by Iva Boes
Seeing Franke Sloothaak – a man we are used to see in the spotlight – as a background player is a little unusual, although his new role definitely suits him. Always extremely polite, and with a smile across his lips – a small talk with a groom here, a quick advice to a parent of a riding child there or just telling a joke to fellow riders. Known as one of the best riders in the world, Franke is so natural and normal that you get the feeling it can't be realistic! Some kind of extra introduction is not necessary; his name tells you enough – Franke is one of those living legends. We met him during the CSI**-W in Slovenian Celje, where he is training and managing the riders from the Team “New Sport“.
How did you come to the decision to stop with riding shows – at least for the moment?
Actually, it happened by accident but in a way it also was a bit planned. Already for some time I have been playing with the thought to step down slowly from the show circuit. To say it plain and honest, when you want to play a role in the top sport, you need a strong back up – financially as well as in management. As I'm being my own boss and have to manage everything by myself, it was at one point not possible any more.
Is there a special reason why you are training mainly in the Eastern European countries and not for example in Germany or the Netherlands?
For quite some time I have had very good contacts in that direction, for example through Vladimir Beletsky and Vladimir Tuganov – and I made some nice experiences. It went all very correctly and to say it honestly just like it is – the pay is very good. You know, you have to stay realistic, although personally I'm idealist who lives as to how I feel – but at one point in your life you have to think about your “pension“ and some extras for “the rainy days“!
Explain us, please, a bit closer about your duties nowadays.
Mr. Pavel Katuschyn from the company “New Sport“ made a contract with me and bought me accommodation which became, so to say, the “headquarters“. In total we have about 60 horses, but only 35-40 constantly in training. Then there are approximately some 10 riders from Belarus, Lithuania and Russia which I train with. My primary duty is to train riders and horses at home and help them out at the shows. But I also still ride quite a few horses myself every day in order to correct them or help solve a problem.
Do you find that your new position as a trainer also means a new beginning in your career?
I wouldn't call it a new beginning, because I'm giving lessons since I was a 15-year-old. I worked already with some top riders of today [Carsten-Otto Nagel, Alois Pollmann-Schweckhorst, Edouard Couperie, Rolf-Göran Bengsston, Malin Bayard-Johnsson], and have traveled to quite a few countries [Finland, Sweden, Japan, Russia] just to mention a few. It is something that I have been doing for all my life already. The only difference now is that I'm working exclusively for one person.
What are your expectations and/or goals?
Let me say it like this; we have surprisingly overreached our expectations already – but to keep up that level and continue to develop will not be so easy. We started off at a 2* CSI level and showed some constant performance. Now we are ready to go a step further and do the same at the 3-5* level and confirm our possibilities. So, our next goal would be to keep those performances at the 5* level to enable us to come even further.
How does it feel being at the shows as a trainer and a manager, and not as a competitor?
Honestly, worse than when I had to ride myself! Don't get me wrong, I'm really involved in it with all my heart and soul – meaning that I celebrate, but also suffer together with them. Exactly that is what makes it more difficult as opposed to when I rode myself. I get really happy when I see the smallest improvement, but I'm still staying there when it doesn’t work out like expected. I put all of my motivation in it, because when I do something, I do it with passion and perfection.
How does your working day look nowadays as a trainer?
Quite relaxed! In the morning I go to the stables to do the training, and when that is finished I can drive home without breaking my head over whether or not this or that should still need to be done. It sounds almost like an office job, or!?!
In your opinion, what makes a good trainer out and how would you describe him?
As very first thing, a good trainer has to have knowledge about how a horse should be and what the riders are capable of. You have to be able to explain a lot, and in a lot of different ways and from different points of view. However, another very important thing is to have a specified goal, because that is the only possibility to develop in the right direction. I would say a good trainer has to be able to act like a good teacher.
What is for you the most important thing to pay attention to with riding?
Seat, seat and one more time seat. That is the most important thing of all. Without a good seat you have no balance and without balance you get no good jump. You always have to take care about the small and simple things, and beware that from the moment that you skip a step in a chain you will get punished for it in some way later on. Every rider has to be disciplined enough to correct himself in those “small and simple“ things again and again each and every day.
How much teaching in “horsemanship“ do you have to give your students?
It depends a lot where you are at that moment. There are countries and people who have such a long tradition with horses and where horses play a big part in their culture and in their national heritage. And then you have those who have to learn all around and about horses from the beginning. It is really a “cultural matter“. For me personally, it is always a new challenge to get to know these new aspects and views, to comprehend and work them out.
Can money replace normal or bad riding?
Money can do a lot but not all! First of all, there has to be some kind of wish and willingness. On the other hand, without money you can't buy good horses, you can't pay a good trainer and so, you can't learn to ride well.
To come a bit back to you as a private person; do you see your competitive riding now more as a hobby than as a profession?
I had the luck to make my hobby become my profession. But it is even more like a life philosophy, a dedication. What you should never forget is: no matter what you do, it has to be fun.
Have you developed some new hobbies during your career?
Not really, no. I still play golf whenever I have time, but I also like to read a book or play cards. When I have the opportunity to have an interesting conversation or discussion, I'm all for it.
How you define relaxation?
When I can hear the inside of me and be satisfied with myself.
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