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Janne Friederike Meyer-Zimmerman: All about hard work and no excuses

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Photo (c) Jenny Abrahamsson. Janne Friederike Meyer-Zimmerman at home in Waldenau, Germany. All photos (c) Jenny Abrahamsson.

Janne Friederike Meyer-Zimmerman does not believe in luck, but in hard work and no excuses. The over-used phrase “Dreams don’t work unless you do” definitely fits Janne’s own story, and how she built up her career to win the Grand Prix of Aachen at the age of 30 – on what was nearly a speed pony – before moving on to develop a successful business with her husband Christoph, ran from their beautiful base in Waldenau, Germany.  

Early beginnings: The bigger, the better

“My parents are passionate riders and hobby breeders, and I can’t remember not riding myself,” Janne opens. "However, I am not from a real competition family. They love horses, but none of them have been showing. Already as a little girl I was riding in front of my dad when he was riding. I got a pony named Mücke very early on, and with her I could do everything. I did hunts, pony races, was skiing behind her, racing through the forest, went swimming and just playing around,” Janne tells with a big smile on her face. 

At one point Janne decided that she wanted to jump, which was easier said than done. “For at least one year I was doing the smallest classes with Mücke, and I was eliminated every time. It was always at least one fence in the course that Mücke didn’t want to jump. Then suddenly I actually managed to clear the course, and that is when I got really ambitious.”

Soon, Mücke was changed into Waterman and Janne continued to compete in both dressage and jumping but wanted more. “I asked my parents if I could have another pony if it wouldn’t cost anything, and they agreed. I had seen an ad regarding an Irish pony that they wanted to give away to a rider – Jack in the box. He was big and strong, but could jump. We went to try him. He was hardly to manage and I couldn’t stop him, but I had never jumped so high in my life so I thought he was super,” Janne laughs. 

Photo (c) Jenny Abrahamsson. Janne still doesn't mind big horses: Here Goja, her current star.

It was with Jack in the box that Janne rode her first German Championship at the age of 12. “I couldn’t hold him, but he jumped everything with me. And that day I decided I was going to the championships with horses as well.”

Back then, Janne thought that the best way to be able to jump higher fences was to have a horse that was really big too. Hence, that became what she was looking for when she decided to go from ponies to horses. 

“I found a horse in the newspaper that was already placed in s-classes and that wasn’t so expensive. Gariebo was stabled in the south of Germany at that time, so my mum and I took the train to try him. We got delayed so it was all dark when we got there, but the owner said it didn’t matter – he would jump also in the dark. He was 184cm and I convinced my mum that this was the perfect horse for me.  I’m quite small now, but back then I was really tiny. My dad hadn’t seen him when we bought him, and he was in shock when we took him out of the trailer. First of all the trailer was way to small and then this huge horse came out, he thought we had gone totally nuts!” Janne laughs when telling about the horse that she was first placed in s-classes with, and also did her first German Championship for juniors with at the age of 15. 

The girl who was never there

At the age of 16, Janne told breeder friends of her dad that she could take on young horses to ride so pretty soon the stable was full of horses to ride after school. “It worked out really well. If the horses were placed in M-classes with a young tiny girl, they were easy to sell. I was very ambitious and trained a lot. The breeders were happy to just pay a little for the stable, and I did the work for free. In that way I always had good up-and-coming horses.“

Janne made it to the German Championship every year, but was not pleased with her result until she – at the age of 19 – went there with their own breeding Callistro. “Callistro was actually only 7-years-old at the time but that year we were 3rd in ‘Preis der Besten’ and won the German Championship. That was amazing and he was such a special horse. Even though he was young, we – as a couple – had come quite far already. I had always been riding him and we knew each other so well.”

“It was with Callistro the real sport started for me, and I have him to thank for a lot. With him, I did my first Nations Cup, got my first Grand Prix placing, rode my first derby and won my first car.”

