed door. It’s a far cry from the VIP at the Longines Masters. “I always say I have two good moments: When I leave, and when I come back,” Ameeuw laughs when talking about life at Ecuries d'Ecaussinnes. “This is my paradise, it is my dream.”

A bit crazy, and a dreamer too

Photo (c) Jenny Abrahamsson “You have to be a bit crazy, a dreamer and not too realistic,” Ameeuw says about his inventions. Photo (c) Jenny Abrahamsson.

Ameeuw stopped school at the age of 15, and has no formal academic background. “But, I was not a good rider, and not a good groom either – I had to find my place in the sport,” he laughs. 

That did not stop him from going on to create what has become one of the empires in the sport of modern showjumping. Today, Ameeuw is the CEO of EEM – the creator, owner and organizer of the Longines Masters Series – in addition to running Ecuries d'Ecaussinnes. “You have to be a bit crazy, a dreamer and not too realistic,” Ameeuw says about his inventions. 

“What we have built with the Longines Masters Series has been very challenging, and has required a lot of my time,” Ameeuw says about how his attention has slowly shifted away from the breeding and horse business towards his event company. 

“It all began in 2004 when I, together with the Pessoa-family, took over the organizing of the Jumping de Bruxelles – later known as the Audi Masters,”” Ameeuw tells. 

“Whenever I met people that were not involved with equestrian sports they would look at me with a question mark on their face when I said I was a dealer of showjumping horses. I wanted to give some credibility and bring some spotlight to the sport, and when we got the opportunity to take on the show in Brussels I saw my chance,” he tells. 

“Back then, Jumping de Bruxelles was very famous and prestigious – it was the place to be. It was where I fell in love with horses, and where my parents brought me when I was little to watch the best riders in the world. It was so chic, in the news, on TV – and I was so impressed with it,” Ameeuw tells. 

“When we took over we realized change was needed. We decided to bring in a title sponsor – like in other professional sports. We sold the title to Audi, and in 2004 the show became the Audi Masters. We tried to change the format, the rules, the colours, the light, the sand – everything to make this event attractive – for families, for the cooperate world, for the media. We also needed to adapt to get the necessary TV coverage. On top came the fact that Audi was investing, and I needed to make some kind of promise that they would have a fantastic return on their investment. In the end, we made five editions of the Audi Masters,” Ameeuw says. 

Gucci goes showjumping

Photo (c) Jenny Abrahamsson. Throwback to the Gucci Paris Masters. Photo (c) Jenny Abrahamsson.

“During this time, a friend of me brought my attention to the Jumping de Paris – that had been taken off the calendar. They had kept the Salon du Cheval, but cancelled the jumping. ‘Why don’t you come to Paris’ my friend said? ‘It is the city of glamour, fashion, business – make a partnership with Salon de Cheval?’” 

“So, I met with the organisers of Salon du Cheval and that is how it all began,” Ameeuw recalls. “Then I met with François-Henri Pinault, who owns the company that is the controlling shareholder of Gucci. I said to him that I thought that Gucci should return to their DNA: Equestrianism and horses. And that I had the perfect event for Gucci to do that: The Gucci Paris Masters. Although it was not straightforward getting him on board, I eventually managed – and also invested substantially myself.” 

“The first edition of the Gucci Paris Masters– in 2009 – went on to be a huge success. After the inaugural event, Gucci went on board on a five-year-contract. That was the beginning of the journey. Not only for us, but I think also for showjumping in the French capital as well as the growth of the sport. Today, you have Saut Hermès in the Grand Palais, the LGCT of Paris at the Tour Eiffel, last year you had the Longines FEI World Cup Final at Bercy and there was also Jumping du Château de Versailles in 2017,” Ameeuw reflects.

“After the first year in Paris, I decided that we had to go global and create some synergy from this event. I was looking towards other sports, and thought it would be a good idea to create different continental events. Longines – that was already the sponsor of the Speed Challenge as their first long-term showjumping involvement in this millennium – was already interested in becoming title sponsor in Paris, but that was not possible due to the contract we had with Gucci. So, I launched the idea for them to take on Hong Kong – and Asia – instead. And they did.”

The launch of the Masters Grand Slam, and an Asian adventure

Photo by Christopher Palma / Power Sport Images for EEM Christophe Ameeuw at the official opening ceremony of the Asia Horse Week for the Longines Masters of Hong Kong at AsiaWorld-Expo. Photo by Christopher Palma / Power Sport Images for EEM.

“In 2013, we organised the inaugural Longines Masters of Hong Kong – the first high-level showjumping competition in Asia since the 2008 Olympics. We also launched the Masters Grand Slam on three continents, adding Los Angeles to our calendar as well,” Ameeuw tells. 

“Going to Asia was very challenging though, every aspect of it. From the logistics to the fact that the majority of the spectators did not know the sport at all. We’ve come a long way since then. This year marked the 6th edition, and we feel this is just the beginning – we are in Hong Kong to stay,” Ameeuw says. 

