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Gerrit Nieberg: “In this sport, it all depends on the horses you have”

Tuesday, 12 July 2022
Interview

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ
Germany’s Gerrit Nieberg made headlines when he earlier this month won the world’s most prestigious Grand Prix – the CSIO5* 1.60m €1,500,000 Grand Prix of Aachen. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

 

Text © World of Showjumping

 


 

Germany’s Gerrit Nieberg made headlines when he earlier this month won the world’s most prestigious Grand Prix – the CSIO5* 1.60m €1,500,000 Grand Prix of Aachen. Riding Ben 431 (Sylvain x Quincy Jones), the 29-year-old surprised everyone when he as last to go in a star-studded jump-off snatched the win from Scott Brash. Back in April, Nieberg also impressed in his first ever FEI World Cup Final on home soil in Leipzig, where he finished 13th.

To World of Showjumping, the 29-year-old tells about the beginning of his riding career, the change of generation the German team is experiencing and how with over a hundred horses at home, finding the right one for the very top is still a huge challenge.

A family business

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ
"Even though my dad has stopped competing, he still rides at home and comes to the important shows to help me. My parents have for sure been the most influential people in my career; it would not be possible without them, not at this level," Gerrit says. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Gerrit is a son of two-time Olympic team gold medallist Lars Nieberg, and grew up surrounded by horses. However, he started riding relatively late, at the age of thirteen. “Until then, I was more into soccer,” Gerrit recalls. “Even though it is hard to say what exactly drew me into this sport, from the moment I started riding, horses had my full focus. Since my family is involved with horses, they were already a part of my life 24/7. I only got really interested pretty late though, but once I did, I was sure I wanted to be a rider – like my dad.”

“Today, we work really closely together,” Gerrit continues. “My brother Max works mostly with the dealing part. My dad knows me and all the horses we have inside out, and I think we are a very good team. He has a solution for every situation. However, behind the scenes, my mother Gitta is the one holding everything together. She does a lot with the younger horses and has an overview of the whole operation, she manages everything. Even though my dad has stopped competing, he still rides at home and comes to the important shows to help me. My parents have for sure been the most influential people in my career; it would not be possible without them, not at this level. All their knowledge has helped me enormously.”

“Normally, I have around 13 horses on my list, most of them are eight and nine-years-old,” Gerrit tells about the string of horses he has. “For the higher level, I have two horses at the moment – Ben and Blues d’Aveline CH (Baloussini x Coriall 2) – and then I have a few younger horses coming up. We breed as well, and in total we have around 150 horses at Gut Berl. Many of them we own together with Hendrik Snoek, the owner of Gut Berl who we all work for. Sometimes we also buy younger horses and I have some horses from other owners. There is a whole team of people working at home, doing a very good job. My job is to focus on the older horses.”

“Just being with the horses is what I enjoy the most,” Gerrit continues. “I enjoy having a feeling of reaching goals together. I always try to keep my horses feeling happy and free. They hack out a lot, I don’t want to repeat the same work with them every day. I think it is also good for the horses, for their head, to see something else and work on different surfaces. I think the horses fight more for me at a show when they are happy.”

A dream comes true at CHIO Aachen

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ
"I still find it hard to understand what happened on that day," Gerritt says about winning the Rolex Grand Prix of Aachen. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

The victory in the Rolex Grand Prix of Aachen was Nieberg and Ben’s first 1.60m podium of the year; making their win even more sensational when compared to the other horse-and-rider combinations in the top five; Scott Brash on Hello Jefferson, Nicola Philippaerts on Katanga vh Dinsgeshof, Daniel Deusser on Killer Queen VDM and Mclain Ward on HH Azur. 

"I had a good feeling with all my horses," Nieberg tells about expectations ahead of CHIO Aachen. "It started ok; I had one down with each of my horses on the first day. Then from the second day on, the feeling got better and better; we jumped clear and got placed. Last year, Ben was placed in the Rolex Grand Prix of Aachen and he had already done well at this venue as a youngster, so I knew he really liked it there." 

"I was second with Blues d'Aveline CH (Baloussini x Coriall 2) in Thurday's 1.50m STAWAG-Prize, and was joking with my dad that I so often get the second place, am I ever going to be good enough to win – and he said, 'just wait, one day you will win'. And that turned out to be true on Sunday. However, I did not expect to win. The two clear rounds felt good and I was already very happy with Ben's performance. In the jump-off, I had nothing to lose – my dad pushed me again, he told me to try and do the inside turn. I did that and the last line good enough, so at the end we were fast enough to win. The feeling afterward is still hard to describe – it was definitely a dream that came true, and the best feeling ever. I still find it hard to understand what happened on that day." 

First FEI World Cup Final

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ
"I think it is important to have a positive mind. It is also easier for the horse, if you as a rider give them a comfortable, confident feeling," Gerrit tells. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

“I got a few points in Oslo and a few in Madrid, and then my plan was to compete in La Coruna,” Gerrit tells about his qualification route to the FEI World Cup Final 2022. “I tested positive for Covid in La Coruna, and I had to quarantine there for ten days with no chance to compete. However, after that many other shows were cancelled and I think in the end I was super lucky to qualify as I was ranked 25th on the overall standing.”

