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From youngster to Olympic Champion: King Edward

Tuesday, 05 October 2021
From youngster to international Grand Prix horse

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ The extraordinary King Edward, with Henrik von Eckermann in the saddle. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

 

Text © World of Showjumping

 


 

He used to be a hobby horse that lived in his owner’s backyard with a pony as company. He ended up making history at the Olympic Games. The story about King Edward’s (Edward 28 x Feo) journey to the top is certainly out of the ordinary.

Coming into the Tokyo Olympic Games, King Edward was the newcomer on the Swedish team – his four-legged compatriots H&M All In and H&M Indiana were far more experienced and had already made big names for themselves on the international circuit. King Edward on the other hand, only did his first international start in Gorla Minore in the spring of 2019 – as a nine-year-old – with Janika Sprunger in the saddle.

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ With Sweden's Henrik von Eckermann in the saddle, King Edward jumped six clear rounds at the Olympic Games in Tokyo to finish with the team gold as well as 4th individually. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Ahead of the Games, Sprunger’s fiancée Henrik von Eckermann had taken over the reins on the 11-year-old BWP gelding. The couple welcomed their first child in April this year, and with Sprunger on maternity leave, von Eckermann started to compete King Edward in August 2020. One year later, King Edward would jump into the history books as one of only three horses to not make a single mistake during the Olympic Games – the two others being H&M All In at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and Eliot at the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam. Bringing the team gold medal home to Sweden with his flawless performances, King Edward was suddenly on every jumping enthusiast’s lips.

As he was unknown to most until Sprunger started to campaign him on the international circuit in 2019, World of Showjumping decided to trace back King Edward’s route to the top – speaking to Ines De Vos, who rode King Edward as a youngster, to Sprunger who produced him up to five-star Grand Prix level, and to Karl Schneider who – through his Belgian contact Peter Eeckman – discovered King Edward, and was able to negotiate a deal between the De Vos-family and Sprunger.

A backyard pony

Photo © private collection “He was really a family horse,” Ines De Vos tells about King Edward, who used to live in her backyard. Photo © private collection.

Ines De Vos bought King Edward when he was a five-year-old. “I was looking for a nice young horse and we went to try horses in Belgium,” Ines recalls. “After trying many horses, we walked through the stables and my dad saw a horse in one of the boxes and asked why I could not try that one. That horse was King Edward. He was standing in the corner with his head down, and we were told that he had been sick.”

When King Edward got better, Ines tried him and instantly fell in love with the little gelding. “I think they did not realize what a good horse they had,” she says. “When I got to try him, I directly had an amazing feeling, and we did not hesitate with buying him. He was a late bloomer though, and it took time for him to grow and get strong. Until he was seven, I rode him in the national young horse classes in Belgium. At the time, I still lived with my parents and we had five boxes on our backyard, so King Edward stayed there. We only had a small garden, so to ride him, I had to take the truck and drive through the village.”

“He is addicted to working,” Ines tells about King Edward. “If he had an easier day, he was immediately bored and started kicking in his box. He is a horse with a lot of blood, so he does not get tired easily, but can get very tense. He has a lot of good qualities: He is super scopey and careful but does not get scared of anything. He has such a big heart – never in his life has he stopped on a fence; he does everything to get to the other side. He is so dedicated to what he does! Nothing is too much for him; the more you ask, the happier he gets.”

Not for sale

Photo © private collection “For me, he was a hobby horse, and it was not in my plans to sell him," Ines De Vos tells. Photo © private collection.

From the beginning, there was a lot of interest in King Edward. “For me, he was a hobby horse, and it was not in my plans to sell him. For three years, I ignored all those questions and said he was not for sale,” Ines tells. “However, one day someone came up with the name Janika Sprunger. I knew the horse was too good for the level I was riding him on: When he was eight, I competed at 1.40m level with him, but I could feel he was made to jump bigger. At home, we started talking about the option of selling him.”

“He was really a family horse,” Ines continues. “My parents are also animal lovers and our mantra is that the horses that come to our place stay there. We have many animals, and they all get old with us. Especially my mom was against selling King Edward, but me and my dad realized what a horse he was when Janika tried him. Nevertheless, it was very hard. We only gave them one try on him, and tough conditions. Now, I have a boyfriend who is riding and we run our company DVR Equestrian together – and thinking back, if I had met him earlier, maybe King Edward would have never been sold,” Ines laughs.

