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Abdel Said – A sympathetic success story: “My plan was always to work hard”

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Photo (c) World of Showjumping World of Showjumping met Abdel Said at home at his new yard in Herentals, Belgium. Photos (c) World of Showjumping

It feels like he’s been around for ever, yet he’s only 28 years of age. No wonder maybe, as Abdel Said came from Egypt to the Netherlands to train and compete already as a small boy aged 11. Seventeen years later, Said runs his own business – successfully so – and celebrates twelve months in his own stables in Herentals, Belgium together with his wife Sanny.

There is a lot that has been achieved in Abdel’s life since he arrived at Emile Hendrix’s yard all those years ago. He’s shy to admit it though, because ambitious as he is Abdel is constantly busy setting new goals for himself – all the time aiming to do things better. “I think we have a very, very good team here – my staff, owners, clients, people who support us and of course my wife Sanny. I think that made this all possible,” Abdel credits when asked about how he managed to get where he is today.

“It’s very simple,” he continues. “My plan was always to work hard, and to keep improving. The toughest part of it all was probably when it wasn’t getting to where I wanted it at that moment when I wished for it so bad. Then, when you have to keep trying and keep pushing, that is probably the toughest part. When you don’t see that for sure you will make it, that is difficult. But, looking back down that road – the only advice I could give to someone else is just keep on working hard. You make your own luck. If you don’t keep at it, you’ll never be lucky,” Abdel smiles.

Abdel and his wife Sanny has been in the surrounding area to Antwerp for a while, and liked it so much they decided to settle down there. “We were looking, looking, looking and it is so hard to find a ready place and it is also very hard to get a permission to build any new equestrian facility around Antwerp. I had looked at the place here before, and then two years later we came back to it and we managed to get to a good agreement with Axel Verlooy who owned it and here we are two years later!” Abdel says.

“We did not want to do it step by step here, we went all in,” he laughs about his yard that needed quite a bit of a facelift. “We were in between two locations while we were working on the place here, I had my horses first at Harrie Theeuwes’ stables and then in Laakdal for the winter – so I went back and forwards working between the two places.,” Abdel explains about the hectic months of making everything ready to move in. 

As Abdel at the same time was busy with his own sports career and business, his wife Sanny kept a close eye on all the works on the building. “It was hard, I had really no idea what I was getting into – but now I am happy I did it and was here every day of the process. I know the place inside out and how everything works,” she says.

“It is a lot of responsibility to have your own place, with a lot of staff employed and people relying on you – but it is all worth it. I wanted a place to do high-end business and high-end sport, that was my target with buying this stable. It is not my aim to have a huge trading stable, but I want to have a business model similar to that of Cian O’Connor, Kent Farrington and Laura Kraut to mention some of those that I admire,” Abdel tells.

Photo (c) World of Showjumping "I think he is very special to be honest," Abdel tells about the 8-year-old Jumpy van de Hermitage.

Now Abdel’s days are busier than ever before with a combination of top sport, training his five students that are stabled in Herentals as well as taking care of the horse trading. “When I’m done with riding and training for the day, I try to go on the road – not every day of course… Some days people come here to bring their horses to show, and it is so much easier for me. Then during an afternoon, I can see four-five horses. In that way, the facility has really helped me to create new opportunities.”

“I have a very good team, otherwise it would not work like this,” Abdel smiles. “But, I have also worked very hard on structuring it well – to make it possible to combine everything. That means having good people around me to help me do all my jobs – like Philippe de Balanda who is helping me to train the students here if needed, or to help filling in at the shows as well as scouting for horses. The same goes for my rider Sam Hutton,” Abdel says. “There is a lot of planning that goes into it though. We make long-term plans, now we have one until the end of March: Everybody knows where they are going with which horses.”

“I really like the teaching part of it, it is a lot of fun,” Abdel tells.  “I enjoy the whole package though, I guess if I was employed somewhere it would maybe be different – but here it is all under our roof. If one of our clients goes and wins a class, if Sam does it or I do it – it does not matter. It all reflects on AS Sporthorses, it is our shared success. I am passionate about all parts and departments here, not one more than others – and that is maybe what makes us successful,” Abdel tells.

