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Lorenzo De Luca: On pleasures, privileges and possibilities – and exchanging hard work for success

Wednesday, 07 June 2017

Photo (c) World of Showjumping Lorenzo De Luca with Armitages Boy, pictured at Stephex Stables in Belgium. Photos (c) World of Showjumping.

It’s Monday around lunch-time and the sun is burning at Stephex Stables, but that does not seem to bother Lorenzo De Luca all that much. The 30-year-old rider is used to the soaring heat of Lecce, the beautiful baroque city in the south of Italy where he grew up – and where his incredible adventure started.

A small riding school close to one of Lecce’s nearby beaches had a young Lorenzo feeling an immediate attraction to the horses he saw. “I always loved horses somehow, and on the way to the beach there was a small stable where kids could ride – from that moment it was my dream to sit on a horse. One day my uncle took me there, I was 8 or 9, and it was love straight away.”

Little did he know back then that this would later mark the start of a successful career as a rider; one that has accelerated over the last two-and-a-half years since Lorenzo’s arrival at Stephan Conter’s Stephex Stables in Belgium.

Right after his first beach-ride, Lorenzo started taking lessons at a nearby riding school and soon he had his first horse. “Nobody from my family is involved in horses. My dad was in road construction, and a local guy was building his own stable. However, he didn’t want to pay my father and gave him a horse instead,” Lorenzo laughs. “But, the horse was a bit wild and I fell off three-four times a week so eventually we sold it.”

Lorenzo’s next stop was at a stable that belonged to a local horse-dealer, who spotted the 15-year-old’s talent. “He helped me quite a lot,” says De Luca. “I started to ride many horses for him, I wanted to jump more and get more experience. During the summer holidays I was there the whole time. It was at that time that I started to feel that this was what I wanted to do.”

Photo (c) World of Showjumping “I wanted to improve. So, I ran away from Italy,” Lorenzo laughs when telling about how he ended up in Belgium.

Finishing school at the age of 19, Lorenzo decided to leave the south of Italy as quickly as possible. “It was too closed off from the rest of the equestrian world at that time, I did not even know that the European Championships for juniors and young riders existed,” Lorenzo laughs.

Telling his parents that he would manage on his own without any need of support, Lorenzo set off from Lecce. “The first four-five years were tough I have to say. I basically earned no money, it was all about getting the experience. After four years working for different dealers I managed to get a few owners on my own, which provided me with some better horses to jump at two- and three-star shows. From that moment I started to believe that I could make it on my own.”

Starting to travel to the international shows opened many doors for Lorenzo, who made new contacts around in Europe. “At on point, one of my owners decided to send me to Henk Nooren for a few months. It was my first meeting with a real trainer, I had up until then done it on my own and gone by my own feeling. However, my basics were really lacking. So, it was back to the drawing board to learn from the beginning. That being said, I have always been keen on learning, and I still try to – from everyone around me.”

“It was one of the best experiences of my life,” says Lorenzo about his months with Henk, who he still trains with. “I learned how to manage the horses and got a lot more professional in my way of doing things. It was also a very good moment to be there as Henk was training the French team, and I could watch – just that in itself taught me a lot.”

Coming back to Italy after his stay at Nooren’s, Lorenzo was not content – he wanted more of what he had tasted. “I wanted to improve. So, I ran away from Italy,” he laughs. “I went to Belgium, where I was working with Neil Jones, rode horses for different owners and I also started to show a few horses for Stephan.”

Photo (c) World of Showjumping "I think he is a genius, and I have a lot of respect for what he created,” says Lorenzo about his boss Stephan Conter.

In 2015, Stephan asked Lorenzo to join the team at Stephex. “For me it was a great opportunity, to work alongside Daniel and to see where I could get in the end with the resources here. Stephan motivated me to come here in order to pursue the top sport, and he kept his promise.”

Today, he is world no. four and has experienced a meteoric rise on the Longines Rankings since his arrival at Stephex Stables. Over the two last weeks he has won two five-star Nations Cups for Italy, and now his eyes are set on the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. “For me it’s been something I have done step by step,” Lorenzo says about his arrival at the very highest level of the sport. “However, it makes a huge difference to have someone like Stephan support you and to have such a great team around you. When you have horse owners that interfere too much, or that don’t trust your choices 100 %, you also don’t feel confident of what you do as a rider – it will make you unsure. Stephan is not like this. He has created a super team around me, and makes me believe in myself. We have no stress here coming from outside factors, we just have to decide which shows to go to and which horses to take. The rest Stephan protects us from. It’s a pleasure and a privilege to work here!”

