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Gudrun Patteet: “The further you get, the further you want to go”

Tuesday, 05 March 2019
Interview

Photo © World of Showjumping by Jenny Abrahamsson.
“To be successful in this sport, you have to be strong enough to keep on going when things get difficult,” Gudrun Patteet says. Photo © World of Showjumping by Jenny Abrahamsson.

Finishing as number eight on the Western European League-standings after the 2018/2019 season, Belgium's Gudrun Patteet is heading to the Longines FEI World Cup Finals in Gothenburg, Sweden, as the highest ranked woman on the circuit. We sat down with Gudrun to learn more about the ambitious 33-year-old, and how the years at the very top of the sport have left her with thick skin.

“I think it is quite difficult. You have to be really tough, and hard on yourself. It has advantages and disadvantages,” Gudrun tells when asked how it feels to be a woman among all the men at the top of the sport. “I feel like you have to prove yourself more, to be taken seriously,” she continues. “Being a female rider has its advantages though. In my opinion a horse jumping good with a woman is more commercial for example. Because it often looks easy and more effortless, it also looks more commercial when women are riding. For the business, that is a good thing,” she explains.

“To be successful in this sport, you have to be strong enough to keep on going when things get difficult,” Gudrun says about the challenges every athlete faces. “That is one of my strongest points I think; I have a very strong will to keep going. I can pull myself together and think that tomorrow is another day. Sometimes you need a good result, like my win in Helsinki – it gave me energy for another six months! If you never get a good result, in the end you can´t find motivation - that is for sure.”

“I have learned a lot, and made mistakes,” Gudrun says openly. “If you go against your feeling and how your horse feels, you will pay for it. I try to do shows that both I and my horses like. When my horses are not ready, I don´t go to a show. If my horses are not sound or ready to go, it makes no sense to go – you will only pay for it afterwards. I know these things now,” she says.

“I think you are born with it,” Gudrun answers when we ask her where she thinks her mental strength stems from. “Situations can break you or make you stronger. It is about how you deal with them. Since the beginning of my career, I never got anything offered – I had to fight for everything I have. It has made me strong, and I cannot imagine my life without horses.”

Photo © World of Showjumping by Jenny Abrahamsson “Situations can break you or make you stronger. It is about how you deal with them," Gudrun Patteet says. Photo © World of Showjumping by Jenny Abrahamsson.

For the last two years Gudrun has been training with Swedish legend Rolf-Göran Bengtsson. “When Rolf is at the same shows, he always helps me,” Gudrun tells us about their partnership. “I really like him and just a few days with him at a show helps me a lot. A show with Rolf gives me homework for months – even if it might be just small things. Sometimes when I am riding alone, I can find myself thinking ’Rolf would tell me to do like this’,” Gudrun laughs. “It is funny, but it is like that.”

“When I was riding the children and junior classes, I trained a lot with Jean-Claude Van Geenberghe. I think his way of riding is really my base. He was a big example for me. After he passed away, I did a lot myself. When you are alone a lot, you get stronger and you learn from your own mistakes. When I watch my videos, I see what I did wrong – I think if someone always tells you what they think you did wrong, you stop learning yourself. You have to know yourself what your mistakes were,” Gudrun says.

Based just north of Brussels in Belgium, at the beautiful Seacoast Stables, the now 33-year-old first started riding as just a hobby. “My mom had one horse for fun and bought me a pony when I was a kid,” Gudrun tells. “I always rode a lot and won a lot on many different ponies. After high school I was already riding on a higher level. During my first year of university I started to doubt myself, because I wanted to do everything good and felt like that was not the case when I tried to combine horses and studying. So, I stopped at the university and wanted to do one year with only horses,” she tells us about a choice that turned out to take her further than she ever expected. ”That was when I was 19 – so 14 years ago,” she smiles.

Gudrun now lives fifteen minutes away from her parents, at the yard she bought and renovated with her partner and sponsor Alain Cloet in October last year. “I think that Seacoast Stables is one of the nicest places you can be with horses,” Gudrun tells us about her beautiful home base. “I have helped in designing it, it is all really practical to work in and everybody is happy. I think I am very lucky to be working and living at a place like this.”

Seacoast Stables has been Gudrun’s partner and sponsor for the past seven years. Before partnering with Seacoast Stables, Gudrun used to ride for different owners – mainly educating younger horses and then selling them. Breaking through on the top in a strong equestrian country like Belgium has not been easy at all, but the challenge is something Gudrun thrives on. “Now I am number 57 in the world, but I am only number eight in Belgium – the level is really high, but it motivates you to become even better,” Gudrun explains. “In Belgium, to be even in the top five in our country, you have to be on top of the world rankings. I think it is a good thing.” 

