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Angelie von Essen: “I'm in this sport because I love horses, and what I really enjoy is to figure them out”

Tuesday, 25 January 2022
Interview

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ Angelie von Essen and Alcapone des Carmille after delivering a double clear round in the Mercedes-Benz Nations Cup in Aachen in 2021. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

 

Text © World of Showjumping

 


 

Angelie von Essen is one of those riders that has the ability to deliver on a big occasion. In 2019, Angelie contributed to the Swedish Nations Cup wins in Aachen, Hickstead and Rome with clear rounds aboard her then top-mount Luikan Q, and last summer the 43-year-old returned with a bang to help Sweden finish second in the Nations Cup in Aachen – jumping a double clear with the wonderful Alcapone des Carmille. Not one to hunt for appearances on the five-star circuit, nor chasing the world ranking, Angelie says; “I'm in this sport because I love horses, and what I really enjoy is to figure them out.”

“For me, what’s really important is the process of getting to know the horses. I spend a lot of time with them to get to know their personalities, and to figure them out – I like that. The way I see it, going in the ring is just a small part of the whole thing. If you know that you are prepared and you know your horse is good, you are also not nervous and the results seem to follow as well,” Angelie says. 

For me, what’s really important is the process of getting to know the horses.

“I still love doing the youngsters, and that's the most important for me – which I think is one of the reasons why I never climb on the world ranking,” Angelie smiles. “Also, I would not want to be on the big shows every week; I like to come home, go in the fields, see the young ones, lose jump them, ride the five-year-olds. I love that, there’s no pressure and it's just nice.”

“The world ranking is not really important to me, because if it’s going to affect you at all as a rider you probably have to be in the top 50 and realistically I am never going to be in there,” Angelie says. “I enjoy to do the young ones, go to the Sunshine Tour each year, and I really like to do the Nations Cups – we have a good chef d’equipe who gives us riders a chance when we have a good horse. With those shows, and a few other five-, four -and three- star shows in between, that's enough for me throughout a year. I don't have the horsepower to do all the Globals, and I don't want to ask too much of my horses.”

Begging to go to Bengtsson

Photo © FEI/Liz Gregg “My dream was always to go to Rolf-Göran Bengtsson, but I was really shy so I begged my mother to call and ask him if I could come in the summers,” Angelie von Essen tells. Later in life, the two would go on to jump Nations Cups together, here at the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ at Hickstead in 2019, won by the Swedish team. Photo © FEI/Liz Gregg.

Horses have always been in Angelie von Essen’s life. Her mother Ebba – who worked as a journalist in one of the biggest newspapers in Sweden – always had horses, and that's how it started for Angelie, her twin-sister Emelie and her older sister Linda. “My big sister, who is eight years older than me, was Swedish junior champion when she was 14 and was chased to do the championships – I think that's why my twin sister and I got really keen,” Angelie tells. “However, my older sister stopped riding when she was 18, she was never as keen, and I think that’s because she got so much pressure on her from a young age. I always wanted to do the horses though, and with a pony that was given to us when he was four, I ended up doing the European Championships. It was just pure luck really, and it rolled from there.”

I think the importance of the younger generation going out to learn the trade can’t be emphasised enough.

“My dream was always to go to Rolf-Göran Bengtsson, but I was really shy so I begged my mother to call and ask him if I could come in the summers,” Angelie laughs. “However, they did not have any space for me, but I kept chasing, chasing and chasing, calling to ask again and again and eventually I could come,” Angelie smiles when looking back to when she was fifteen. “I went to Rolf in the summers as well as in the Christmas holidays, and then as soon as I left school, I started to work for him. If Rolf would not have moved from Sweden to Jan Tops in Holland, I would still be there!” Angelie jokes. “I went with Rolf to Jan’s for a year but as I still had horses at home in Sweden I eventually went back there and worked at Rolf’s stable. However, I quickly found out that I was too young to sit there on my own without anyone, so I got a job for Magdalena Hermelin’s Stall Lagerfelt in Sweden which was very, very good as she gave me lots of opportunities. I was there for 10 years and would also probably still be there if it wasn’t’ for the fact that I met James [Davenport] when I was 28. James actually moved to Sweden for a year, but I could really feel that he didn't like it that much; I felt he always wanted to go back to England. And to me, it did not really matter that much where I was, so I went with him.” 

A family affair

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ "There is no chance to get carried away by anything for any of us!”Angelie von Essen says about working together with James Davenport and his brother Richard. “They would never let me forget that you are never better than your best horse, and it keeps me very level." Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

“Today, James and I have our own stables located outside Manchester, and then James’ brother Richard has his own set-up as well,” Angelie tells. “James and Richard breed a lot, and then we basically decide which horses are going to come to us, which are going to Richard and that's how it works. We also have horses from owners, and we buy some ourselves as well. By now we have quite a good set-up with our breeding operation, and we have really good staff to work with the young horses, but it’s taken a few years to get there.”

