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From youngster to international Grand Prix horse: Iliana

Tuesday, 29 November 2022
From youngster to international Grand Prix horse

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ
Iliana, with Henrik von Eckermann in the saddle. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.


Text © World of Showjumping



During the 2022-season, the 9-year-old mare Iliana (Cardento x Gentleman, bred by Jenny and Paul Bocken), made her debut on five-star Grand Prix level – and left a lasting impression. With Sweden’s Olympic team gold medallist, double World Champion and current world number one Henrik von Eckermann in the saddle, Iliana placed fourth in her first 1.60 class – the Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix of Rome – and in her indoor debut at the same level, she took another fourth place in the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup of Stuttgart.

It's in the family

Photos © private collection
Iliana with her first filly, Delicious Diana Z by Diamant de Semilly. Underneath on the left, Iliana with her first foal, a colt by Kannan, and on the right, Iliana's granddaughter Alexandra Z by Aganix du Seigneur Z. All photos © private collection.

Iliana comes out of the successful KWPN mother-line 233. Her mother Destiny is out of Kiovili D, and Destiny’s sisters Valente and Whisper both jumped on 1.60m level – Valente with Tim Gredley and Whisper with Simon Delestre. Jenny Bocken, who bred Iliana together with her husband Paul, rode Whisper up to 1.50m level before selling the mare to Delestre. “This is an old mother-line Paul and his father Jan used to breed from,” Jenny tells. “With Iliana, it all started with a phone call from Paul Hendrix – years ago – who said he had a really nice mare from this mother-line. The mare was Whisper. Paul and I bought her, and I rode her until she was sold to Delestre. With Delestre, Whisper did really well in the top sport. In the meantime, we went to Whisper’s breeder, who had some more offspring from the same mother-line and because we liked Whisper so much, we decided to take a bit of a chance and bought a few of them. Iliana’s mother Destiny, Whisper’s full sister, was one of the horses we bought.”

“Iliana was Destiny’s first foal and as I am Swedish, I thought Cardento would fit her very well,” Jenny continues. “Destiny was a hot mare with a lot of blood. Iliana is the first and only foal; Destiny unfortunately had an accident in the field when she was pregnant with her second foal and had to be put down. Iliana got two foals herself; when she was three, she gave birth to a stallion by Kannan – that was sold to the States – and when she was five, she got a mare by Diamant de Semilly which we still have.”

Something special

Photo © private collection
Iliana with her breeders Jenny and Paul Bocken. Photo © private collection.

“We always said she was something special,” Jenny says about her first impressions of Iliana. “Free jumping her, she was so sharp on the fence, but brave. She would never spook, she was nearly brutal and she would jump anything. She jumped so good, and we always believed in her also as we knew there are a lot of sport horses that have come out of this mother-line.”

“What makes her so good, is that she is so quick,” Jenny points out. “She is competitive and careful, and now with Henrik, when they are clear they are always in the top five without even trying. I think these days you need a horse like her, that is naturally fast. On the last day of showing, when other horses might be tired, she only gets better – she has so much blood. Iliana is sharp but also strong and sound in her body. As a personality, she is a girl; if she doesn’t like you, she doesn’t like you, but if she likes you, she does everything for you.”

Getting Iliana used to the saddle turned out to be a bit of a challenge though. “She was so sharp and quick, and would turn and take off,” Jenny tells. “At that time, I had a boy working for me and I think he flew off every other day. Iliana was not easy, but he was very brave and did a nice job with her, always staying quiet. She was always a very kind horse though, and very friendly. Even though she was sharp to break in, she was a very nice horse to handle and ride later on.”

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ
"I think Henrik and Iliana are made for each other; they are such a good pair. He always believed in her and I think that is really important; you have to believe in the horses you have, then you will find a way," Jenny Bocken says. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Once used to the saddle, Iliana was successful in the young horse classes and sparked a lot of interest. However, the Bockens wanted to keep her and give the ride to Maikel van der Vleuten – as they had done with Dana Blue, that they also have bred. “Julia Hallberg, who worked for me at the time, rode Iliana up until she was six. After, we wanted to keep her for Maikel, but they did not really connect. Therefore, we took her back and gave her to Lars Kersten to ride. He rode her at 1.45m level and then one day, Henrik called me – and here we are today,” Jenny laughs.

