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Andreas Schou: “Taking a step back at the right time will pay off in the long run”

Tuesday, 22 November 2022
Interview

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for WoSJ.
Andreas Schou – who runs Absolute Horses in Kolding, Denmark, together with his brother Christian – has an impressive championship record: The 36-year-old is not only an Olympian, but he has also taken part at seven European Championships and two World Championships – always with horses produced by him and his team at Absolute Horses. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

 

Andreas Schou – who runs Absolute Horses in Kolding, Denmark, together with his brother Christian – has an impressive championship record: The 36-year-old is not only an Olympian, but he has also taken part at seven European Championships and two World Championships – always with horses produced by him and his team at Absolute Horses. Schou is currently ranked 33rd on the Longines Ranking – his highest position ever – and has during the 2022-season made himself a regular on the five-star scene. To World of Showjumping, Schou tells about the time and patience it takes to produce young horses all the way to the top and how, sometimes, one step back really takes you two steps forward.

“After years of producing horses and always selling them as they have reached top level, I enjoy finally being able to keep a few good ones and really be a part of the top sport – not only for a few weeks during the year, but regularly,” Schou says. “I enjoy competing amongst the best.”

Stepping up

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for WoSJ.
“After years of producing horses and always selling them as they have reached top level, I enjoy finally being able to keep a few good ones and really be a part of the top sport – not only for a few weeks during the year, but regularly,” Schou says. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

At the 2022-edition of CSI5*-W Longines Equita Lyon, Schou had a great weekend: In Friday’s Longines Grand Prix, he and the 11-year-old gelding Independent (Diamant de Revel x Careful, bred by Lotta West) placed fourth, and with the 11-year-old stallion Darc de Lux (Darco x Contender, bred by Morten Augustin) he finished fifth in Sunday’s Longines FEI World Cup.

Both of the horses have been produced by Schou and his team at Absolute Horses since they were young and the 11-year-old Independent is bred by Schou’s mother-in-law Lotta West. “Independent is by Diamant de Revel, a stallion we used to have ourselves before selling him to the States, which makes it even more special,” Schou explains. “Independent was with a young horse rider in Sweden until he was five, then he came to us, and my wife Jannike produced him up to two-star Grand Prix level. I took over the reins in 2020 and stepped him up a level – and he has developed really quick.”

Paris is for sure a huge goal; I believe I have the right horsepower

“Darc is bred in Denmark and we discovered him at a training show as a five-year-old,” Schou continues. “After a one-week trial, we bought him and it has been the same story as with Independent; my wife Jannike produced him until he jumped at two-star Grand Prix level and I took over the reins the year he turned eight. It is a huge joy to have them both going so well now – for all of us. We always knew these two were good, and especially Darc has shown huge potential. He has always been very careful, so we took our time with him and did not push it. When he turned ten, we have started to ask a little bit more of him and he has quickly developed into a horse that is not only careful but also competitive. Until he was nine, he was rather slow even though he jumped clear most of the time. Now he can win, and I can go for it in a jump-off. Independent was also a bit of a late bloomer. He was always scopey, but a bit stiff in his body and therefore we wanted to make sure he was strong enough before we stepped him up in the classes – and I believe that has been paying off the last two years. We did not put any pressure on either of them too early.”

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for WoSJ.
“Darc is for sure the best horse I have ever had,” Schou tells about the 11-year-old stallion Darc de Lux that was his partner for the Tokyo Olympics. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

“Darc is for sure the best horse I have ever had,” he continues. “I have been fortunate to have many nice horses during my career, but he is the most consistent I have had. There are not many rounds where he would have two down, he is most of the time clear and if he has a bad day, he might have one down. He is not a horse you have to push to do well, it all comes easy for him. With the confidence he got through his education, he believes in himself. He is really a special horse for me.”

“Before Oslo and Lyon, we were actually not sure how they would perform indoors, so I am really happy with how it turned out,” Schou tells about the beginning of the indoor season. “They are both big horses and they coped really well. Because of the way we produce our horses – we often go to the different tours in Spain and Portugal – our horses are not used to jumping indoors. Independent did his first indoor show in Oslo two weeks before Lyon, and placed fourth in the Grand Prix there. Lyon has a big, nice, arena which suited both of them really well.”

Absolute Horses

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for WoSJ.
Absolute Horses is a true family business, where Andreas' brother Christian also is a driving force. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

“We produce the horses we have for the sport, and at the same time we try to sell a nice number of both high-end and middle-end horses,” Schou tells about the operation at Absolute Horses – a true family business, where his brother Christian is a driving force. “Right now, we have 130 horses, mainly from the age of four to ten – Darc and Independent being the oldest horses we have. We keep our horses spread out at different stables – at nice places where they are with people we know can educate them well, and at home we have 2-3 riders as well. Every year, we make a selection of which horses are for sale and which ones we want to keep longer. When the horses turn nine, we usually sell and only keep a selected few for ourselves.”

