Meeting Gerco Schröder, you will immediately notice his modesty and working mentality. Growing up on his parents’ farm, dedication and hard work is something Gerco and his brothers Wim and Ben learned from a very young age. At 37, Gerco is one of the world’s most successful riders as well as a part of the famous GLOCK-team but nevertheless still carries this typical Dutch mentality and truly dedicates his life to his horses.
Remarkably, as a young boy Gerco was more interested in the life as a farmer than riding horses. “When I was six or seven years old, I would rather help my father working at the farm and ride the tractor instead of ponies. My brothers Wim and Ben are about seven years older than I am, and they were already infected by the so-called ‘horse virus’. They talked me into riding on our pony, and made a deal with me that I would ride until the championships at our local riding club. At that championship, I got a ribbon and from that moment I was totally hooked. From there on, it has never been anything else than horses in my life,” Gerco tells about his childhood.
As a child, Gerco early on experienced success riding ponies. With a pony Gerco’s father bought as a foal, the young Schröder competed at the European Championships twice. “We educated that pony to the highest level ourselves. After the second Europeans I turned sixteen, and the pony got sold.” Gerco had to step up to junior level riding horses. And thanks to his brother Ben, he immediately got the opportunity to continue his career at the same level as before. “Ben worked at the stables of the Van der Vorm-family in Dinteloord at that time. Their stables were well-known as Bollvorm. I had just graduated from agricultural school, and got the chance to work at the Van der Vorm’s stables – riding some more experienced horses that I could compete at junior level.”
Although these horses already had some experience, they weren’t trained athletes ready to perform. “They were all broodmares at that time and were just enjoying their lives in the field. I had to start them up again to get to compete them. For me it was a great experience to build them up, and have the chance to ride more experienced horses,” Gerco explains.
Graduating from his agricultural school as a 16-year-old, Gerco could have attended some further education. “At that time, my mother would have liked to see me study a bit more, but even the teachers at school told her: ‘Let that boy ride horses!’ I don’t think a lot of teachers give such advice,” Gerco laughs.
After a couple of successful years at Bollvorm, Gerco joined the Eurocommerce stables. “The actual plan for me was to go home to build up our own stables a bit more. But since Wim was already working at Eurocommerce and they wanted to expand, I had the chance to join the team as a rider. You obviously don’t let an opportunity like that pass!” And that decision probably made Gerco’s career as a world-class rider.
For Gerco and Wim Schröder, their start at the Eurocommerce stables meant a whole new era in their sports careers. “For me it was something I never had experienced before. We could just look at horses, try them and buy them for our careers. That was something unique.”
The first top horse Gerco got at Eurocommerce was Eurocommerce Genève – a gelding by Ahorn his brother Wim produced until the age of 7. “When I took over the reins, he was obviously excellently educated by Wim and that horse really played an important role in my career,” Gerco says. Aboard Eurocommerce Genève, Gerco won both individual and team gold at the European Championships for young riders in Münchwilen in 1999. “Genève and I successfully developed from young rider-level to senior level. Finally, he jumped no less than three World Cup Finals!” After Genéve, famous horses like Eurocommerce Monaco, Milano and Berlin followed as Gerco’s number-one-horses.
“Eurocommerce was a unique stable. Just imagine: Wim and I both rode at the Olympic Games in Athens in 2004 and we won Grand Prix competitions week after week. I remember once we did Oslo and Helsinki; in Oslo, Wim won the Grand Prix and I won the World Cup and in Helsinki it was the other way around. Those are really special moments!”
But with the years passing, Gerco developed into the first rider at Eurocommerce while Wim took a step back. “When Wim broke his leg in 2005, he passed on his best horses to me. Since I did not really have a top horse for the World Equestrian Games in Aachen in 2006, I also got the ride on Berlin.” From that moment, Gerco really became the flagship-rider of the Schröder-brothers while Wim focused more on training, management and dealing horses.
Nowadays, Ben, Wim and Gerco work together on a daily basis at their BWG Stables. An excellent collaboration, according to Gerco: “Not all brothers could work together like we do, but for us it is not a problem! We are very honest and straight with each other. We never pretend, but always say the truth. I think that is a good thing and that keeps us all sharp and fresh.” Although Gerco ended up being the number one rider of the Schröder-brothers, there has never really been a competition between them. “We just try to support each other as good as possible and everybody has their own jobs and duties. Currently I am able to focus on my sports career, while Ben takes care of training students, producing horses and his own career and Wim focuses on management and dealing.”
During Gerco’s Eurocommerce years the results kept on coming. Becoming World Champion with the Dutch team in Aachen in 2006, European Champion with the team in Mannheim in 2007 and fourth at the European Championships in Madrid in 2011 as an individual rider are only some highlights of Gerco’s career as a Eurocommerce rider. The greatest success of those years was obviously the double silver medal at the Olympic Games in London in 2012 riding London.
But the year of 2012 also lead to a major change. Business issues with the owners lead to the end of the Eurocommerce stables. In 2014, it all became official and the Eurocommerce-horses were sold through an online auction. “The last period at Eurocommerce was a very insecure period and we just did not know what was going to happen. Luckily, we built up our own BWG Stables little by little over the years, so I always had a place to go,” Gerco explains. Although Gerco and the staff at Eurocommerce knew the end was coming close, they never left the stables. “That was a unique thing. Since the stable had brought us such great success and really made our careers, we stayed loyal. Not only me, but the whole staff – the grooms and everyone else involved kept on working until the very last day,” Gerco says looking back.