“On the other hand, because of all these privileges, I also feel the pressure here to bring home good results. We have all the possibilities here to make it happen, we have fantastic horses and fantastic teams around us – and thanks to Stephan we can plan our season long-term, and that does not happen everywhere,” says Lorenzo. “However, I need this pressure to perform in the ring and now I can also handle it.”

Surrounded by a team of strong riders is something Lorenzo believes makes him even better. “This way you keep your feet on the ground,” Lorenzo says. “This is important in our sport, in any sport. One week you win the Grand Prix, the next week you fall off – anything can happen. You have to try your best every day. The horse you are riding could jump equally good or even better with one of the other riders here, so you always need to give it 100 %. If something does not work, you have to be smart enough to ask for help – from Stephan or the other riders. I also want to work in a way that is in Stephan’s favour, so if I think a horse would work better with someone else I would not stay arrogant and insist to keep on riding it. That is not because one rider is better than the other, it’s about the match between horse and rider.”

Lorenzo is full of praise of his boss Stephan Conter. “I have great relationship with him. He is straight forward, but polite. If he is critical of something he brings it to you in a positive way, so you benefit from it. When Stephan does something, he always gives his best – it makes you want to do the same. Like me, he also came from nothing – I think that also makes a big difference in how you treat other people. I think he is a genius, and I have a lot of respect for what he created.”

Photo (c) Jenny Abrahamsson "They have grown with me, from my start here at Stephex. And that’s the best feeling,” Lorenzo says about Halifax van het Kluizebos (pictured here) and Limestone Grey.

Again and again, Lorenzo highlights how important it has been for him to be able to manage his horses long-term – not thinking from one weekend to the next. “I think what made me arrive where I am today is that I can plan for a longer period of time. It never happened to me before that I had a horse for more than one year,” Lorenzo explains. “I find that the way I can manage my horses here helped a lot. I am lucky to have Halifax, Limestone, Ensor and Armitage – together they are the perfect balance. Ensor and Armitage maybe only need a show a month, still they will go in and do great. The other ones are a bit younger, have less experience, also have a bit more blood – they need to show a bit more. Together, they are the perfect combination.”

With the possibilities he has, Lorenzo has left nothing to coincidence this year. “For 2017 I had everything planned from November last year. I made some small changes, but not much I have to say. I also know my horses now; I pick out the right shows for them and make them a good schedule,” he says. “At home, the older ones go a lot on the race track and are basically just kept in good condition. Before the shows, I perhaps take them somewhere different to jump a 1.10m class to give them a bit excitement rather than training at home where they know everything. This way, I try to keep the older ones fresh in their body and mind so they can last as long as possible.”

“Ensor and Armitage both came to me after success with Jos Lansink and Aymeric de Ponnat. I knew they could do it, I just had to find a good relationship with them. I had to learn about their likes and dislikes, and find a way to keep them happy. It was different with Halifax and Limestone. They have grown with me, from my start here at Stephex. And that’s the best feeling,” Lorenzo smiles. “Halifax and Limestone… They are pepper!” he laughs. “Both have a lot of energy, but that actually helps them a lot. They are very careful, and they can jump in any ring in the world.”

Lorenzo is not your stereotype Italian macho. He likes to spend time with his horses, and to spoil them with treats and grass. “I treat them a bit too much like babies sometimes, but I think they like it – it’s the smallest thing I can do for them,” he laughs.

Privileges and possibilities to the side, what has Lorenzo brought to the table? “Well, I think I was lucky to find the right people in the right moments,” he says. “I also think I was smart enough to make the right decisions in the right moments. Then, being respectful towards other people is important – I believe in acting in a way that those in your past always would make the choice to invest in you again,” Lorenzo says. “Another factor I think has helped me is that I always want to improve. I have always been hungry to learn from others, to talk and listen.”

Last but not least, Lorenzo is a big believer in rolling up your sleeves. “From working at all those different dealing stables; I know what it is all about. For years I did it all myself, and was my own groom. That was also why winning the Nations Cup in Rome was so emotional for me: All of us on that team; we came from nothing. We worked really hard to make our way to the top, I think it’s a good example for other young Italian riders,” Lorenzo says. “Our story is about the good in our sport: Work hard and you can succeed.”


Text © World of Showjumping by Jannicke Naustdal / Pictures © World of Showjumping

(No reproduction without permission)

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