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Kendra Claricia Brinkop: “Don’t be afraid of change”

Tuesday, 13 July 2021
Interview

Photo © Nanna Nieminen for World of Showjumping
“My advice would be to take all the chances you get!” Kendra Claricia Brinkop says when asked what she would tell a young rider aspiring to reach the very top of the sport. Photo © Nanna Nieminen for World of Showjumping.

 

Text © World of Showjumping

 


 

27-year-old Kendra Claricia Brinkop is fearless. With Marcus Ehning, Patrick Stühlmeyer and David Will as her teammates in the prestigious CSIO5* Nations Cup in Rome, she jumped double clear for Germany and was selected to do the jump-off against Belgian European team gold medallists Gregory Wathelet and Nevados S. While some would describe that experience as nerve-wrecking – or at least exciting – Kendra uses the word “fun”. To World of Showjumping, Kendra tells more about her lessons learned, her battle with confidence and how she is not afraid of new chapters in life.

A distant dream turns into reality

Photo © YRA\Fabio Petroni
“Of course, you want to show off in a good way; Germany has so many great riders to choose from," Kendra says about being on the German team – here with Kastelle Memo at the CSIO5* Nations Cup in Rome. Photo © YRA\Fabio Petroni.

To ride in Rome was not part of Kendra’s original plans – jumping at the iconic five-star show was a distant dream. “Our Chef d’Equipe Otto Becker called me a week before, asking if I was in good shape,” Kendra tells. “I was 4th in the Grand Prix of Mannheim prior to Rome, so I told him my mare Kastelle Memo felt good. Otto asked if I thought I could ride her in Rome – and I had to ask him if he really meant Rome, as in Rome, or some other show… Were we talking about the same event?”

“I was sure I wanted to take the chance,” Kendra tells about her first reaction. However, Kendra needed a final approval from her boss Stephan Conter. “Stephan asked if I felt ready, and my answer was yes – so we went for it. We did not have so much time to prepare, but it all worked out. It was not my first time on the team though, and I know Marcus – so that helped a lot. He gave me a lot of confidence,” Kendra says.  

“The night before the Nations Cup, we had a team dinner and a flower seller approached our table,” Kendra continues. “I joked that I wanted flowers, and Marcus Ehning replied he would buy me some if I jumped double clear in the Nations Cup – so the day after he did just that! We had a great team spirit, and it is always so exciting to ride a team class. It is crazy when you look at the warm-up; the amount of people watching you get ready. It’s added pressure, but it is fun! I like it.”

Photo © YRA\Fabio Petroni
“I was sure I wanted to take the chance,” Kendra tells about her first reaction when asked to ride in the German team at CSIO5* Rome. Photo © YRA\Fabio Petroni.

“The German team is always strong and usually ends up on a podium, being one of the biggest and strongest equestrian nations,” Kendra continues. “Of course, you want to show off in a good way; Germany has so many great riders to choose from.”

Kendra is thankful for German Chef d’Equipe Otto Becker, who is known to give the younger generation chances. “To ride a five-star Nations Cup in Rome is a big deal for someone like me,” Kendra says. “Otto always gives young riders chances to step up. He would not put you in a situation that you are not ready for. He has a good sense for that; if you can handle the pressure or not.”

“Everyone keeps asking me if I was nervous,” Kendra says about her Rome performance. “My mare gave me so much confidence though and felt great on the first day, so I felt like I could only win by gaining either the experience or a good result. I was very focused, but not stressed – I had pressure, but in a good way. I always try to keep calm, because I think that feelings are contagious, and if you are nervous your horse will feel it too. I used to be more stressed, but I worked a lot on this. Now, I can work quite good under pressure and I think it comes from experience.”

Where it all started

Photo © Nanna Nieminen for World of Showjumping
“I have always been involved with horses,” Kendra tells. Photo © Nanna Nieminen for World of Showjumping.

Kendra comes from a family with passion for horses and equestrian sport. “I have always been involved with horses,” Kendra says. “At home, we also breed. As a junior and young rider, I jumped the Europeans on home-bred horses. My oldest sister runs a business of her own, producing and selling young horses. I always wanted to ride full-time, but my parents – especially my mother – kept telling me to do something else first. If I really wanted to ride, I could always do so but she kept telling me I would have to be sure. Therefore, I worked three years at the German Equestrian Federation. I really enjoyed it, but I kept riding the whole time and afterwards I got the chance to work for Marcus Ehning – and then there was no turning back!”

“I worked for Marcus for two years and did my first five-star Nations Cup at Hickstead in 2018 during my time with him. It was a great experience. With Marcus, I learned all the basics – he passed on a lot of knowledge to me,” Kendra says. “Marcus is great to work for: He does not only teach you how to ride but also how to manage your horses, how to take care of them and to always have respect for them. There is so much work in the background! In Germany, we are very focused on the flat work and dressage which I am thankful for. I think this is the key, also for the soundness of the horses. I got the biggest chance with Marcus, and it was a dream.”

