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Evelina Tovek: The perfect student

Monday, 12 August 2019
Interview

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping. “I think you need to see good riding, every day. I think it makes you grow a lot, to always ride with someone who is better than you,” Evelina says. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

 

Text © World of Showjumping by Nanna Nieminen

 


 

Evelina Tovek has made a huge career leap during the past two years. Having gone from being ranked 415 on world ranking in July 2017 to rank 80 just a year later, the quiet Swede could very well be described with the saying ‘work hard in silence, let your success be your noise’.

This summer, Tovek made her CHIO Aachen-debut – seemingly untouched by nerves. Contributing strongly to Sweden’s team victory in the Mercedes-Benz Nations Cup, the young talent made her presence known among the very best riders in the world.

To get where she is today, Evelina has made some brave personal choices. We met Evelina, her trainer Henrik von Eckermann and their Chef d’Equipe Henrik Ankarcrona in Aachen to learn more.

“I think I am still the same person as I was then… The only difference is probably that I am just a little bit better of a rider now,” Evelina smiles when asked how the past two years have changed her. “Before, when I was at home in Sweden, I was alone,” she continues. “I think you need to see good riding, every day. I think it makes you grow a lot, to always ride with someone who is better than you,” Evelina says, pointing to her trainer Henrik von Eckermann, that she has been training with since 2017.

“In the beginning, I was traveling from Sweden and also driving myself to train with Henrik in Germany,” Evelina recalls.  “It meant a lot of traveling.” To cut the time spent on the road and to really make the most out of it, Henrik and the Tovek-family decided that Evelina would have to move to Germany. “It was a big step for me, but afterwards it has made everything easier and it is the better option for my horses,” Evelina says. “Now, when I speak about ‘home’ I refer to Germany.”

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping In her Aachen-debut, Evelina won the Nations Cup with the Swedish team alongside her trainer Henrik von Eckermann. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Henrik von Eckermann has played a huge part in Evelina’s development. “Henrik always wants me to be better, to ride faster, to win more. He would never say “this is good now”, he would always come up with something that I can improve. He is always pushing me, but when I do good, he tells me,” she continues. “He is hard, but only because he wants me to get better.”

From only having his own riding to focus on to also be a trainer has been a journey for Henrik, with Evelina being his first actual student. If you can call it an experiment, it was certainly one with a 100% success rate. “I have tried to go about it based on own experiences,” Henrik tells us about his methods. “I have had times when I did not like to be pushed. I am the first one to tell when there is something she can improve, but I am trying to be careful not to kick her when she is already down,” he continues. “When I see that she is struggling with herself, or with her riding, then it is for sure not the moment to push her harder. I know how it feels coming out of the ring, knowing what you did wrong. I try to find the right moments to discuss.”

“However, Evelina is not shaken easily,” Henrik continues. “Sometimes I have a feeling that I really need to have her on her toes to get the best out of her. In our sport, it is easy to miss something when you are not really giving it your all. Evelina has done a lot in the last two years, but she still does not have the last experience many other top riders have.”

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping “Evelina wants it!” Henrik von Eckermann says about his student. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

As to the key to success, Henrik is sure of the answer: “Evelina wants it!” Then he continues: “She works hard for it, and she never blames the horses when it goes wrong. Evelina always listens and is always trying to do her best. She is looking at everything, not only at her riding. She wants to learn about the management, the whole package,” Henrik tells. “Evelina really is the perfect student. She never has a bad attitude, and she has respect for the horses – which for me is the most important.”

“I think Evelina always has been tough, and has been working hard,” Henrik Ankarcrona, Team Sweden’s Chef d’Equipe, fills in. “What I am really happy about, is that she realized that this sport is about more than just the horse and the rider – you need the right management, consistency in your training, you simply need to be good at everything,” Ankarcrona explains. “Evelina looked around to find the help she knew she needed, to find that right team around her. And she found Henrik (von Eckermann).”

Ankarcrona believes that for Evelina, understanding where she needed help turned into her biggest advantage. “Even if you are a good rider, the whole picture is really important,” he goes on. “I think for her, this realization was the turning point and after that she has developed to a top rider in an extremely short period of time.”

