Christian Ahlmann has been forced to deal with rough sea. But instead of throwing the oars away, Christian found a way to ride the waves. And as everybody knows; what doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger. That was just what Ahlmann showed everybody last year. First he returned to the German A-team after over three years absence, and then in April he won the Rolex FEI World Cup title on Taloubet Z. In October Ahlmann witnessed CAS throwing the Osaka Rule in the bin, bringing him back in the Olympic contest. WoSJ sat down to talk with Christian about his ups and downs, how he has fought his way back, the support that he found in those closest to him – and of course his winning ways, Taloubet Z, the Olympics 2012 and forthcoming fatherhood.
We don’t go there immediately with Christian, but let’s start this story with the hardest part. At the Olympics in Hong Kong in 2008 Ahlmann’s horse Cöster tested positive on the banned substance Capsaicin, and Christian was suspended from the Games. “What happened in Hong Kong, I have to take responsibility for. But how it developed afterwards; that was not my fault,” Christian says of how the German Equestrian Federation decided to appeal the FEI tribunal’s decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) and asked them to double the competition ban towards Ahlmann. The federation considered Ahlmann to have committed a doping violation rather than a medication rule violation, which again requested a far severe reaction than the one Ahlmann got from the FEI. As the other riders that had horses testing positive for Capsaicin had their cases treated as medication violations, it’s understandable that Ahlmann felt harshly treated by his own federation. “I was struck off the German A-team list for two years, there were hearings in the FEI Tribunal, a court case in CAS – it was a really hard time for me. And after the hearings and the court case it all came up again and again. Luckily, life has moved on me,” Ahlmann says seriously of some of the hardest years of his life.
So, how come Christian decided to go back on the German team after all this? “Well first of all, I stayed off the team for another year after my suspension. I didn’t want to go back at that time. Then I was asked to come back. I had a few meetings with Otto Becker [German Chef d’Equipe] where we talked a lot and openly together about what had happened. I started to think that I couldn’t stay angry for ever – it doesn’t do any good,” Christian says. “Then I also considered all the people who had supported me through these rough years; all the people who work for me and my sponsors who stood behind me – and I thought that me returning to the team would be a good result for them as well. Now it’s a good situation for all of us, and I’m very happy about that as times have been so rough not only for me but everybody around me,” the German rider says of the past and the present.
And Christian made his team proud; four months after his return he won the World Cup title on home soil in Leipzig on Taloubet Z. Talk about bouncing back. “Winning in Leipzig was great! Taloubet is made for shows like that. He is a strong horse, and normally he never gets tired – he can jump for seven days in a row and still be fresh. There is no distance or fence where I’m worried that he can’t do it. There is normally no situation that he is not able to handle,” Christian explains of the Galoubet-stallion.
While we are on the subject of Taloubet, we ask Christian to tell us more about his famous partner. “I’ve had him for three years now. Judy-Ann [Christian’s girlfriend] rode him before me. I was actually training her, and helping her out with Taloubet – but it wasn’t really working with the two of them and I took him on for a few weeks to help her out. But it worked so well between Taloubet and me, so he stayed on,” Christian smiles. “The special thing about Taloubet is probably his power! He has a bit of a flat canter, and I often have to put in a stride more than the other riders. But Taloubet can jump from power only; it doesn’t matter if the fence comes right out of the corner and he has no canter. The only problem is that sometimes the power goes straight forward, and not up,” Christian laughs. “So, I have to get it right!”
“Everything went really fast with Taloubet in the beginning, maybe a bit too fast,” Christian says. “The first year he went from jumping a few 1.30 classes to winning a Grand Prix in Hannover. So I had to take a few steps backwards with him after that and build him up again for a second time, he explains. “Taloubet also led me to start working with Zangersheide. When I finished my contract with Sprehe I moved on – and here we are.”
Christian still has his base at his family’s yard in Marl in Germany, but travels to Lanaken once a week to train. Christian and Judy-Ann live together in Germany, but Judy-Ann’s base is in Lanaken. “We’ll see how this works when we have the baby in August,” Christian smiles knowing that a few things might be changed when an addition to the family arrives.
“My yard at home has just gotten better and better over the last years and I really like it there; now we have two indoor schools and great outdoor training facilities as well. Everything is nice and new! We have about 80 horses; 40 of them are competition horses from the age of four and upwards. I have a few riders employed; one of them is Judith Emmers. She mainly rides the younger horses, but we also have three to four horses for the bigger classes for her,” Christian lets us know. “We also breed a lot, so there are many youngsters around,” the 37 year old adds. “My sponsor for the last 12-13 years has been Marion Jauß, and she has been of great support to me!”
At home in Christian’s stable is another super star; Codex One. The stallion hit it big time last year, and won the Grand Prix classes in Nörten-Hardenberg and Frankfurt. When we describe Codex One as Christian’s second horse, he quickly replies that they are A and B, not 1 and 2 – something that says a lot about how high Christian rates this horse. “Codex One was a lot easier from the beginning than Taloubet. The feeling that Codex One gives me is that he can jump everything – really easy. It doesn’t matter if we are outside, inside, if there is water, grass or sand. It went quick from the beginning with him; we started off in a 1.40 in Mannheim, then we went to Linz where he was clear and then it was Nörten-Hardenberg where he won twice. There are no problems with him, he is just so easy to handle.”
“I’m lucky to have two top horses, and I will aim both of them for the Olympics. Codex One will still have to show a little more though, so he’ll go to Doha and then to Lummen after the break that he has had. Taloubet on the other hand has showed a lot already, so I can go a bit easier on him,” Ahlmann explains of his plans towards London.
But before London comes up it’s the World Cup final in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, and when we ask him about his plans Christian replies smiling; “I’ll try to take a double. If Taloubet is in the perfect shape and has the right weekend, it could happen! He’s had a long breeding season now – about five months, and after that he usually does not jump so good and needs a few classes to get going again. At the first show I went to with him in January, he did not jump one clear round,” Christian laughs. “But then on the next show he had three down in the first class, and then he jumped clear in the next. It’s hard to believe it’s the same horse when I start him up again after the breeding season, but give him a few rounds and he’s back to his usual self!”
And when Taloubet is his usual self, he and Christian can be very, very dangerous competitors. Watch out ‘s-Hertogenbosch!
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