However, after two years with Marcus, Kendra felt ready for something new. “I wanted to experience as much as possible,” she explains. “To see what others were doing and learn from different systems. I started with my parents, who taught me – I jumped the junior and young rider Europeans with them as my trainers. After Marcus, I wanted to work for a big dealing stable, to learn more about the business side and then Stephan Conter called. I did not know him from before, but I said yes immediately. I started at Stephex Stables in April 2019.”

“I was afraid though: I worked for the best rider in the world and felt stupid to change that,” Kendra tells about her doubts when leaving Ehning for Stephex Stables. “But Marcus told me that when he was young, he also wanted to see everything and experience as much as possible, and if I got the chance, I should take it – I could always come back to him. For me, it was important to gather knowledge and get more experience. Change is always scary, but you have to take risks. Now, I would say I did it all right!"

A new chapter

Photo © Nanna Nieminen for World of Showjumping
The 11-year-old mare Kastelle Memo – Kendra’s Nations Cup partner in Rome – is currently the top horse in the young German rider’s string. Photo © Nanna Nieminen for World of Showjumping.

“In the beginning I had a lot to prove. I got a lot of young horses and I was riding mostly national shows for the first year here, schooling around,” Kendra recalls. “I think it was a test for me… Now, I have 17 horses on my list. It is hard work, but I am very happy with the horses I have and there is a great team behind me. I manage everything myself: I decide what the horses do, I organise my show schedule, the blacksmith and the vet – so right now, my days are busy. I ride maximum eight horses each day. I think it is more important to ride less horses and do them properly instead of rushing a bigger number of horses and not taking your time with them. I like my horses to be out 2-3 times every day, and to really be horses, to live as natural as possible.”

The 11-year-old mare Kastelle Memo (Thunder vd Zuuthoeve x Cicero Z) – Kendra’s Nations Cup partner in Rome – is currently the top horse in the young German rider’s string. “We are a great fit,” Kendra tells. “I have had her since I started here at Stephex, and she was very green back then. I started in 1.20m classes with her and was not her biggest fan. We could not really tell where she would end up, if she would have the quality at the end. Over the last year, she has improved so much and I now believe that she is one of the best horses I have ever ridden.”

Photo © Nanna Nieminen for World of Showjumping
“I wanted to experience as much as possible,” Kendra tells about leaving her job at Marcus Ehning's yard to work at Stephex Stables. Photo © Nanna Nieminen for World of Showjumping.

“I love getting to know many different horses,” Kendra tells about the favourite part of her job. “With young horses it is interesting to see how they can develop and grow with the right work. I like to see young horses growing up to the bigger classes. It is not that I only like to ride competitive and older horses – which is fun of course, developing the young ones is what I truly enjoy.”

“First of all, it is fun,” Kendra tells about working at Stephex Stables. “Everyone does things in different ways, and it is great to get tips from riders like Daniel and Lorenzo. Stephan is a great boss; he is the main reason for where I am right now. When I worked for Marcus, I was not so confident, and I was very hard on myself. I was training with a legend and I wanted to be perfect and professional. When I started here, Stephan kept telling me that I am way too hard on myself. I kept seeing only the negatives. Stephan helped me out of that, and gave me a lot of confidence – which has made me the rider I am now. Stephan really wants his riders to reach the top, so when he gets a chance – like Rome – he is honest, supportive and 100 % for the sport.”

The bigger picture

Photo © Nanna Nieminen for World of Showjumping
“I focus more on the management part than I used to. When I was younger, all I wanted was to win a class," Kendra says. Photo © Nanna Nieminen for World of Showjumping.

Working for Marcus Ehning, and now for Stephex Stables – Kendra has benefitted from being around some of the sport’s very best. “I think differently now compared to when I was younger,” Kendra tells. “I focus more on the management part than I used to. When I was younger, all I wanted was to win a class. Today, I start from scratch and focus on building a relationship with the horses. I see the bigger picture.”

In 2017, Kendra participated in the Young Riders Academy’s educational program. “You get educated on different subjects such as business, law, veterinary issues – as well as getting lessons with really good riders,” Kendra tells. “Even now, the YRA still supports me in getting into shows and help if I have problems. It is a strong connection to have. Going from U25 to five-star is still a big step and it is important to get help in that gap. The U25 series helped me a lot, I got to ride in Aachen when I was 22 and I won there. Jumping at venues like Aachen gives you confidence, and you learn to ride with pressure. Riding in that arena, it takes your breath away. “

“Before the outdoor season started, my main goal was to be back to jump in Aachen and it still is,” Kendra tells about her future plans. “An even bigger goal would be the Europeans this year. I know that based on my results, it could work – the only thing is that my mare and I are both inexperienced so we might not have enough time and opportunities to show our ability. It is anyway a dream.”

“My advice would be to take all the chances you get!” Kendra answers with a smile when asked what she would tell a young rider aspiring to reach the very top of the sport. “For me, it was important not to try something only for a few months – you should do it with a long-term perspective. To get into a system takes time, so at least hold on over a few months, even if it does not feel a 100% yours. You don’t need to copy everything but focus on the things that work for you – and then find your own way.”

 

No reproduction without written permission, copyright © World of Showjumping



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