"I never refer to any of my horses as my number one horse," Marcus Ehning replies as we sit around the kitchen table at his family's yard in Borken. We have just asked him about his amazing grey stallion Cornado NRW, and what has made him the leading horse in Ehning's stable. "The whole package is quite important," Marcus states firmly – unwilling to let any horse in his stable play a more important role than another. "You need to have a string of horses that give you options, and that you can swap around for the different classes at the shows. So if one horse doesn't feel good, you can use another one – managing them in the best way possible and making them support each other."
And we guess that Ehning knows what he is talking about. As one of the most admired riders in the world by showjumping enthusiast, amateurs and professionals alike – he is frequently referred to as all groups' favourite jockey to watch in the ring – Marcus Ehning has done it all. He is three times World Cup Champion, has team gold medals from the Olympics, World Equestrian Games and the Europeans – and his list of Grand Prix wins goes on and on. The proof of his success – and also that of his brother Johannes – is spread out in the kitchen in Borken. The medals are hanging en mass over the entrance, and on the walls surrounding the table we look up at countless trophies collected by the Ehning-brothers over the years. Marcus is not into talking about his successes though, and when we want the answer to the highlight of his career – it almost needs to be dragged out of him. "The Olympic Games in Sydney," he finally replies. "We were there for six weeks. And then to get a gold medal; it doesn't get better than that!" Ehning will never be the man of big words, and he will never talk your head full either.
When we last spoke with Ehning – for interview-purposes that is – he was out of the Top 10, after starting up as rank two at the beginning of the same year. Asking him how he would make it back to the top, Marcus shrugged his shoulders and said "I'm going to produce the same results as in 2010" pointing out to us that "when things are not just right it's important to not change them too much." His words always stayed with us, and although a lot has changed since that day in December 2011 – with new horses coming, horses going, horses retiring – Marcus' did what he said he would do, and now he is ranked nr. four in the world and he heads for the World Cup Final in Lyon with two big wins up his sleeves from the last months as he won the World Cup in Bordeaux and the Grand Prix in Paris.
And Marcus' winning partner was no other than the extremely gifted Cornado NRW. The pair's performance in Bordeaux left us speechless, it was almost unworldly to watch the two around the jump-off – it was not like they were racing against the clock, it was more like floating around and we were left with a sensation that we just witnessed something very special. A month later they did the same again, this time in Paris. "Cornado has quality, scope and his way of jumping is incredible. He really is an amazing jumper," Marcus replies on what makes this horse stand out in the ring. "He really is a horse for the future."
It's all about finding the right balance with Cornado though – as Marcus puts it; "He is a stallion, and he is a fresh stallion." And he always was, Ehning explains; "I got him when he was nine, but back then he was a bit too fresh and over-motivated, and I really had to work on getting him more under control and more relaxed." At home Marcus focuses on Cornado's well-being, and explains that this is not a horse to train a lot at home; "When he is at home it is more about getting him out several times a day, turn him out in the field – so that he gets relaxed."
There are more talents in the stable as well, so it all looks pretty good for Ehning at the moment. There are two eight year old ones that both look like super stars in the making. The stallion Singular LS La Silla by Chapultec La Silla – owned by Sweden's Maria Gretzer – is described by his rider as "a beautiful type, brave, scopey – with a very strong character." "You need to get him on your side, he knows what he wants," Marcus adds of his future hope. Then there is Again du Toultia owned by Fabien Schreiber, who also owned Marcus' former top ride Copin van de Broy. The stallion by Mr. Blue – the same stallion who sired Plot Blue – recently joined Marcus, and is an exciting new ride for the 2014-season. In addition there is the home bred nine year old Funky Fred by For Pleasure and out of Marcus' mare Panama – already a regular sight on the international scene – and Comme il faut, another horses with famous blood lines out of Ratina Z and by Cornet Obolensky.
Then there are the older and more well-known horses like Sabrina and Plot Blue, which still play a very important part of the team. Although seventeen, Marcus says that Plot is in the form of his life. "Last year he was in his best form ever. So far this year he has been placed in all his Grand Prix classes and was second in the World Cup in Gothenburg, so I am very happy with him. Plot is a very complete horse; with him it doesn't matter how big it is or how difficult it is – as long as he is in a good form he will do anything!" With horses like this it feels a little like showjumping's hall of fame in Ehning's stable at the moment.
There might be a lot of fame attached to Marcus and his horses, but in the kitchen in Borken this is quickly forgotten. It's a real family feeling as we sit around the table in the house where Marcus grew up – and which now houses the entire staff for warm and home-made lunch every day. It's the comforting sound of food being prepared, chatter around the table where the grooms have sat down to eat, and then of course Marcus and his wife Nadia's kids want their papa's attention as well chatting away while they sit on their father's lap.
It's all very relaxed. Exactly as it is in the stable. "I try to keep them relaxed and happy," Ehning says when asked about how he trains his horses at home. "I do more dressage at home than jumping. And I try to keep it as natural as possible for the horses here, also for the stallions – it is important for their minds."
Looking at Marcus ride – and at all his different horses over the years, one thing that strikes us is that it all looks quite familiar. No matter which horse he is on, Marcus Ehning rides like Marcus Ehning – and sometimes we even think that his horses remind us of each other. Does he have one system for all his horses we ask? "I have one system but I ride them differently. The system is: They all get their food at 7.00, 12.30 and 17.00, they all go in the walker, they all go in the field, and they are all ridden or longed once per day," Marcus replies wittingly making us laugh. "Of course, the way I ride them looks a bit the same, but I train them individually and according to what each horse needs. You have to ride them all different."
Marcus is keeping himself busy, not only with his riding – but also coaching some of the biggest showjumping talents in the world. Training with him is Reed Kessler – also based at his yard through much of the year – Bertram Allen who lives a short drive away, Douglas Lindelöw and Denise Schulz. "It's interesting – and it's something different," Marcus says about coaching these young riders. "They are all very talented, which of course makes my job easier."
Ehning's next stop will be the World Cup Final in Lyon. There he could be the first rider in history to claim the title for the fourth time. Of course, in true Ehning-style, this is not a topic at all. Marcus is more concerned about the fact that the three days of competing in Lyon will be a good test for Cornado. So our follow-up question is of course whether the thoughts on his mind are linking Cornado and the World Equestrian Games in Normandy together. Marcus looks at us, sighs heavily – "It's in September..." clearly pointing out that we think too far ahead at this point. "Let's put it like this. My goal is like every year: To do my best – and get on the team."
For Marcus Ehning action definitely speaks louder than words.
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