I believe patience really pays off

Schou’s wife Jannike West-Schou is another key part of the team, and has produced all of his current top horses. “I am really privileged to work alongside a rider like her who knows what it takes to produce a top horse; it is all about giving them time,” he says. “This working period as a young horse is so important, and I believe patience really pays off. For years now, we have produced horses that have gone on to jump for the Danish team, horses for the biggest championships – it is a nice testimony to our work. We have produced horses like Chalisco (Chacco-Blue x Quidam de Revel) and A-Girl (A-Dur I x Careful), and it is first now that we try to keep a few for a bit longer. Before, when they reached the top level, we would always sell.”

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for WoSJ.
“As a rider, you need the right people around you and I feel incredibly lucky to have the team that I have," Schou says. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

“As a rider, you need the right people around you and I feel incredibly lucky to have the team that I have. When we speak about the welfare of the horses, we have to remember how big a part the staff at home plays,” Schou points out. “Knowing that my horses are well looked after when I am away at shows is essential. My groom Hanna Carlsson is one of the best, and, in the end, she knows the horses better than I do. Appreciating the grooms is really important; in the end it is the grooms taking care of the horses and managing them, so we really have to speak about their role more and give them the credit they deserve for all the great work they do.”

Our main focus is on keeping our horses happy

“In general, the current discussion around horse welfare is something we as an industry need to take really seriously,” Schou continues. “At our yard, we do a lot for this; we make sure we have enough staff around our horses, so that they get out enough and have their time in the field. Our main focus is on keeping our horses happy. From my point of view, those on the top of the sport are absolutely on the right track when it comes to horse welfare. As an example, watching the warm-up in Lyon, you only saw good horsemanship: There were hundreds of people watching, and you could not see one bad image – the riders at the top know what they are doing.”

On the sideline

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for WoSJ.
"I have never been this high on the ranking before, and it is a nice experience; all of the sudden I can make my own plan and really choose the shows I want to do," Schou says. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Thanks to Schou’s current position on the Longines Ranking, Denmark now has one spot in every World Cup in the Western European League – something that makes planning ahead easier. “When you have one rider inside the top 60, your country gets an invitation,” Schou explains. “The last time Denmark was in this position was six years ago, so this is nice – having that spot for my country means that I am prequalified for the World Cup. Therefore, I can take a younger horse with me and not stress about the qualifier. I have never been this high on the ranking before, and it is a nice experience; all of the sudden I can make my own plan and really choose the shows I want to do – that is for sure an advantage. Until now, Independent and Darc have been showing as a team, but for the next shows I am going to split them up. For Darc, his plan included Stuttgart, followed by three weeks off before hopefully going to Geneva, and then ending his year in London. Independent had three weeks off after Lyon and he will be going to Madrid and La Coruna. I will bring two different eight-year-olds with them. I know I maybe won’t be able to jump the big classes on Saturdays and I have to focus on the World Cups, but now that I have a few points, I want to give it a go and see if I can collect a few more before Christmas and have a chance to get into the final in Omaha.”

Jumping just to jump, knowing you are doing something that is too early for your horse – that is not good horsemanship

“Of course, it would be a dream to have a bigger string of five-star horses,” Schou continues. “The weekends with an eight-year-old as the second horse at a World Cup show will feel long, when you can’t jump all the big classes. Watching a €200,000 class from the sideline is not what you want to do as a rider – but this is a part of the sport. I think we all know how tough it is to find horses for the top, and with age and experience as a rider you also get more realistic. Jumping just to jump, knowing you are doing something that is too early for your horse – that is not good horsemanship. This part of the sport – not always having the horses you need for the top – you just have to accept. I believe everyone goes through these phases.”

One step back, two step forwards

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for WoSJ.
“My next goal is the European Championships in 2023,” Schou says. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Knowing what he has in store for the future makes the waiting on the side-lines a little easier for Schou. “I gave the whole winter off for one of my best horses, the 9-year-old I Know (Arezzo VDL x Hors La Loi II). He did a lot in the summer and really stepped up – it all went very fast for him. Therefore, I felt we needed to take a step back with him, because next year, he might be the horse that jumps the five-star Grand Prix classes and the championships. I did not want to keep pushing him indoors. If you don’t sometimes take a step back and give the horses time off, you are going to end up with horses that are not fighting for you as you hope them to. I believe that giving a horse like I Know a few months off now instead of competing him at the World Cup shows is going to pay off next summer.”

If you don’t sometimes take a step back and give the horses time off, you are going to end up with horses that are not fighting for you as you hope them to

“My next goal is the European Championships in 2023,” he continues. “If Denmark would do well there, we might actually have a chance to qualify a team for the 2024 Paris Olympics – something that has never happened before. That will be my main focus and goal. When it comes to the Olympic format, making the qualification more difficult is the right thing to do – getting to jump at the Olympics simply because your nation has a quota slot, regardless of the rider’s actual level, is detrimental for our sport. We have to avoid bad images, and I believe making the qualification system harder is the only way to go. Personally, Paris is for sure a huge goal; I believe I have the right horsepower.” 

 

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