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping “I think Evelina always has been tough, and has been working hard,” Henrik Ankarcrona, Team Sweden’s Chef d’Equipe, says. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

When it comes to horse power, also Evelina’s string of horses has gone through a shake-up. “I have tried to find a bit younger horses for her, from 8- to 9-year-olds,” Henrik explains. “I don’t want to find a horse for her that is completely ready, I want her to learn to get to know her horses and to make the journey with them. I believe there will be more success in the end like that. She does not have the experience anyway, so she has needed to grow with the horses. The horses she is winning on now were not horses that were ready for the bigger courses when she got them. They have gathered the mileage together,” Henrik says.

Henrik has tried to share his experiences with Evelina and help her steer off the bumps he knows are coming along the road to become a top rider. “Like in Aachen, she did not know what she was getting into in the Nations Cup,” Henrik continues. “But I did. I know how hard it is, and I did not want her to go in there and have two down. I knew she needed to be on fire and make it happen – like any of us. That is why I pushed her. If she just goes in, thinking she is on, it might not be enough – she does not have that experience. That place is different,” Henrik explains about Evelina’s debut weekend at CHIO Aachen.

“It was my first time there,” Evelina continues. “Henrik already prepped me in advance about how important it is to canter, so I knew what I needed to focus on. But I never thought that we could win! On paper, we had a good team but still, I did not think about winning. All of the riders who are here, all of them are riders that I have looked up to when growing up. It used to be so cool, watching them on TV and it so fun to now be able to ride with them.”

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping “Evelina really is the perfect student. She never has a bad attitude, and she has respect for the horses – which for me is the most important", Henrik von Eckermann says about his student. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

During the past two seasons Evelina has been a part of the Global Champions League-team Scandinavian Vikings. Evelina points out the experience gathered at the GCL-shows as one of the reasons she this season was able to ride in the 'Mecca of Showjumping'. “For sure, riding on a Nations Cup team is different, especially at a venue like Aachen,” she says. “But my experience with the Vikings is part of the reason why I am here. Riding with the best riders every week, and having challenging courses with a tight time allowed, was hard for me in the beginning. Now it has gotten easier and seeing fast jump-offs has taught me a lot. For me, these seasons with the Vikings have been an important step.”

“For sure it helped her,” Henrik fills in. “She could ride with the best riders, and go to top shows regularly. That helps, there is no doubt about that.”

Riding alongside each other as Vikings, Evelina and Henrik have gotten used to being on the same team, but how has it been to the Swedish Chef d’Equipe Ankarcrona to have a trainer-rider-duo under his wings? “I believe that riders perform the best when they do what they are used to,” Ankarcrona opens up. “For Evelina, that has been having Henrik by her side. Obviously in a team competition it can get tricky, as I want Henrik to perform at his best, as well. We have talked about this, and I must say it has worked really well. Henrik likes to go first for the team, so when he has done his part he can focus on Evelina. That way it doesn’t take anything out of his performance.”

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping “I have tried to go about it based on own experiences,” Henrik tells about coaching Evelina. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

When it comes to her closest team, Evelina is quick to give credit for the support she has gotten and points out how the small details add up to the bigger successes.  “My parents own my horses and without them this would not be possible,” she tells. “And my grooms make it possible for me to focus on my riding, they are so important. We also have a good vet, Cristiano, and a special blacksmith. In Sweden, I did not have all this. I think the details in the end make a huge difference. My horses are sound and happy, and I can be focused and relaxed, that is what my team means to me.”  

Even though far from where she began, Evelina has only just gotten started. “I just want her to develop, so that her lowest level gets higher,” Henrik tells. “We all make mistakes, and we all get into trouble, so we need to control our lowest levels. Experience in this sport means a lot, and she needs more of that to get stronger.”

Henrik Ankarcrona is quick to fill in that in his opinion, we haven’t seen the best of Evelina just yet. “She has a bright future, she is still young,” he says. “But it is hard work, even the top ten in the world are working hard – maybe harder than anyone else. So if you want to beat them, you need to keep learning.”

When it comes to her goals, Evelina has her eyes set on next year’s Olympics. “But I think that is everyone’s dream. I simply want to be a better rider and learn to produce my horses. I also hope I can work in our family business in the future,” she says.

And one final advice for anyone wanting to do what she has done? “Just believe in yourself, and never stop fighting,” Evelina smiles. “It will go up and down, but keep going and do what you like to do.”

 

No reproduction without permission, copyright © World of Showjumping 

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