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Henrik von Eckermann and Janika Sprunger: On good times, gratefulness and gut feeling – part two

Thursday, 21 March 2019
Interview

Photo © World of Showjumping by Jenny Abrahamsson All smiles: Henrik von Eckermann and Janika Sprunger, at their home base close to Bonn, Germany. Photo © World of Showjumping by Jenny Abrahamsson.

When World of Showjumping meets Henrik von Eckermann and Janika Sprunger, the couple greets us with a big smile on their faces. No wonder, as they come fresh from a ski holiday in Austria where Henrik went down on one knee in the snow and got a yes from the girl of his dreams – who now wears a big, beautiful, sparkling diamond on her ring finger. While the wedding plans are at the very earliest stage, it is safe to say that Henrik and Janika have one exciting year ahead of them – not only on the personal front. Janika, having sold her best horse Bacardi VDL in February, has the challenge to re-group and build up a new string of top mounts while Henrik is ready to face his competitors in April’s Longines FEI World Cup Final on home soil in Sweden coming fresh from his Rolex Grand Slam victory in Den Bosch. 

Here is the second of the three parts of the article. 

Photo © World of Showjumping by Jenny Abrahamsson "I need to be grateful for the opportunities I get," Janika says – here pictured with her 9-year-old King Edward. Photo © World of Showjumping by Jenny Abrahamsson.

Part Two – Janika

While her fiancée has established himself firmly in the top ten and is ready to go for gold at the Longines FEI World Cup Final in Gothenburg in April, Janika faces another kind of challenge. She is fairly familiar with it though – it is not the first time the Swiss rider has to see one of her top horses go. In 2014, after an incredible summer season, Palloubet d’Hallong was sold. However, Janika bounced back and in 2015 brought her next star Bonne Chance to the European Championships in Aachen and then in 2016 to the Olympic Games in Rio – only to experience the mare getting injured at the end of the year, which has kept her out of the sport since. Then, in February this year Janika’s current top horse Bacardi VDL was sold – and the 31-year-old Swiss rider yet again found herself having to start all over again.

“It is a fact that for the next year, I can forget about the big sport,” Janika says when speaking about the sale of Bacardi VDL. “He leaves a big gap, that is for sure. However, I need to be grateful for the opportunities I get. Like with everything else in life, you have to make the best out of the situation.”

This last sentence pretty much sums up Janika, who seems to not carry even the tiniest percentage of resentment or regret with her. On the contrary, she embraces the challenges and appreciates the opportunities she has been given. “I’m very grateful that I have someone investing in my team. We buy the horses young with the aim to develop them for the top sport, and we have proved that it works,” Janika says about her partnership with Dofour Stables that owned both Palloubet d’Halong and Bacardi VDL. “Our partnership has lasted for sixteen years, which is something that I am proud of.”

Janika’s return to the top sport might take a year, perhaps even less – in the line of successors are the promising 9-year-olds King Edward and Fancy Me as well as the 8-year-old Little Magic – all owned by, or in partnership with, Dofour Stables. “Of course, I hope that one of them will be just as good as for example Palloubet or Bacardi – but it’s a long way to go when they are young,” Janika says. “I also have Bonne Chance back from rehabilitation now. We will try to make her come back to the sport. That would make a big difference for me.”

With a nice portfolio of references, Janika has made a name for herself producing horses for the top sport – but she is much aware of what she is buying. “For me, I have to pay attention to whether the horse really suits me,” she says. “I cannot ride everything. I need a light horse, it needs enough blood and then of course carefulness, a good mind and scope. Even if you lack a bit on the scope in the end, with the rest you will still have a good horse.”

Photo © World of Showjumping by Jenny Abrahamsson "I decided to come here to Germany to him – thinking either it works out or it doesn’t,” Janika says about her move to Henrik. And, as we now know: It worked out! Photo © World of Showjumping by Jenny Abrahamsson.