Following Iliana’s success with Henrik – who Jenny used to ride together with during their young rider years in Sweden – is a dream come true for the Bocken-family. “This is why we are doing this,” she says. “It is nice to have our daughters riding, but seeing your home-bred horse perform on the highest level is what everyone dreams of. We are small breeders, but to have a few horses get up to this level is a great reward for all the work we do. Seeing them be born and grow up like this, is just fantastic. I think Henrik and Iliana are made for each other; they are such a good pair. He always believed in her and I think that is really important; you have to believe in the horses you have, then you will find a way. Iliana has grown so much in the last year. She is only nine, but she is on a really good way.”

Her own ideas

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ
"The challenge has been to find a way to channel her stubbornness into something positive, to get her on my side. When she fights with me and not against me, she is incredible," Henrik von Eckermann says. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Iliana first caught the attention of Henrik von Eckermann’s wife Janika. “Janika had seen Iliana many times, but when we first saw her together we were a little bit in doubt about her scope,” Henrik recalls. “However, I liked her type and the way she is build; she is a bloody horse and she looked careful. Furthermore, her results were very consistent – even though she had not jumped bigger classes back then.”

“Even though the trial was not the best, I had a great feeling on her from the first jump,” Henrik tells. “I really liked Iliana, and, luckily, I got the ride on her. We knew she is a bit special in her behaviour – never in the ring though, there she is always very straight forward – and has her own ideas. In the beginning, jumping at home was very difficult, but I just tried to find my way with her. It took a bit of time until we understood each other, and when we first went to s’Hertogenbosch, it was a disaster. From there, we had to go home, regroup and think through how we could solve the issues with her. Slowly, we have found our way and over the last couple of months she has been fantastic and done great things. She is still only nine, and her first indoor show was in Stuttgart where she placed fourth in the World Cup. She has done two big 1.60m classes and been good both times.”

Iliana is Henrik’s type of a horse. “She is really sensitive with a lot of blood but when you have her on your side, she really fights in the ring,” he tells. “The funny part with her is that she is really social to be around in the stable, a horse that really wants attention and contact with people. However, when you are on her, and she gets an idea in her head or does not agree with you, she can be so stubborn, and totally do her own thing. The challenge has been to find a way to channel her stubbornness into something positive, to get her on my side. When she fights with me and not against me, she is incredible."

No limits

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ
"I believe there are no limits as to where she can go," Henrik von Eckermann says about the future with Iliana. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

After jumping clear in the World Cup in Stuttgart, the smile on Henrik’s face could not be missed. “Working with them every day, trying left and right, spending so much time to figure them out – especially with a mare like this – and then finding the answers, that is the coolest thing,” he explains. “From the first time I sat on Iliana, I believed in her. But believing in a horse and actually getting there are two different things – it is a long way to go. Of course, along the way, a few questions can come up and you can start doubting. However, during the last shows Iliana has really turned out to be what I believed she could be; and that brings me more joy than anything else. In Stuttgart, the course for the World Cup was difficult enough for such an inexperienced horse. On the first day there, she was not great and when I jumped her in the Masters, she was still tense. But then on the third day she came in and did it fantastic. When you go in the ring with a horse like Iliana, that we are still in the process of building up, then a performance like the one in Stuttgart feels like a big win.”

“I believe a lot in her,” Henrik says about the future with the talented mare. “She can jump a big jump from nothing, she has so much scope. I believe there are no limits as to where she can go. She still needs time to get stronger in her body though, and there is still a lot to develop with her, but I am certain that we will have a very cool future with her. Dufour Stables has now bought her, so we know that she will stay in our stable, and we are very grateful for that. I truly believe Iliana is a horse we will see a lot of in the future.”



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