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European Champion André Thieme: “When we got Chakaria, we started dreaming”

Thursday, 11 November 2021
Interview

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ
"When we got Chakaria, we realized that she was in another league, so right away we started dreaming that with this horse, maybe it really is possible," newly crowned European Champion André Thieme tells about the 11-year-old mare. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

 

Text © World of Showjumping

 


 

At the beginning of September, Germany’s André Thieme and DSP Chakaria (Chap 47 x Askari 173) were crowned European Champions on home soil in Riesenbeck. To World of Showjumping, the 46-year-old – whose childhood dreams actually revolved around football – tells about the long journey with Chakaria, the confidence given to him by German Chef d’Equipe Otto Becker and the sleepless nights between the Tokyo Olympic Games and the Europeans.

 

From football to horseback

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ
“I had no choice,” André Thieme smiles when asked about the beginning of his riding career. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Both of André’s parents are passionate horse people, and his father used to work as the head trainer at the state stud in Redefin. “I had no choice,” André smiles when asked about the beginning of his riding career. “I was hoping to become a soccer player, I was good at it. During school, I rode, but my love was with the soccer. When I finished school, my dad pretty much told me that he would not be able to help me much with my football career, but he could help me a lot if I chose riding instead – and that it was a bigger chance that I would get somewhere with the horses than with football. He said he would make sure that I had horses to ride, and that I would become good at it. As a rider in Germany, it is a job you really have to learn though: You become a working student for years and you study with tests at the end of each year. You need to know everything both in theory and in practice. That was when it became serious for me.”

Looking back, André now knows that his father was right, but back then it felt tough. “At that age it was not easy for me: I never had a real day off, I had to fight for those moments of free time,” he recalls. “However, it was definitely the right thing to do. I am very thankful to my father: He was there for me, and he pushed me. We were living at the state stud in Redefin, and he was a fulltime trainer and rider so I did not get any breaks at all. Breakfast, lunch, dinner – it was always like a lesson. It was tough, but in the end, I guess that made the difference.”

Smart about the business

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ
"I have learned that we are so lucky with what we are allowed to do with our horses; we are living the dream," André Thieme says. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Right after his young rider years, André spent time in the States. “I decided to be smart about the business and not only be a rider, so early in my career I went to America. I made friends there and today they are my business partners, I have a big trading operation next to the sport,” he tells. “Back then, I rode for Tim Grubb – he was pretty famous at the time. He was one of those top championship riders with a lot of experience. I stayed for about two years. It was a tough job, but I learned a lot. Then, I returned to Germany and worked for other people before starting my own business.”

Today, André is based in Karow, one hour north of Berlin. “It is a new, fancy place, where I rent a barn with 12 boxes. Now, I am my own boss,” he smiles. “I can decide when I want to ride, which horse and where. We have a nice area here with beautiful woods, and to ride my horses there is what I enjoy the most! I know that I am blessed with this job: I have fun, I have a chance to make a living of it and as a sportsman the hard work also pays off. I get so much joy out of it! I have learned that we are so lucky with what we are allowed to do with our horses; we are living the dream.”

DSP Chakaria

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ
"It was meant to be, that I saw her that day and reacted," André Thieme tells about the day that he discovered DSP Chakaria. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

During his career, André has had some big wins, but nothing compares to the success he has enjoyed with the now 11-year-old mare DSP Chakaria. “Over the years, I had two horses that I almost made it with: Contanga and Contendrix,” he tells. “I was very close to getting on to a championship team – I already smelled it a few times. When we got Chakaria, we realized that she was in another league, so right away we started dreaming that with this horse, maybe it really is possible. Already three years ago, Otto Becker started to have her on his radar and we were already planning shows for her – pretty much everyone saw how special she is.”

André believes that he and Chakaria were meant to be, and that finding her was an unbelievable stroke of luck. “I went to a local horse show in the east of Germany, without Clipmyhorse and all that,” he recalls. “Chakaria did her first 1.40m class there that weekend, and I was by luck present to see that. To me she looked outstanding; the way she jumped in the schooling area, and then did a clear round. I talked to her rider and he said that there was something special about this horse. A few other riders asked me ‘you never saw her? She always jumps like that!’. Then – for once in my life – I was fast and decided that I needed to buy her quick because otherwise I will not get her. One day later, I went to try her. The owner was a farmer who had a very bad year with his business, so he really needed money and that was why they were selling. Because Chakaria was very sensitive and difficult in the beginning – extra, extra – I decided to leave her with her previous rider for a few more months. One week later, he took her to a show that streamed on Clipmyhorse – and his phone rang. The previous owners got calls from all over, but had to say, ‘sorry, not my horse anymore’. It was meant to be, that I saw her that day and reacted.”