Photo (c) Jenny Abrahamsson "I actually didn’t know my schoolmates, never went to the graduation party and was just the girl who was never there. I put all my time into the horses and the horses were – and still is – my biggest passion,” Janne says.

With all the horses to ride, it was no wonder that it took Janne one year longer to finish school. She was the schoolmate that was always missing. “My parents really wanted me to get the high school graduation, and as long as I did they supported me with the rest. I actually didn’t know my schoolmates, never went to the graduation party and was just the girl who was never there. During all my years in school I was actually not even once to the cinema. I put all my time into the horses and the horses were – and still is – my biggest passion,” Janne laughs. 

No excuses

“I believe that everyone is responsible for himself or herself, and I don’t believe in luck. Most of us that are being born in this part of the world have the possibility to go to good schools and to make the most out of our lives, to be what we want to be and do what we want to do. For one person that can be to build a family and for another to become a doctor, for me it was to do showjumping. Most of us have no excuses not to do what we really want to do.”

After school, Janne started her own business and since the yard at home was more like a breeding farm with no indoor and just a bit of sand on a grass field to ride on she soon moved her business to a stable in Klein Flottbeck. “We had pretty many horses to ride, and without an indoor it was a bit of a challenge in the winter. So I moved to the stable next to the derby ring in Hamburg and was there for 4-5 years before I moved on to Friederichschulde. During that time I met Christoph, and we started to look around for our own stable and found this place three years ago. It was a dressage stable at that time and we have put quite a lot of time into making a jumping arena, a walker, make the stables bigger and so on. Now our stable offers perfect training possibilities and a lot of space for students.”

Cellagon Lambrasco: “I could never have imagined that he was as good as he really was”

When thinking of Janne it is hard not to think of the feisty little Cellagon Lambrasco – or Mops as he is nicknamed – that Janne had such success together with. “The first time I saw Mops he was at the end of his 7th year, competing in a s-class at an indoor show. I just thought ‘Wow, what a cool horse!’ I couldn’t see that he had so much quality, I just liked him. At that time he was not for sale, but when he was eight I got him to ride. He was small – only 1.60cm – and really fat, but we clicked straight away. We thought he would be a super second horse, a speed horse, so we bought him. Mops and I had a lot of fun together, but I could never have imagined that he was as good as he really was,” Janne says. 

Photo (c) Jenny Abrahamsson. Janne-Friederike Meyer and Cellagon Lambrasco in Aachen in 2011, winning the Grand Prix.

Everything Mops did, he did well – but with every step up Janne always thought the limit was reached for what he could do. Over and over again Mops surprised Janne. “We got a nomination to go and compete at Spruce Meadows, so we went. Already the first class was a 1.60m class and I really thought it was way too big for us. That we had come to the point where it was too much. Anyway, I raced into the ring and put on full speed to be able to make the height. We got a bit too fast so we had two down. And so it continued, I walked the course in horror, put the speed up and got a fault.”

With only one down in each round of the Nations Cup, Janne was qualified for the Grand Prix. “That was the most difficult course I had walked until that date. I really thought it was impossible. Mops proved me wrong and went clear. That was amazing and I was totally shocked! I went in at the beginning of the second round – that was even more difficult than the first round – and we got two down at the double of oxers. However, I was so amazed by him and thought that he had proved that he could jump anything in the world. In the end we were not the only ones to get faults and finished fourth. I couldn’t believe it. Then I just thought no matter what, Mops can jump it all!”

Even though Mops now had proved everything for Janne, she still doubted every time she went to a show. “The funny thing with Mops was, that when you were jumping 1.30-1.35m at home you really thought you were not in a good shape. I was always sceptical after jumping him at home.”