But instead of losing all his horses, including his top mount London, Gerco got the best out of the worst: The Austrian couple Gaston and Kathrin Glock stepped in to support Gerco’s career and – above all – purchased London through the online auction. “I knew that Mr. and Mrs. Glock were interested in buying London – even before everything happened with Eurocommerce. And they also told me that if they bought him, I could keep the ride on him. Although I knew they were seriously interested, I was not certain until the final moment that they actually bought London. I know who made the second-last offer, so I also know it was a real battle. To get my best horse into the stables again and build up a fantastic collaboration with the Glock-family was just the best thing that could possibly have happened at that time!”
As London again joined Gerco’s team of horses, the wonderful chestnut stallion obviously took over the number one position in the stables. “I could not have dreamed of having London back at that time, and immediately compete at a level I thought I had to step back from for a while,”, Gerco says referring to the great success that immediately followed in 2014 when the highlights were winning team gold at the World Equestrian Games in Caen as well as the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup Final in Barcelona.
During the insecure last period at Eurocommerce, Gerco took over the reins of an impressive – but inexperienced grey gelding, ridden by his brother Ben at that time: Cognac Champblanc. Although the gelding was 11-years-old at that time, he did not have too much experience. With his owner Maja Friberg he jumped at 1.30m level, and for a couple of months Ben produced the gelding towards the big sport. “Ben said he really had a good feeling on the horse and told me he was ready for the next step. Since Ben can’t get in for all the major shows, I took over the reins and went to work with him. At that moment, I could really use him to join my string of horses,” Gerco tells. Cognac Champblanc obviously showed all the scope and the right mentality, but he was still inexperienced and not too fast. “It is always hard to say what level a horse can jump, before it jumps it, but I had the right feeling on Cognac. He still is not the fastest horse on the circuit, but due to his consistency he has been placed in a lot of Grand Prix competitions!”
With the development of Cognac Champblanc moving in the right direction, potential buyers were interested in purchasing the grey gelding. “And luckily the Glock-family stepped in again and kept Cognac for me. Otherwise he would probably have left our stables,” Gerco says.
While Cognac has been jumping around in the five-star Grand Prix classes like they were 1.30-tracks, GLOCK’s London did not show at major level for a while. “London just did not feel 100%, so we gave him a long break. Luckily, Cognac immediately took over his spot as the number one horse in the stables.” Aboard Cognac Champblanc, Gerco went to the Europeans in Aachen and won another team gold medal.
After securing GLOCK’s London and GLOCK’s Cognac Champblanc, the talented mare GLOCK’s Debalia (Numero Uno x Lupicor) was also bought by Gaston and Kathrin Glock for Gerco, as was the promising GLOCK’s Lausejunge (Ludwig Ass x Cornet Obolensky) and GLOCK’s Zaranza (Karandasj x Heartbreaker).
“We tried to get a strong string of horses for the top level again. We have worked mostly after the philosophy that we have been using for years: Try to get young, talented horses and develop them towards five-star Grand Prix level.”
Looking at Gerco’s record with all those championship medals on all those different horses, not only his talent is obvious but also his consistency and management. “Well, we just try to do things as good as possible,” Gerco smiles modestly. “I have just been lucky to have good horses throughout my career so I was able to ride championships already at pony, junior and young rider level. To get those experiences at that age is very helpful, I think. If you see what today’s youth is experiencing at such a young age, I think they will benefit a lot from that.”
Although Gerco is as modest as can be, the credit obviously can not only go to his wonderful horses and owners throughout the years. Gerco’s management and horsemanship skills are exceptional as well. “The most important thing is to always listen to your horse. You can make a schedule, but you should always adapt it to your horse. If the feeling is not 100%, you should change your schedule immediately. I always try to do what I feel is best and that is how I prepare my horses towards a championship,” Gerco explains.
Gerco’s steady temperament also plays an important role in his value as a rider on the Dutch team. Over the last couple of years, Gerco developed into the ‘anchor man’, always being the last rider on the team to enter the ring. Gerco seems to cope very well with this kind of pressure. “Most of the times there is no pressure at all, because the other boys have ridden so well,” Gerco laughs. “Over the years we have had the same team quite some times, so it just developed that way. Everyone now feels confident and comfortable in their position. Those are the little things that can make the difference.”
With the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro coming closer and closer, Gerco is obviously one to make it to the team. If everything goes well, GLOCK’s Cognac Champblanc can probably jump his way on to the team – but eyes are also on his superstar GLOCK’s London N.O.P. The past year, London has not been showing on five-star level, but Gerco still has good hopes for this outdoor season.
“Like I said, we are working with living animals so you can never be sure. But London is still in my head for Rio. I expect to compete him this outdoor season and I will try to show him in the big classes. But in the end, the horse decides. He has to be ready for it and I will listen!”
Competing at almost every major championship the past decade and having two potential Olympic horses, Gerco Schröder obviously doesn’t want to miss the Olympic Games: “We will keep on fighting for a spot in the team,” Gerco smiles.
Text © Peter van der Waaij // Pictures © Jenny Abrahamsson
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