Photo © World of Showjumping by Jenny Abrahamsson Seacoast Stables has been Gudrun’s partner and sponsor for the past seven years. Photo © World of Showjumping by Jenny Abrahamsson.

Running a successful business means that Gudrun has been forced to see some of her top equine partners get sold. “This too, has both bad and good sides. Of course, it is sad when one of your best horse gets sold because I like to do the top sport and it is a long, long way to get there,” Gudrun tells. ”On the other hand, I can make a living out of it by selling these horses. It is also an achievement, to build a horse from nothing to top sport and then sell.”

“It is important for me that I can keep doing the top sport, however I don´t have to be at a five-star show every weekend. I don´t mind doing shows where I don’t have a horse with me for the ranking classes, but only young and green horses,” Gudrun explains about her motivation. “As long as I can do a big show every now and then and do it good, I am happy. Like now with Pebbles, I can really stay motivated. The bigger shows are also difficult, with a lot of pressure, but it also makes me happy to see horses improving all the way to winning at five-star level,” she continues. “Winning itself is great but winning on a horse you found and built yourself is another feeling.”

Instead of going for a systematic hunt after the next superstar, Gudrun trusts her gut feeling when it comes to finding horses. “It is not that I really go on the road and look for horses,” she tells. “Before I was more at smaller shows and just saw them by coincidence. Now, I sometimes hear about a good horse, see a video on social media or someone simply tells me – there are different ways to finding horses these days. I don´t have one particular type of horse that I like, it just has to click,” she continues. “It is like falling in love, also with horses. I have very different types of horses, but I think the most important thing is their mentality. And they need to have something special. I have small ones, big ones – you just need to find this little, special thing in them, I can´t really explain it. It is just a feeling you get,” she smiles.

Photo © World of Showjumping by Jenny Abrahamsson “I have already achieved a lot more than I could have ever imagined,” Gudrun Patteet tells. Photo © World of Showjumping by Jenny Abrahamsson.

As building up young talents is what Gudrun enjoys, winning the Finnish World Cup leg in Helsinki with Seacoast Pebbels Z in 2018 is something Gudrun ranks very high when looking at the achievements of her career so far. “Of course, the World Cup win in Helsinki was very nice. Also winning the five-star Grand Prix in Knokke two years ago, winning the Nations Cup at Hickstead and becoming World Champion in Lanaken in the category for 7-year-old horses back in 2013 are some of the memories that are special to me. When I won in Lanaken, Jos Lansink was second and Rodrigo Pessoa was third. I have the photo in my indoor. To be on the podium with these two guys, it was something very special. I think this victory really gave me a lot of motivation and self-confidence. After that, everything in my career went upwards.”

But with the highs come the lows – especially in this sport. “Of course, I had many moments like that,” Gudrun tells us when asked if she has ever thought about throwing in the towel when things have gotten rough. “But then somehow in a right moment something good came – a good result, something that motivated me,” she continues. “I have had a lot of difficult moments. There is not one top rider that only had it easy, this sport is always difficult. You have to be positive and hold on to the good things, it helps you to keep going. It is the way you want to think.”

“I have already achieved a lot more than I could have ever imagined,” Gudrun admits when we ask her about her long-term goals and dreams. “I am not from a horse family, my parents are not super wealthy – I never thought I could win a five-star Grand Prix, World Cup or Nations Cups. Those were far beyond my dreams. But of course, the further you get, the further you want to go,” she says.

“Achieving things I never thought possible, I start to think that maybe there is something more. Like now, I am qualified for the World Cup Final – and I know if my horse has a good weekend we can be among the best. I just need to ride good and we need to be in good shape.”

For Gudrun, being surrounded by the best riders in the world week in and week out is the best place to learn and to improve. Growing up, she did not have anyone in particular that she looked up to – instead, she always believed that there is something to learn from everyone. “I think you can learn something from all the top riders,” she says humbly. “Everybody has good and bad sides. I always try to see their strengths. Not only in their riding, but also in their mentality. You can always learn something.”

 


Text © World of Showjumping by Nanna Nieminen 

Photos © World of Showjumping by Jenny Abrahamsson

No reproduction without permission, copyright © World of Showjumping

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