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WoSJ Exclusive; Rob Ehrens – on European candidates, the Top League and a call for change

Monday, 25 July 2011

A part of the Dutch formula for success; Rob Ehrens. All photos by Jenny Abrahamsson.The Dutch showjumping team has been on fire lately, and has won the Top League legs in Rome, St. Gallen and Aachen bringing them to number one position in the league. WoSJ sat down with the man behind the Dutch success; chef d’equipe Rob Ehrens. “Our start in the Top League this year was good, actually it’s the best we have ever had,” Rob smiles. “It’s the first time in seven years that we have had such a good start, and it feels good because we have always had to fight hard to stay in the league. I have always tried to plan on a good start at the first leg in La Baule, but it’s never really happened. This year we did ok in La Baule, and after that leg we have done really well,” Ehrens continues.

You seem to have a lot more horses and riders to choose from this year compared to 2010, how has that affected your results?

“The problem for most countries when it comes to staying in the Top League refers to the fact that they don’t have enough horses to choose from. We have a lot more horses and riders that we can use this year, but there are still some horses that we have to manage without. My plan was for example to include O’Brien in the team, but he got injured and then we had Ben Schröder’s Unaniem that was sold as well as Vincent Voorn’s Alpapillon Armanie sustaining a small injury in Falsterbo. Luckily we still have several good horses to choose from,” the Dutch chef d’equipe smiles.

Gerco Schröder could be a candidate for the Dutch team at the Europeans.“The results are also affected by the management of the horses, which can be quite difficult, as the riders have both the Top League and the Global Champions Tour to consider – the latter offering a lot of prize money. Every show comes so close; like first with Rome and St. Gallen straight after each other, then Falsterbo and Aachen two weekends in a row and then we go straight from Hickstead to Dublin,” Rob says pointing out that he is lucky that the riders are prioritizing to ride on the Dutch team in the Nations Cup’s.

Several of the Dutch riders have pointed out that one of your team’s strength is the team spirit. How do you feel about that?

“I think that is true. For me it’s really important to hold the team together. My main job is to make team players out of individuals, and for that you need team spirit,” Rob says.

What is the main goal for the Dutch team this season?

“Straight after the WEG in Kentucky we started to work on our goal for 2011, which is to qualify for the Olympics during the Europeans in Madrid. That’s the main thing for us this year, but it’s going to be difficult. Just look back on the WEG; we had one miserable day there and then we were gone. We must not forget that teams such as Sweden and Switzerland are in really good shape at the moment, and they have not qualified either. Whether we qualify or not will depend on that one week in Madrid,” Rob explains.

“To qualify for the Olympics is important for a lot of countries. We have only two chances to do that; one of them being at the WEG last year, the second is in Madrid this year. Other countries get more chances, also when it comes to their individual riders. I’m not too happy about that system and the current rules for qualification,” Rob points out.

A contributor to the Dutch success in 2011; Jeroen Dubbeldam on BMC Van Grunsven Simon. Which riders look as the strongest candidates for the Europeans?

“Gerco, Jeroen and Eric have been really good all season, but it’s still too early to say,” Rob says secretively. “Then we have Jur who have also been good, even though he had a bad day in Aachen. The best can also have days like that!”

“When it comes to Maikel and Verdi they have been doing really well this season, with only clears for the Dutch team – counting out that one time penalty in Falsterbo. But I need to protect good and new combinations like that, and not just put them on the team because I want good results right here and now. So I want to be careful with Maikel and Verdi, but I don’t exclude them from the championship – you never know,” he smiles.

So, what about the Top League then?

“We are not aiming to win the Top League; the important thing for us is Madrid. The teams for Hickstead and Dublin are already picked. It will be Leon Thijssen and Tyson, Wout-Jan van der Schans and Eurocommerce Seoul, Piet Raijmakers Jr. and Van Schijndel’s Rascin and Gert-Jan Bruggink and Wings who will travel to Hickstead, accompanied by one of the riders from our talent team; Anniek Poels with Asteria . It’s nice to give the young and talented ones the opportunity to compete at this level as well,” Ehrens smiles. “In Dublin Leopold van Asten and VDL Groep Santana will join in.”

The veteran Eric van der Vleuten is for sure one of the hottest candidates for Madrid. How tough do you think the Top League has become?

“Well, it’s not a good thing when the strong countries fall out of the Top League, or from the championships for that matter. Imagine a championship without the German team; that wouldn’t be good for the sport. My opinion when it comes to the Top League is that the FEI needs to raise the level in the Promotional League, and bring that league to a higher level. Maybe it would be better with less Promotional League shows, but then again make sure that the shows are of a good quality – with good courses and surfaces,” Rob points out. “I would also like to see that the team in the Top League that is in rank seven after the league has finished – and in regards to the current rules relegated – fight against the Promotional Teams in the final in Barcelona to keep their place. Whoever wins in Barcelona gets to compete in the Top League and I think that the seventh ranked Top League team should be allowed to take a part in that final to defend their place,” Ehrens says of the rules he believes must be changed. “Everything in the Top League equals top conditions; the surfaces and courses are first class. The step up from the Promotional League can’t be as big as it is right now.”

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