“I also think it helps that we know a lot more about what we need to do now, we know what is expected. We have more experience than a few years ago, and that makes it easier. At this point it is about pushing: I have high goals in the sport for myself, and also for my students to get better and reach where they want to be,” Abdel says. “And even though it is a lot to do, I enjoy it and then there is also not the feeling that it is too much!”

“To find good horses for top riders gives me as much satisfaction as finding them for myself,” Abdel tells about his involvement on the horse market. “When I see Cian with Good Luck jumping to team gold at the Europeans Championships, it gives me the same goose bumps as if I win a five-star Grand Prix myself. Or seeing Nicole Walker doing well with a horse I helped Cian source for her, it is a great feeling. It is a different kind of success, but I enjoy that part very much as well. I really like the part of matching a rider and a horse up, of course you never know for sure that it will work – but together with Philippe and Sam I try to do my homework as good as possible. When it is a match it gives me a lot of satisfaction,” Abdel says.

“I have learned a lot about the American market over the last two years, and that has also been very important for me to find out what the clients there want. After all, the American market is the biggest one. And how can I call myself a horse dealer if I don’t know the clients’ needs? I invested a lot of time and money in learning, so I went two years in a row to the US and watched from the big ring to the hunter rings and tried to understand what they are looking for. I tried to educate myself as much as possible,” Abdel explains.

Photo (c) World of Showjumping "I wanted a place to do high-end business and high-end sport, that was my target with buying this stable," says Abdel about his new yard.

“I like horses that fit in a category,” Abdel says when detailing what he is looking for. “Well, my top horse Hope doesn’t – or at least she didn’t when I bought her – but that was just pure luck!” he laughs. “When I go to look at horses, they need to fit into one of my categories to be a sellable horse. If I’m looking for horses for the bigger sport, then their instinct and brain is the most important for example. Obviously, talent and power as well. But, I am willing to sacrifice on talent as long as the horses have the brains and the will to do things. But, if you are looking for pure trade – I don’t go imagining. I don’t mind doing that if it is my own money, because I know what I can do and I know what I cannot do. But, if you are looking for sale horses you cannot go to the client and say ‘You have to imagine this, this, this, this and this’ – you need to have a horse that fills a certain criteria, that ticks off all their boxes. Looking for horses for myself however, I don’t mind being a bit more creative and hope for the best,” Abdel laughs.

And, with his best horse Hope van Scherpen Donder – a quite feisty mare to say the least – Abdel did the latter. “As complicated as she looks, she is very simple,” Abdel laughs when speaking about the mare he won the World Cup in Verona on last year. “You just have to leave her the way she is. She is not a horse that needs a lot of jumping or training at home, of course she has to stay fit but I have come to the conclusion that I have to leave her the way she is. If I sit on her an hour every day at home trying to do dressage moves it is not going to work, she will just put me off or dig a hole in the indoor. She goes a lot on the longe, and does a lot of fitness work. She is the one that wins the most in the stables, but I also had her the longest. That is usually the hardest part for me – to keep them. Look at California, once she started to do well in the big classes then the clients come and of course they have priority otherwise I don’t have a business,” he smiles.

Selling California was not easy, but as with everything else Abdel choses to see it in a positive way. “It was a double feeling,” he tells. “It was a success from one side, and I really enjoy seeing California doing well with Edwina. On the other hand, as a sportsman – at that stage when she was just starting to blossom – you say to yourself ‘What if I had kept her one more year?’ Then again, she was sold at the end of October last year and two weeks later Hope won the World Cup in Verona. So, that made the pain a bit easier,” Abdel laughs. “Overall though, I see it as success more than anything – despite being a touch disappointed I could not keep her longer. But, what can you say – I also like being involved in a big sale like that. It is amazing as well, and I consider myself lucky to have been part of a deal like that.”

