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From youngster to international Grand Prix horse: Mary Lou

Tuesday, 03 March 2020
Interview

 

Text © World of Showjumping by Nanna Nieminen

 


 

Podium finishes in two consecutive Longines FEI World Cup Finals, in Omaha 2017 and Paris 2018, winner of the Rolex Grand Prix of Windsor and the Rolex Grand Prix of s’Hertogenbosch in 2019, team silver medallist at the World Equestrian Games in Tryon in 2018 – the now 14-year-old Westphalia mare Toveks Mary Lou (Montendro x Portland L) has grown into one of the most successful horses in the world with Sweden’s Henrik von Eckermann in the saddle.

During her earliest years, it was Germany’s Alexander Kernebeck who rode Mary Lou. "When I look at Mary Lou, I see many qualities from her mother – they are very similar," Kernebeck tells. "From the very beginning, Mary Lou was very careful and a bit of a special horse. All the time, she tried doing her best – I find only positive words to describe her. As a young horse, she was easy to ride because she learned really quick. I felt from the beginning that she was an exceptional horse and had a lot of quality. However, I did not think that she would go as far as she has. In my opinion, Henrik is the best rider that she can have and he has done an amazing job with her. I follow them and I am happy every time I see them doing great things." 

Von Eckermann crossed paths with Mary Lou at a very critical time – right when he was thinking about starting on his own. Karl Schneider, who owns the yard in Bonn where von Eckermann now is based, had discovered Mary Lou when she turned 10-years-old and thought the Swede could be the right rider for the feisty mare.

“It was funny. I was actually in Dubai training and I watched a national show from Münster on my iPad,” Schneider recalls about the day he first saw Mary Lou. “I saw her jumping and followed her for three days. I really liked her, so I bought her without trying,” he tells. “However, I could not understand how a horse like Mary Lou could have gone unnoticed in that area of Germany – so I was actually very nervous. What caught my eye was that she looked extremely careful, there was this lightness about her. Also, she was ridden in a normal snaffle bit. But I knew I had to move quick to get her.”

“I did a few national shows with her myself and a few international starts as well. Then the situation with Henrik starting on his own came up. I told Henrik that I had a nice horse for him, I thought he could fit well with her. He came to try Mary Lou, and I think he fell in love immediately. I had offers, but I kept her for Henrik,” Schneider tells.  

“I made a few jumps with her and liked her directly, and asked Karl to keep her,” von Eckermann tells about his first meeting with Mary Lou. “Our first show at the Stephex Masters in Brussels was just four days after I started my own business. It was not perfect; she stopped one time – but I remember thinking how this horse is going to be really good,” he recalls. 

“Mary Lou and Henrik clicked really quick, their third show was already a five-star World Cup event,” Schneider continues. “She was still very green, but always tried really hard. She is really clever, and always wants to do well. Even if you see videos with me – and I am a normal rider – she always did good. Mary Lou is ultra careful, and was very green when Henrik first got on her, that is why they had some misunderstandings in the beginning. But she understood quickly what he wanted from her.”

“As a personality, Mary Lou is really, really sweet,” Schneider continues. “However, she is always a bit nervous, so it is important for her to have a good groom. When she was new, she was always nervous to handle and especially hand walk – she was walking you, not the other way around! She is always on, she is active and has a lot of blood. She is 100 percent alert all the time and sees everything that goes on around her. She is better now with her people; she knows what she is allowed to do and what not.”

“I think what makes her special, is the fact that she is a fighter and knows when it counts – especially now when it comes to jump-offs. Now she knows Henrik inside out and gives her all to him. The best horses know when it really matters and she really feels it. When she is on, she can do things other horses cannot do!” Schneider says.

“She is crazy enough,” Henrik fills in. “Right from the start, I could feel that she was a fighter. And she is so careful! You could doubt her scope in the beginning, but I knew she would develop more of it – she had such a character. I knew she would do great things, so I always tried to make a plan that suited her. Now, I try to pick the shows after how she feels. She is the type that she needs to feel 110% to perform.”

In 2018 the Tovek-family bought Mary Lou, securing her for von Eckermann to ride. “So many people asked for her, but I did not want to sell her and break their partnership,” Schneider explains. “I knew her importance for Henrik’s career and it was a difficult situation. I got phone calls every day but I couldn’t do it to Henrik. So finally, the solution with the Tovek-family was perfect. I still see her in my stable every day and still feel like she is mine, even if I am not the owner anymore. It could not have been a better match, my priority was for her to have the best home and the best team.”

Over time, Mary Lou has settled and obviously feels comfortable with her team of people. “Now she is easy going,” von Eckermann smiles. “In the beginning she was extreme, and crazy with everything. But she, too, has gotten older. Gotha FRH, she was also one of these horses, with a mind of her own – but somehow I can work with that. It is a very similar situation with Mary Lou. I just try to get them on my side. This is the key with all these big characters: If you get them on your side, they can do better things than the normal ones. That is why we look for them, we need one of these horses to be able to win in today’s sport,” von Eckermann concludes.

 

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