“In Leipzig, we were five Germans in total and for four it was the first World Cup Final,” Gerrit points out. “At the moment, there are so many good young riders coming up in Germany; maybe the times are changing a little bit. I think we have a good system to bring the younger generation up, with the Under-25 tour on all the better shows – to get experience. However, in the end, if you have the right horse, it is easier to get up. It is all about the horse and having the right horse at the right time. Without them, we are nothing.”

“I felt really comfortable and Ben felt great,” Gerrit tells about competing at the World Cup Final. “I had a good feeling all weekend. The mental side of our sport is really important. I believe in making a plan and not thinking about other things. As an example, if you think about not succeeding, or if you see the difficulties in a course in a negative way, you can be sure that things will not go well. I think it is important to have a positive mind. It is also easier for the horse, if you as a rider give them a comfortable, confident feeling.”

“I think the biggest challenge for any rider is to handle the pressure,” Gerrit continues. “When you are on top, you need to deliver good results – and that is difficult to do every weekend. The sport has changed a lot since my dad’s time. He keeps telling me how back then it was easier; there were not so many good riders, not so many shows. Before, riders had a few highlights every year they really could focus on, whereas now, we have a few five-star shows every week, and so many good horses and riders. It is harder now, to be in the top ten. My dad’s advice to me is just to concentrate on my own riding and try to be good when I get a chance, to get better step by step.”

Ben 431 – a real fighter

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ
“He is a real fighter, really motivated and always wants to give his best,” Gerrit says about Ben 431. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Gerrit has been riding Ben for four years. “He is a real fighter, really motivated and always wants to give his best,” Gerrit says. “After Contagio retired, Ben has helped me back to the international scene. Finding him was a coincidence, though. We went to Ben’s breeder to try another horse, and while we were there, he told us about Ben – so I ended up trying him as well.”

“When he knows we are going into the ring, he is super motivated, but in the stable he is relaxed and calm,” Gerrit tells about the 11-year-old gelding. “He is also more relaxed when I am riding him alone, without people and horses around. It is not that he is scared of other horses, he just gets more excited when there is action around him. For the rest, he is really nice and good to handle.”

“I had Ben together with Contagio for almost two years,” Gerrit tells about producing Ben. “While Contagio did the bigger classes, Ben did the youngster tour when he was seven and eight. When he was eight, he was the second-best youngster in Aachen. When the Covid-pandemic broke out, we decided to retire Contagio from the sport and that was when Ben needed to step up. It is always good to have a few good horses, so you can go to bigger shows, but the younger horses also need experience. I think it has helped Ben to be behind Contagio and just gather the mileage. It was good for him; he did Aachen and other big shows. I don’t know if he would be the same if he didn’t get that experience as a youngster.”

Contagio Z – a special family-horse

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for WoSJ.
“He is a very special horse, not only for me but for my whole family,” Gerrit says about Contagio Z. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

The now 18-year-old stallion Contagio Z (Colman x Lordanos) was the horse that introduced Gerrit to the top sport. With impressive offspring – such as Mclain Ward’s Contagious and Philipp Weishaupt’s Coby – Contagio now enjoys his retirement, focusing solely on breeding duties. “He is a very special horse, not only for me but for my whole family,” Gerrit says. “He was so clever. He was the horse that brought me to the bigger sport, to the higher level. We had good results and for me, the highlight was the victory in the Grand Prix of Frankfurt where we were the only double clear. We also did a few Nations Cups, and won the first one we participated in. It was a cool experience: It was in Uggerhalne and while it was my first Nations Cup, it was the last for my father – and we won. Until now, I think Contagio has been the most special horse for my career.”

Finding a balance for the future

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ
“My biggest goal, if all works out and the horses stay sound, is the 2022 World Championship in Herning,” Gerrit says about the future. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

For the 2022-season, Gerrit is part of the Global Champions League-team Instanbul Sultans alongside Sanne Thijssen, Andre Americo de Miranda, Derin Demirsoy, Efe Siyahi and Omer Karaevli. “It is a great opportunity with nice shows and good sport," Gerrit says. "I think being a part of a GCL team is a really good experience: Riding with the top riders, you can for sure learn a lot. Also, it helps with getting into the bigger shows, which can be challenging, especially in Germany since we have so many good riders. However, as a rider, you have to manage it well, so that you don’t end up doing too much, asking too much of your horses. You need to find the right balance.”

“Even if we have about 150 horses at home, finding a top horse is not easy,” Gerrit reflects on the challenge of having enough horsepower for the top sport. “First of all, the horses have to be old enough, and secondly, the quality has to be there. However, it is not only about the horses showing a lot of talent when they are young; to actually end up doing the bigger classes and feeling comfortable with it is a whole different thing. Today, the top horses have to be very resilient, strong and consistent. While Ben and Blue are my top horses at the moment, I have a few younger horses coming behind them – but I can only wait and see how they turn out to be.”

“My biggest goal, if all works out and the horses stay sound, is the 2022 World Championship in Herning,” Gerrit says about the future. “It will not be easy to get into the German team, but I hope we will have a chance. I think once you get a chance, it is important to then deliver and do well. Long term, I want to stay on the German A-team, in the group where the championship riders are selected from. However, in this sport it all depends on the horses; if we have the right horses, if we can keep them, that is the question. At one point we also have to sell, because we don’t have a sponsor. Therefore, there are many things that have to go right.” 

 

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