Ines has no regrets about selling the talented gelding though. “It is amazing to follow him, and I don’t regret the sale,” she says. “I still have contact with both Janika and Henrik and I get to follow King Edward closely. I am beyond proud; I cannot explain the feeling I have. When King Edward was jumping in Tokyo, I was crying – I am not sure if those were tears of happiness or shock. I used to tell people that he is an Olympic horse, I knew he was amazing – but you always doubt saying those things out loud. Going to Tokyo, I was sure they had a big chance. I am not surprised that he was the only horse without a pole down as he is so careful.”

Too good to miss out on

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ "While Henrik and King Edward have already proven that they have a great partnership, I believe that there is more to come for them," Karl Schneider says. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Buying King Edward was not simple and Karl Schneider ended up taking some risks along the way to secure the gelding. “Peter Eeckman told me about King Edward and even though the price was huge compared to what he had done, we went for it,” he tells. “For his owners, it was not easy to sell him and it was not simple to get a deal done – he had really been a family horse. After the first try-out, we were not allowed to try him again – and were told it would be better to forget about the deal altogether. But I thought we could not lose this horse, so I bought him myself, before Janika’s sponsor was on board. About six weeks later, he secured the horse for Janika.”

“I still have the videos of King Edward, and already as a youngster you could see how good he was,” Karl continues. “After I bought him, I got a lot of questions about how we managed to get him – all the big dealers had tried. I think it was a bit about luck, but also thanks to my Belgian partner Peter Eeckman, who did a lot to make this deal happen. Both Janika and Henrik have done a great job with King Edward, and what they achieved in Tokyo made me very proud. While Henrik and King Edward have already proven that they have a great partnership, I believe that there is more to come for them.”

Love at first sight

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ “King Edward is my type, so as soon as I saw him, I liked him," Janika Sprunger tells. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Janika Sprunger remembers the day she first met King Edward as if it was yesterday. “It was the beginning of 2019 when we tried him at Sentower Park,” she recalls. “King Edward is my type, so as soon as I saw him, I liked him. He was not too tall, and I have a thing for chestnuts. I got on him and already in trot I could feel the power he had. I jumped him, and the bigger I jumped, the more I could feel what he had in him. We did not do too much though, because we thought we could try him one more time, with my sponsor present. As Henrik did four smaller jumps with him, the whole family was in tears – the mother left without saying goodbye, crying.”

Even though Janika believed in the horse, it took some time to convince her sponsor to buy King Edward. “I told him that I thought I found the next horse to invest in,” she tells. “Somehow the timing was not great though, and it was a very long procedure to convince him.”

Once the horse arrived in Janika’s stables, she took things slow with him. “I had to start from 1.30m level, he was very green and kind of all over the place,” Janika tells. “This was at the time when I had to let go of my former superstar Bacardi, and at the first show with King Edward, Edwina was showing Bacardi. Starting all over again was tough, but I just believed in this horse so much and could feel that he had everything needed. After less than a year of educating him, we won the four-star Grand Prix in Poznan and did our first five-star shows. Then it went quick with him! When the Covid-19 outbreak came, he had a longer break and then I only did a few more shows with him before Henrik took over.”

A genius

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ "I am so proud that he finally got to prove what a horse he is," Janika Sprunger says about King Edward, who also jumped a double clear for Sweden at the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup Final 2021 in Barcelona. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

“For me, King Edward was a horse for my heart,” Janika continues. “When a horse like Bacardi leaves, it is difficult – it leaves a huge gap in the stable to be filled, but Edi did that so quickly.”

“It was very special to work with King Edward,” Janika explains. “He does not have the most classic way of jumping – he lands further away from a fence than most other horses, but that has improved with Henrik. I rode enough good horses to more or less understand what is needed to reach the top, so I did not worry about that. However, he is so short legged, so the power in his hind legs is something I still don’t understand… He is also very sensitive and has a lot of blood, but all in a good way and it speaks for his quality. What was always special to me, was the genius in him: Even if I got insecure, I knew I would be ok. I trusted his talent so much. It is totally different going into the ring with that feeling.”

“We knew what he is able to do,” Janika says about the success in Tokyo. “I could not be happier, and I am so proud that he finally got to prove what a horse he is. It was early on in their partnership, but with some right decisions along the way it all fell into place. Henrik did the last piece of education for King Edward. I think he has done an unbelievable job with the horse, even if the horse already was a genius! Henrik brought him up to another level of showjumping, which I am very proud of. Watching Henrik and King Edward in Tokyo, it all looked easy for them. Time will tell what more will come!” 

 

No reproduction without written permission, copyright © World of Showjumping

 



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