Janne went to Aachen three years in a row with Lambrasco, and they worked their way up. In 2011, Janne and Lambrasco made history. They won the Grand Prix of Aachen. “I knew that he could do it, but still I got insecure after him not jumping so well at home and in the warm-up. So I promised myself not to walk into the ring, and not to stop next to any of the fences. This way, I wouldn’t see how big it really was. So I always entered in canter and always started with a swung over the first fences. The year he won in Aachen I was going in at the end of the second round, and Otto Becker came up to me before I went in and told me there were still no clears.

The most difficult part for me in that round was the double of verticals at the end of the course. When we cleared that it was only the last oxer left. I knew that if I would get a half big distance to that fence we would make it. When I landed after the double and saw the forward distance – it was there! I was happy already on the way to the oxer because I knew we would make it, and that is how it came that I could drop the reins and put my hands in the air over that fence. I didn’t know that we had won at that moment; it was just the pure excitement over jumping double clear in Aachen. Then it was even more sensational that we had won.”

Photo (c) Jenny Abrahamsson. In 2014, Cellagan Lambrasco was retired from the sport.

A tendon injury during the Grand Prix of Dublin in 2013 would eventually put an end to Lambrasco’s career. “That really made me sad. Half a year later he moved well again so we made the decision to retire him in Hamburg. It was a very emotional ceremony. I chose to walk him in by hand since he was really difficult at prize givings and not a big fan of music. In Aachen for example, I had to jump off him during the prize giving to make him calm down.”

After the retirement ceremony in Hamburg, Mops moved to Janne’s parents' yard where he is enjoying field life together with Callistro.

A stable full of talent

Even though there will never be another Lambrasco in Janne’s life, the 37-year-old German rider has several exciting horses and the future looks promising. With the 13-year-old Goja, the 11-year-old Soccero, the 10-year-old Buettner’s Minimax, Bali as well, Cellagon Flipper – just to mention some – the stable is full off talented horses that gives the future a bright look. 

“All my horses are really different, and I also think that is one of my strongest sides: I always try to ride the horses in the way that suits them the best. We don’t look for a special type of horses, and at the end of the day it is the mind of the horse that is the most important thing. The horse needs to fight for you and have fun in the ring. When you have a horse like that, you have something very special. Then if they are hot, slow, big or small doesn’t matter. But the mind of a horse is something that has to develop, and this is nothing you can know when you buy a young horse. Then hopefully you get that moment when the horse starts to look for the fences and really enjoys competing. But you don’t get that with all horses.”

Photo (c) Jenny Abrahamsson. “All my horses are really different, and I also think that is one of my strongest sides: I always try to ride the horses in the way that suits them the best."

To find the horses, it mainly Christoph’s job. “From around 500 horses I usually find one that is interesting. And 500 horses are easy to watch if you are at 2-3 shows, which I am more or less every week. When I have found a horse that interests me I look at all the videos I can find, and I look at the breeding too. In the end I might try one horse out of 1000 that I have seen. But from the ones we try, we buy 2/3. Because when we try a horse we are quite sure that we will buy it ourselves or sell it to a client. We are looking for everything from horses for the biggest sport to amateur horses and hunters,” Christoph explains.

It is not all about saving the horses for the big sport in Janne and Christoph’s stable. “Of course, I like to keep the horses – but we make a living from selling them,” Janne says. “It is also nice to find the perfect match for the horses, and to see them continue to do well in the sport with their new rider.”

Also for a rider like Janne – who won the team gold at the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky in 2010, took the team gold at the European Championships in Madrid in 2011, who has won the German Championships four times, has been crowned ‘Rider of the Year’ in Germany in 2015 and was on the winning team of the FEI Nations Cup Final in Barcelona in 2016 – it is a struggle to stay at the highest level. Saving all the horses for the big sport is impossible, the sales are what make a living and what make the machinery go around. “Of course, I like to keep the horses – but we make a living from selling them,” Janne says. "That is why I also always look for new partners and supporters: To be able to add more horses to my string, and to be able to continue my story.”


Text © by Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping

Photos © by Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping

No reproduction without permission, copyright © World of Showjumping

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