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Looking back at 2020 – with Christophe Ameeuw: “I tried to remind myself that out of a crisis, opportunities can be created”

Saturday, 02 January 2021
Interview

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping In our last interview in this series, we speak with Christophe Ameeuw – founder and president of EEM – who during 2020 certainly experienced that when one door closes, another opens. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

 

Text © World of Showjumping

 


 

Over the past weeks, WoSJ has asked chef d’equipes, grooms, riders and show organisers to look back at 2020 – a year out of the ordinary for absolutely everyone. In our last interview in this series, we speak with Christophe Ameeuw – founder and president of EEM – who during 2020 certainly experienced that when one door closes, another opens. 

“After 2020, my team and I are experts on crisis management,” Ameeuw laughs as he begins to sum up the year. “Honestly, 2020 started in the worst thinkable way when we towards the end of January realised that we had to take the decision to cancel the Longines Masters of Hong Kong as well as Asia Horse Week – which were scheduled for the middle of February. Everything was ready and on the road; we only had a few weeks left to the event when we were forced to cancel due to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. It was an extremely difficult situation, and it was almost impossible to understand that it was happening. We had just put a very difficult year behind us due to the political situation in Hong Kong – which we had managed to navigate – but then the pandemic came and made it even worse. It was hard to take it all in.”

“With a budget of 6.5 million Euros for both the Longines Masters of Hong Kong as well as Asia Horse Week, and no insurance to cover this kind of cancellation, it goes without saying that it was no easy task ahead of us. Firstly, managing all the material, the suppliers and the venue, then the ticketing, then the partners and sponsors – eventually the cash flow. In a crisis like this, you truly appreciate having long-time quality partners that work with you to find agreements and solutions,” Ameeuw tells.

“We quickly understood that this was outside of what we could control,” Ameeuw continues. “In a situation like this, you need to stay calm and strong – and analyse what’s happening in order to make the right decisions. Personally, I tried to remind myself that out of a crisis, opportunities can be created.”

“At that point in time, it was also quite a lonely situation to be in,” Ameeuw explains. “When I came back from Hong Kong to Europe, there was still a perception that this virus was something in Asia and not really relevant to our part of the world. However, shortly after my return, that changed and for a long time it felt like it was nothing but bad news day after day, week after week, month after month. Eventually, after trying to find new dates for our Masters-leg in Lausanne – which was scheduled for June – we realised that we had to surrender and cancel this event too. Then, at the end of June, we parted ways with Longines – the title sponsor for the Masters Series since 2015.”

“For nearly two decades, I had been working to make our Masters Series one of the sport’s greatest concepts – it was my dream, my obsession,” Ameeuw tells. “From when I started with the Audi Masters in Brussels in 2004, I had a vision to push the sport in the right direction, grow it to reach new audiences as well as making it more accessible and less elitist. However, with the pandemic we lost all of the foundation we had worked so hard to build up over the last sixteen years. Indoor events have been in the front line when it comes to the pandemic, and ours have been no exception.” 

“But all of a sudden there was light at the end of the tunnel. Rolex reached out and told me that if I would have any new projects they might be interested in a partnership,” Ameeuw tells. “I know Rolex very well, from my time with the Audi Masters in Brussels and the Gucci Masters in Paris. However, I wanted to present the very best concept to them and in my opinion an indoor event was no longer realistic when planning for 2021 and 2022 or even further ahead. While our Paris event has been a huge success – perhaps one of the best indoor shows in the world – it has also had its darker sides. Over the last years, December has always seemed to be a difficult month in the French capital with demonstrations, strikes, riots and even terrorist attacks. Furthermore, the venue is a bit difficult as it is on the outskirts of Paris – there were many challenges with transportation and traffic. If I added all the uncertainties caused by the pandemic to that, it was no longer realistic to plan an indoor event at this location – it was too much financial risks. With Rolex on board, I had the chance of a lifetime, so I wanted to present them with the very best – something completely different: The Chantilly Masters.” 

“I have a great love for Chantilly,” Ameeuw continues. “It is a breath-taking outdoor venue, still close to Paris and with an unbelievable backdrop. Now, we look forward to July and cross our fingers for a new beginning – I am really happy that we can make this happen together with Rolex. Hopefully this can be a French-touch Aachen, I think we can make something really special for the future – perhaps also expand with more disciplines.”

“Thinking back to the beginning of 2020, I never thought something like this would happen. But as I said, you always have to believe that opportunities can be created – even in the worst situations,” Ameeuw says.

“I always try to be creative, and when I came back from Hong Kong – realising what will happen – I returned home to Ecuries d’Ecaussinnes where I have my family business,” Ameeuw tells. “At this time, I did not really know what would happen with my event company, so I thought that I should start developing and strengthening my family business. That being said, I did not want to go back to being a horse trader in the traditional sense of the occupation. So, I asked myself: What is the best way to develop Ecaussinnes? My answer was to go digital, to follow other industries globally. This is how we developed Horse Pass – a digital meeting point for buyers and sellers of sport horses. An online platform like this is not anything new, several have done it before us – but we have made our concept different. In addition to the digital platform, we have our live Horse Pass events at different beautiful stables around Europe. These events are similar to shows but aimed directly at marketing the horses on the Horse Pass website, and to create networks. While we this year have been focused on the European market, we might also go global in the future. On top of the Horse Pass platform, we have The Auction – which is mainly for high-level, quality horses. I think this is the way to run the business in the new world. This is the future.”

“During the year, I also started to distribute Reverdy Equine Nutrition in the Benelux,” Ameeuw tells. “I wanted a strong foundation for our family company, something we can fall back on no matter what and horses will always need high-quality food – Covid or no Covid.”

“Looking back at the past and at the same time towards the future, I do believe that what we did for the sport over the last fifteen years was necessary,” Ameeuw says when speaking about the positives of 2020. “All of us wanted to expand the sport to a wider audience, to give it more credibility, to get more people involved – and that meant going global. I think it was important for the sport, and today it is at a completely different level than it was fifteen years ago. But, at one point it was also perhaps too much. We have to ask ourselves if this travelling with the horses all over the world – week in and week out – is really necessary? I think at this point in time, it’s probably become too demanding. We have to protect the welfare of the horses, and we have to keep in mind the image we communicate of our sport. The welfare of the horses must come first, if not we will kill the sport. I also think that all the different five-star shows can be a bit confusing for the general public, it’s easy to get lost in regard to which events are really important and which counted for what. I think the pandemic will force us to become more selective and bring us back to those “grand rendezvous”. We should all ask ourselves, what is good for the sport in today’s world?”

“Personally, it’s been nice to travel less. For the last ten years, I have had more than 200 travel days every year,” Ameeuw tells. “Today, I am so happy to be back at my stables with my family and my horses. It was a great experience to travel the world, but I can thank the pandemic for bringing me back home and in front of my fireplace.”

“I don’t have a crystal ball, so it is difficult to predict 2021 but I’m not too positive,” Ameeuw says. “For sure the outdoor shows will be possible, but what about the hospitality and the public which finance these events? This depends on the development of the pandemic, and how many waves we will experience. It’s just a lot of uncertainties, so it’s a fragile situation for many show organisers as we enter 2021.”

 

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