When one chapter closes another one opens, and the sale of California made it possible for Abdel to invest in new talent. “Now, I think I have the best string of horses I ever had with horses like Jumpy, Jackson, Itchy, Hope, Venise and Callisto,” he says. “And, I need that with the Global Champions Tour-season coming up next year as well as the World Equestrian Games. I cannot jump on my own feet, So I’m trying to keep some of my horses a bit longer now,” he explains.

As for the 8-year-old Jumpy van de Hermitage, Abdel has particularly high expectations. “I am aiming him for the World Equestrian Games next year. One of the people who scouts for me saw him while I was in Florida last winter, so Sam went to try him. After, Sam called me and said ‘Listen, nice horse but hard to say how competitive he is – he is quite big and weak’. I watched the video, and I thought he had the potential to jump the big sport very quickly. I came back and tried him, and bought him. And, I think he is very special to be honest – he jumped so easy around the World Cup in Verona, and was also clear in one of the big classes in Rome,” Abdel tells about the gelding. 

Photo (c) World of Showjumping "What worked for me is that I bought younger horses, I found people to invest with me, I produced them, sold them – and then it started to roll," Abdel said about how he has build up his business.

A lot of people have been important on the journey that has brought Abdel to where he is today, and he quickly points out some of the most influential ones when asked. “There are many people I could mention, but I have a lot of respect for Emile Hendrix – he put the basics on me initially and of course I am close with the whole family and their kids. They helped me and still do, I could always call them if I needed advice – which was a nice feeling to have,” Abdel says. “I always looked up to my parents as well. They sacrificed a lot to move here when I was 11 and pay the expenses – not many parents just do that,” he continues.

“More recently, I have learned a lot from Cian O’Connor – both as a rider and as a manager. If you look at his strike rate over the years, it is quite impressive. I think we have been good both ways towards each other,” Abdel says about his close partnership with the Irish rider.

“Laura Kraut is also someone who has been very supportive towards me, and I am very grateful towards her and the Heise-family for what they do for me. She gave me the chance to be on a Global Champions League team last season, and although the deal initially was that it included California Laura still kept me on after the sale. And that probably pushed me a lot, being on that team – I did not want to disappoint them. So, I invested in Jackson and Jumpy – maybe more than I normally would, but I needed the horse power. And that again opened other doors for me too, and for this I am very grateful and I am happy to be a part of that team also next year. There are not so many people to genuinely help anymore, but Laura is like that,” Abdel says.

In addition to hard work and having the right people around him, staying patient has also helped Abdel reach his goals. “At one point of my career, I looked at my colleagues and I asked myself how they were succeeding? I was in the same generation as William Whitaker and Maikel van der Vleuten for example, and at some stage those guys really passed me – and it was really hard at first. So, I sat back and asked myself why they were ten steps ahead of me – it was hard to accept, even though we were good friends. In the end, I accepted that it just takes time – you have to be patient. Of course, you cannot just sit and wait wasting time. What worked for me is that I bought younger horses, I found people to invest with me, I produced them, sold them – and then it started to roll. Then I got lucky, I found Hope and California and one thing led to the next,” Abdel says.

For Abdel, this is just the beginning though. “I would love to improve every sector,” he says about his goals for next year. “I would love to keep moving up the ranks, I want to have good results for my Rome Gladiators GCL-team next year. I will focus on the Globals as preparation for the World Equestrian Games, that is my sportive objective for 2018. Then, getting there is one thing – after you have to maintain it. So, I will stay clear in my vision and keep working hard. That is all there is too it!”

And after a long and stressful day, how does he stay clear in his vision? “Then I rewind with our little breeding adventure. My former top mare Sky High has had a few foals, and her oldest are six now – by Diamant de Semilly and Nabab de Reve. I also have a few young ones by Vingino and Aganix de Seigneur. So, if I have had a long day I just go next door to free jump the youngsters in the indoor. That clears my mind!” Abdel laughs.


Text and pictures © World of Showjumping by Jannicke Naustdal

No reproduction without permission

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