“She was so difficult, it was hard work,” André tells about the beginning with Chakaria. “But on the other hand, we knew from the start that she really is that much better. She was extra careful, such a fighter in her character, and had endless power and energy. Then we realized that the scope is also pretty special. But we always had to take our time, that was the thing with her. You could never just leave a step out, it did not work. As soon as I went too fast and skipped a step – like jumping two holes bigger – she was too careful for that. Building her up was a very slow-moving process and we took our time. Because of it, Chakaria is now more like a 9-year-old, even though she is eleven.”

From Tokyo to Riesenbeck

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ
"I was nervous that it would be too much though, but Otto said ‘no, it will be just right’. He was very sure – and it turned out he was right," André Thieme tells about his feelings ahead of the European Championships where he won individual gold. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

For André and Chakaria, the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics was positive. “We all knew that Chakaria was too green for the 2020 Olympic Games,” he explains. “When the postponement was announced, I thought ‘man, there is a chance now’ – if I just get that experience in her for one more season. It started out with the German Championships in November, where we had one rail in that whole week. Then I went to America and she pretty much jumped clear in every single Grand Prix. Just before we went back home, she won the $1,000,000 Grand Prix and Otto Becker told me that he wanted to see her in a Nations Cup. I ended up doing pretty much every five-star Nations Cup before the Olympics. She jumped so many clear rounds, and in the end, it was decided to take her on the team for Tokyo.”

“We all knew that perhaps it was going to be a little bit too early, with the jumping being under the lights,” André continues. “However, we took the risk because we did not see another, stronger pair. Now, we are happy that we did it. Maybe things did not go perfect, but she learned a lot, she fought through, she did not give up –  and I learned a lot with her. After Tokyo, Otto decided that I should do the European Championships. I was nervous that it would be too much though, but Otto said ‘no, it will be just right’. He was very sure – and it turned out he was right.”

“I was nervous to start,” André tells about his feelings ahead of the Europeans. “In Germany, we got a lot of critique because we did not win a medal in Tokyo. That was hard, it felt like losing – it felt like disappointing people. Not knowing how Chakaria would be after Tokyo also meant extra pressure for me. Otto was the one who gave me confidence. He told me I now had the experience needed and that the Europeans would feel easy after Tokyo.”

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ
The Germans turned the disappointment from Tokyo to delight in Riesenbeck: The team won a silver medal and André Thieme was crowned European Champion. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Going to Riesenbeck with doubts in his head was a challenge for André. “I did not have much sleep those days,” he smiles. “I did not want to disappoint again. However, during the warm-up, I realized that my horse really did not have a problem at all. She was forward, powerful, not like in Tokyo where it felt like the hand-break was on. During the first class in Riesenbeck I felt that she was on fire, she was just eating those jumps and just wanted to go. That feeling helped a lot. And then, day by day, clear after clear, I became more confident and she made it easy for me, we got into that groove. Whatever they were building, it felt like she was not having a hard time.”

The Germans turned the disappointment from Tokyo to delight in Riesenbeck: The team won a silver medal and André was crowned European Champion. “I am a team player and always was,” he says. “My goal for the Europeans was to help our team win a medal. However, I was a little disappointed about our silver because we almost had gold. David Will, Christian Kukuk and me, we were the new guys, we got that chance and of course we were happy that we were able to pay back. I was especially happy for Otto, because I knew it was a big step for him, to decide that we were the ones riding there. It made me happy that it worked out for him. Then when I won gold, there was a moment I will never forget: Otto’s wife came to me and said ‘Thank you, I have a very happy husband now’ – I knew in that instant, that the trainer has just as much pressure. If things don’t work out, he is the one that gets blamed. That made me extra happy, that it was such a good ending for everyone.”

Living the dream

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ
"I know that I am blessed with this job: I have fun, I have a chance to make a living of it and as a sportsman the hard work also pays off," André Thieme says. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

When it comes to the future, André takes each day as it comes. “We have realized that Chakaria is just something very special,” he tells. “We have had unbelievable crazy high offers from all over the world for Chakaria, but we have decided that we are living our dream now and we are not selling her. The plan is to do those big championships. Now, I dream about another Olympic Games and getting that Olympic medal. But that is in three years, and it is a long time of dreaming. Meanwhile, the World Championships are very clearly my goal for next year. Right now, Chakaria is off, she is not jumping anymore this year, I want to give her that rest. I will start her up again in Florida; then my dream is Aachen on the way to the World Championships – and then we will see what comes.”

 

No reproduction without written permission, © copyright World of Showjumping.com



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