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Max Kühner: “Hiding opinions does not move the sport forward”

Monday, 16 March 2020

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping
Max Kühner: A professional showjumper with a lot on his schedule. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.


Text © World of Showjumping by Nanna Nieminen



Max Kühner, who placed 6th individually at the 2018 World Equestrian Games in Tryon with Chardonnay, is a professional showjumper with a lot on his schedule. When not riding, he runs one of Germany’s biggest privately-owned leasing companies. Kühner is also a board member of the International Jumping Riders Club (IJRC) and has taken an active role in tackling the many political issues in the sport. World of Showjumping sat down with the 46-year-old to discuss the balance between business and sport and how working together is the only way forward with the current challenges the sport is facing.

Kühner is no stranger to the business world. Nearly forty years ago, his father founded the first private leasing company in Germany. “So, this topic was always on the table in our family,” Kühner smiles. “I founded Lease Force in 2007. The main intention of the company is to be one of the leaders in different niche markets. For example, we are one of the biggest leasing companies for forest machineries,” he explains. “That is what I do after riding!”

“My daily routine starts with riding the horses in the morning,” Kühner goes on to tell about his balancing act between two fulltime jobs. “I start quite early as my goal is to leave the stables between nine and nine-thirty. After I am done riding, I go to the office. When I am at shows, I can take some of the work with me. We have a very good IT-system, and have software engineers employed in the company. I think the way I work now would not have been possible 20 years ago,” he says.  

“Horses are my passion, there is no doubt about that,” Kühner says when asked which role he feels more at home in. “However, running a business is also very interesting. To achieve something is always motivating. On the business side, I am very lucky to have great colleagues who started the company with me. I have known them for years, and with them I am very happy to give things up. I know everything will be handled in the best possible way,” he explains.

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.
"I love seeing a horse grow into the sport,” Max Kühner says, here seen with Coeur de Lion 14. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

When asked if he has ever considered focusing solely on his riding, Kühner answers frankly: “Absolutely. Sometimes, when I am not happy with my results in the show ring, I feel that I maybe should have been more focused,” he admits. “But this is my life, and I have to make the best out of it and I love it.”

A bad day in the ring is more often than not a good day in the office and vice versa. “That is for sure a positive thing, they do level each other out,” Kühner smiles when talking about his two careers. “The two jobs also benefit from each other from time to time. Many people that I work together with, I got to know from the sport and some of my business acquaintances are now into showjumping.”

As in business, the sport also requires that right decisions are made. “In my opinion, it all starts with the people you work with – whether it is with the company or with the horses. “However, I think passion is always the main reason we work with horses. I don’t think anyone can say they work with horses because they want to earn a lot of money,” Kühner smiles. “At least I don’t believe that. Mostly, you lose more than you earn. For me, the increasing amount of money in the sport now-a-days is just a nice side effect; it makes the financing part a bit easier.”

Kühner’s favourite part of his equestrian career is to scout young horses and develop them for top-level sport. “That is what I really love. For me, it is a lot of fun and I enjoy training younger horses. I love seeing a horse grow into the sport,” he says.

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping
“Horses are my passion, there is no doubt about that,” Max Kühner says when speaking about his two careers. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Also in his other roles, moving forward is what motivates Kühner the most. “When I worked with the FEI Jumping Committee as athlete representative – and I have been in many working groups before – I have to say I had a very good time,” Kühner says. “I think we really managed to solve a few issues and move forward. Back then, we had a strong group and made some tough decisions. At that point in time, I was very impressed about what we achieved. Right now, I don’t see the same kind of decisions being made. On the contrary, everything seems very complicated and there is a tendency in the FEI to make a rule for absolutely everything. In my opinion, this tendency disturbs what our main focus should be: That we are dealing with another living creature. We work together with living animals, and we could never do that without sharing the responsibility with every single person involved. It goes without saying that with so many lives involved, it is impossible to write a rule for everything – not everything can be controlled.”

However, as an IJRC board member, Kühner is still closely involved in the political aspects of the sport. “I think it is fantastic that we have the IJRC, and that the riders have a voice,” Kühner tells. “However, the things that really bother the athletes are sometimes difficult to address – especially during the shows, because as a rider you want to stay focused and be at your best in the ring. Therefore, I think many riders don’t make space for these topics and that is why they perhaps seem not to be so involved.”

“However, I think it is important for each rider to speak up and share their opinion. Hiding opinions does not move things forward. In this case we are lucky to have the IJRC, a good channel to share our views. Through the IJRC, we also have one voice and I think it is a voice that the FEI hears. At least that is what they tell us; that they hear what we are saying. That being said, I think it is important not only to listen but to also truly work on the issues that need improving.”

“To improve the sport must be the common aim for all of us,” Kühner says. “And improvement cannot be made by one person alone, the work must be done together.”


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