“For us, breeding is the way forward,” Angelie says. “We can’t just go and buy the horses expensive at an auction, or somewhere else. Breeding them ourselves, we know the history of each horse – the family, that the horses have been sound… Buying them young from somewhere else is always a gamble, you don’t have that same knowledge. All the auctions are of course great to get good horses out for everyone to buy, but I think a little bit of a danger is that you might end up lose jumping them too big at a very young age and I don't believe in doing this. I do understand the breeders though, because how else will you be able to assess their abilities in order to sell?”

For us, breeding is the way forward.

“Our horses are born outside, they are out all year around until they are three and are more like wild horses really – sometimes we can’t even catch them,” Angelie smiles. “However, I like it this way; the horses are out in big fields with hills, they have a sound way to grow up and they grow very slow. We lose jump them for the first time when they are three, just really small to see how they are on a jump. Then we x-ray them before we put them out again. Normally, we saddle break them in the autumn when they are three, ride them a little bit when they are four to see what they are and that's it. We never compete the four-year-olds, it’s first when they are five that they do a little bit more. I don't like to rush the young horses, and it’s amazing how they either way will have caught up by the time they are eight.”

“All the mares we use in our breeding program have proven themselves in the sport. When James and Richard were younger, they trained with Jan Tops and they bought a lot of horses from him so it’s a few from there, as well as mares we competed or that proved themselves in their own breeding careers already,” Angelie explains. “We probably have about 15 to 20 mares that we breed with, and approximately the same number of foals every year.”

“When we make our selection of which horses to keep and which to sell, I must admit that I tend to look at the family – I perhaps give the horses a little bit more of a chance if I like the mare and the stallion,” Angelie laughs. “Then they of course have to be correct, otherwise it does not matter how good they are. I think you can see quite quickly what you have when you free jump them; they don't need to go a meter over the jumps, but they have to be athletic and clever. For me, personality is actually very important, and I like the horses to be kind but confident. I like when they're curious and come to you. A little bit of a funny character is always going to work with you in the end.”

A strong string of horses 

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ "He has a real funny character and is such a lovely horse; when he’s not with me at a show, I really miss him!" Angelie von Essen tells about Alcapone des Carmille. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

One of the funny characters in Angelie and James’ stable is Alcapone des Carmille, the powerful 12-year-old gelding that Angelie partnered up with in 2020 after Sylve Söderstrand – one of the gelding’s owners – gave her a call to ask if she wanted the ride. “I did not know the horse at all,” Angelie tells. “He had been with one of Henk Nooren’s riders, and they had done an amazing job with him there, but for me, I found him really difficult as he was so sharp and sensitive. In the beginning I thought that it would never work out with him, however, I really wanted it to because I like his owners so much.”

“When we went down to Sunshine Tour back in 2020, I spent hours in the clear round ring with him, just doing pole work, trying to figure him out. He just has so much power, it’s unbelievable, then at the same time he is so sensitive. It’s a very fine line with him, because I have to have him in front of my leg on the flat but in the ring he is so sharp so I very much have to compromise with him. Just to figure out how to warm him up took me a while,” Angelie tells. “All he wants to do is to please his rider though; he is a happy horse who wants to do his job, but at the same time he has a lot of nerves. He has a real funny character and is such a lovely horse; when he’s not with me at a show, I really miss him! He did a lot last year, so I gave him a bit of time off after Barcelona and then I probably start him up again at the Sunshine Tour.”

At the moment, I have a really nice group of horses coming through.

“With Alcapone, I was very, very lucky to get him at exactly the right time – someone else had done all the hard work before me. I got him and could go to the next level with him quite quickly – a bit the same as it was with Luikan,” Angelie adds.

“At the moment, I have a really nice group of horses coming through,” Angelie continues. “Next to Alcapone, I have a 10-year-old called Happiness that is out of the same mother as All In. I believe a lot in him; he's very careful and a really nice horse. He’s from Swedish owners, and my twin sister produced him before I took him over. Then I still have Coachella and Daniel, that are more experienced, as well as some nice 8, 9 and 10-year-olds that we bred ourselves. We will start our season at the Sunshine Tour, and then I will take it from there when I know which shape the horses are in. We have a great chef d’equipe who is good at giving us riders chances and making a plan for us towards our goals. Of course, with Alcapone I have the World Championships in the back of my mind – he for sure has the capability to do that.”