“In 2016, the Longines Masters of Hong Kong went on to win the Gold Award for ‘Best Live Experience at a Professionals Sporting Event’ at the Sports Industry Awards Asia. Among the ten other finalists for the award were the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore, Sime Darby LPGA by IMG Hong Kong, HSBC World Golf Championship Shanghai, Malaysia Grand Prix Formula E and ONE: Kingdom of Champions Singapore. But, our showjumping concept won! It’s become huge. In Paris, most of the VIP are equestrian families – in Hong Kong it’s only corporate. They come because this is the place to be. I’m very proud of this, it has given such a credibility and visibility to the sport – and to my passion,” Ameeuw tells. 

“It’s not just to find a fantastic venue, make great footing, have the best course designer and riders in the world and lots of prize money,” Ameeuw says. “When we organise an event we first have to think globally and professionally. We have to think about return investment and about the optimal communication. The latter has been extremely important in Hong Kong. If we had communicated only towards the equestrian press, we would perhaps have had one reporter there – but we have also communicated to the corporate world, the fashion world, the gastronomy world and so on. That opened doors for us, and has made a huge difference.”

Last year, EEM launched another concept in Hong Kong: Asia Horse Week. “My vision was that Hong Kong would become the equestrian capital of Asia,” Ameeuw tells. “That is how the idea of Asia Horse Week was born. I wanted to create a world forum that would bring together the equestrian community in Asia, and a place for the industry to meet across the continents. Approximately 35 % of the visitors were from Asia, outside Hong Kong. It turned out to be a great meeting point for representatives from the equestrian world across the different disciplines. The potential is huge,” Ameeuw says. 

And – already this year, Ameeuw is adding to his concept when introducing The Auction to the Asian market. As a part of Asia Horse Week and the Longines Masters of Hong Kong, approximately twenty embryos with iconic parents will go under the hammer. Partnering with ARQANA, France’s number one racehorse auctioneer, Ameeuw is ready to attract new investors to the future of showjumping.  “I am very excited about this new project. My goal is to transform the market place for sport horses in the same way it was done in the fine art world over the last 20 years,” Ameeuw says about The Auction, that will get its second act in Paris at the end of the year. 

From Los Angeles to New York, and the Riders Masters Cup

Photo (c) Sportfot for EEM “Everybody can understand the Riders Masters Cup," Ameeuw says about the competition concept. Photo (c) Sportfot for EEM.

“We had three great years in Los Angeles, but we really wanted to be in New York. It was my dream. So when the opportunity came at the Home of Nassau Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum we took it,” Ameeuw tells about his American moves. “Getting the equestrian community to come is also easier on the East-Coast than it was on the West-Coast, they seemed to be more ready for our concept.”

“Our challenge last year, was that the arena at the Coliseum is huge – so we could not fill it – but for this year we can adapt so it can be more intimate. The Riders Masters Cup was a huge success, and we had excellent broadcast results and the feedback from the sponsors was great,” Ameeuw says. 

With the launch of the Riders Masters Cup, Ameeuw and his team yet again showcased their originality and ability to come up with new concepts fitted to bring showjumping to a larger audience. “Everybody can understand the Riders Masters Cup, you can just refer them to the Ryders Cup in golf. Although the inaugural Riders Masters Cup took place in Paris, we made the concept with the US event and market in mind. For those that don’t know the sport, you can still relate to supporting your flag and follow the competition that way.”

“In New York they were very excited about the concept,” Ameeuw tells. “The battle between Europe and USA was so close, it was really thrilling to watch for the public. We aim to bring the best five European riders to New York, and vice versa for Paris. We decided to use the Saturday night-platform for the concept, and it proved to be a hit. I dream that one day, we can do a big city – like London or Berlin – for one night only – just to watch this battle between the two continents, like in other sports.”

The Longines Masters Series: The ultimate destination for the indoor season

Photo (c) Jenny Abrahamsson "Competition between the event organisers is good too, everybody raises their game – all over the world," Ameeuw says. Photo (c) Jenny Abrahamsson

Since launching the Masters Grand Slam in 2013, Ameeuw has moved on to partner up with Longines – that became the title sponsor of the Masters Series in 2015. With potential prize earnings of 4,500,000 Euro, a Super Grand Slam Bonus for a triple consecutive Grand Prix win starting in Paris, then Hong Kong and New York within the same season as well as a Grand Slam Bonus for three consecutive Grand Prix victories from one season to the next – the Longines Masters Series has become the ultimate destination for the indoor season for the world’s best riders. What’s next for Ameeuw and Longines Masters Series? 

“On the map, our current three cities – Paris, Hong Kong and New York – will be our flagships,” he says. “But, like I said, I dream of some one-night pop-ups of the Riders Masters Cup. I would also like to offer the new generation of riders some kind of global program that includes the chance to compete at five-star level, as well as at other four- and three-star level shows.”

“What is happening with the sport at the moment, makes the world our playground. In five years, showjumping has gone from thirty five-star shows to more than one hundred,” Ameeuw says. “And, it is room for all of us. Competition between the event organisers is good too, everybody raises their game – all over the world.”

“In my opinion, the sport has gained its credibility,” Ameeuw concludes. 

 


Text © World of Showjumping

Photos © by Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping, Christopher Palma / Power Sport Images for EEM & Sportfot for EEM 

No reproduction without permission, copyright © World of Showjumping

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