To bring the horses up from the scratch is something Janika had to learn early on. Although her father Hansueli Sprunger was a successful showjumper himself, there was no money to spend on ready-educated horses. “My first horse was only five when I got it, already back then I had to build them up myself. My dad told me that this was the way we had to work, we could not afford a horse for me otherwise,” Janika tells. “I started at 1m level and brought the horse up to the 1.40s while I was a junior rider. Then we sold it and my next horse – which I took over from my father – I brought to the European Championships winning my first team gold medal. After this, my partnership with Dofour Stables started – the owner had known my father for a long time and used to ride himself. We started with a 7-year-old, sold it and bought a new one.”

The first horse for the big sport came with Uptown Boy, Janika’s faithful partner for a decade. “We bought Uptown Boy when he was 7-years-old, and kept him going until he was 17 – now he is retired and enjoys the fields with a friend,” Janika tells. “Then we also bought horses like Palloubet and Bonne Chance when they were six, Aris as a five-year-old, Electra when she was seven and Komparse when he was nine – we grew a little army of horses. Then, when he was 10-years-old, Palloubet was sold. That was a difficult time for me because all I cared about was the horses and the sport,” Janika says. 

However, in the summer of 2015 Janika was back with another feisty little chestnut: Bonne Chance. “She was very difficult when she was younger, but when she turned nine she changed so much,” Janika tells. “That year she won the team bronze medal at the Europeans in Aachen, while one year later she won the first five-star Grand Prix for me and she took me to my first Olympic Games. I was so grateful for her, she had much less in her than Bacardi did for example – but she was such a fighter. I just loved her so much for what she did for me,” Janika says. “Then, in December 2016 Bonne Chance got injured in Geneva. She has been recuperating since, and now we are trying to bring her back.”  

While Bonne Chance has been out to recover from her injury, Bacardi came through and last year Janika took the stallion to the World Equestrian Games in Tryon. “It began well, but did not finish so good,” Janika tells when speaking about her unexpected exit in the second round of the team competition. “Still, I am grateful for the emotions I could experience with this possibility. I did not even think I would get to a championship with him after the injury he sustained in 2014, which kept him out for nearly two years. Even if the WEG ended bad, it was still an experience – and it was a good season that brought us there.”

Photo © World of Showjumping by Jenny Abrahamsson "I was getting older and I needed to try my own thing," Janika says about her move from Switzerland. Photo © World of Showjumping by Jenny Abrahamsson.

In difficult times like these, Janika is grateful to have the support of her family – especially her father Hansueli. “My dad was just always there for me,” she says. “He always gave me the right support, although he did not necessarily tell me what to do all the time. He knows exactly that top and flop are not far apart in this sport.”

Hansueli always encouraged his daughter to be independent, and to gain impulses from other riders and trainers. “I trained with Henk Nooren, Jos Lansink and Beat Mändli – my dad wanted me to watch and learn from the best. He wanted me to learn to feel my horses. This is so important, especially when bringing young horses up. They go through such a process in their minds and bodies, so you need the right feeling for them,” Janika tells. 

Although Hansueli wanted his daughter to stand on her own two feet, it was not easy when Janika three years ago decided that she wanted to move from Switzerland to Belgium – trying her own luck. “It was a big issue with my dad at first,” she laughs. “Like I said, I’m very close with my father – it was always the two of us together. He was not really positive towards me going away, but I was getting older and I needed to try my own thing. I went to the Lammers-family in Hamont in Belgium, where my then boyfriend was renting stables. The stables are in a corner towards the Dutch boarder, ten minutes from Stal Tops – a busy commercial area so I learned a lot there. In Switzerland I was a bit isolated, and suddenly I was so central and in the middle of everything. The move brought with it new opportunities, and I started a partnership with Jasmine Chen – who I have had a very good time with while she was with me,” Janika tells. 

The first year on her own was not plain sailing though. “Actually, it was a bit of a disaster,” Janika laughs. “There were so many things to pay and not so much money coming in. But, eventually I found a way to make my own money, and it felt good. Going home again was not really an option any more. Then I met Henrik, and privately things changed a bit… I was not sure what to do, but I decided to come here to Germany to him – thinking either it works out or it doesn’t,” Janika smiles – now confident that she made the right choice. 

 


Text © World of Showjumping 

Photos © World of Showjumping by Jenny Abrahamsson

No reproduction without permission, copyright © World of Showjumping

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