There is no quick fix

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ “Getting as much knowledge as possible is really important in order to be a good horse person, and I think that’s what’s getting a bit lost at the moment,” Angelie von Essen says. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

“I am surrounded by a lot of knowledgeable horse people, not only James and Richard, but also James’ father Stephen who used to be a national hunt jockey, and his mother Jean who jumped at top level, so there’s a lot of proper know-how within my own family and family-in-law,” Angelie tells. “They would never let me forget that you are never better than your best horse, and it keeps me very level. There is no chance to get carried away by anything for any of us!”

“Getting as much knowledge as possible is really important in order to be a good horse person, and I think that’s what’s getting a bit lost at the moment,” Angelie tells. “I was with Rolf for two years to learn the trade and there are so many things that I learned there, which I carry with me to this day. Even when Rolf was world no. one, he never pushed to be number one. Because of his whole management, his horses go on to last for ever. Obviously, I learned a lot about riding, but also about everything around. He had the best grooms, so I learned so much about how to take proper care of the horses and that's still with me all the time.”

There are no short cuts anywhere, it's just hard work.

“What I also learned from Rolf is that there are no short cuts anywhere, it's just hard work,” Angelie tells. “Rolf is so precise in everything he does; It’s a millimetre here, he jumped a bit to the right there, and fine-tuning all these little details  – it’s never like ‘oh, it kind of went’. What I really took with me is that every day you ride, you have to be so on it, otherwise you better not be riding at all that day. There is no quick fix.”

“Flatwork is obliviously very important to me,” Angelie continues. “I really think that if the dressage does not work, there is no point even jumping. I have both Sylve Söderstrand and Peter Markne coming over to help me, we just work on the basics really and I think everything comes down to that. I also have a dressage trainer that I ride with, especially in the winter when we are home more.”

“If I should define horsemanship and what the term means to me, it is to know your horse and to do the best for your horse,” Angelie says. “You need to know when it's enough, to not push them that little bit longer – I think that's when they easily get injured.”

Learning the trade

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ “In this sport you never stop learning, and this keeps me motivated,” Angelie von Essen says. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

“In this sport you never stop learning, and this keeps me motivated,” Angelie says. “However, I feel that the hunger to learn is a bit lost in the younger generation of riders. They want everything so fast, but in this sport it’s all about time. Looking at the children and junior riders today, everything goes so quickly; they start getting competitive when they are twelve with little Parlanti boots, grooms, horses and trucks. Whatever happened to just playing around, riding bareback, cantering through the woods and just having fun with your pony? I also don’t understand the rush; in this sport, you have your whole life to climb the ladder.”

In this sport it’s all about time.

“I think the importance of the younger generation going out to learn the trade can’t be emphasised enough,” Angelie points out. “In any profession an apprenticeship is important; you don’t get to practice as a doctor without having the necessary training first. The same should apply in the equestrian world; it should not be possible to start up your own business without having had some kind of apprenticeship with a professional rider for at least three to four years. There's a lot of talent out there, but everyone needs some guidance first.” 

“I hear many say that because of all the money being poured into the sport, there’s no longer a level playing field – but I don’t really worry about that. We should not forget that all the money coming into it benefits the industry as a whole; today, we can take properly care of our horses and staff and people like James, Richard and me, can sell horses and make a living from it. And people like Peder can get good sponsors and become world no. one, and I think that’s definitely the right way to go. So, I don’t think the amount of money flowing through the sport in itself is worrying, I think it’s more about how we keep the horsemanship alive through the generations coming after us as everything comes so easily to many younger riders. If we lose the horsemanship, we will also lose the sport.”

How lucky are we?

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ "Sometimes I think we all forget that we do this because we love horses," Angelie von Essen says. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

“Sometimes I think we all forget that we do this because we love horses. It disappears a bit in all the prize money, ranking points and sky-high sales prices,” Angelie says. “Every day I am in the stable, I say “How lucky are we to do this? Imagine, this is our job!’ I have a great team around me, and everyone really enjoys the every-day work with the horses. Every time I go to the stables, I am happy, because everyone else is happy. It’s so important with good personalities as a part of the team, because you are on top of each other all the time and it’s so intense. The staff is what makes it at the end of the day, so for us it’s really important to have the right people – I’d rather do the job myself than having someone not positive in our group. I just can’t do that. Our stable manager Linda has been with us for thirteen years and is always behind me. For all of us, it’s about the team, who does it or achieves it does not matter.”

Every day I am in the stable, I say “How lucky are we to do this?

“I think it’s fantastic to have a job where it’s back to the drawing board every Monday,” Angelie smiles. “Last summer, when we came back home from Aachen after winning the Nations Cup, we went out in the field to see the young ones, and right there in front of us were even more dreams and hopes. That’s when you realise why you actually do this!”

 

No reproduction without written permission, copyright © World of Showjumping



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