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Still going strong – Karen Polle’s With Wings: “I knew he was a once-in-a-lifetime horse when I got him”

Tuesday, 11 May 2021
Still going strong

World of Showjumping speaks with Karen Polle about her incredible 18-year-old partner With Wings. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

 

Text © World of Showjumping


 

In a series of articles on WoSJ, we get to know more about the oldest four-legged super-stars that are still active in the sport as 17- and 18-year-olds. What does it take to keep these seniors fit to compete at the top of the sport, and what program have they had throughout their careers? First out is Karen Polle’s 18-year-old gelding With Wings (Larino x Ronald – bred by G. Arts) – a horse that according to his rider has changed everything in her life.

“In February, we celebrated eleven years together,” Polle tells about With Wings. “When I got him, I started in the lower junior jumper 1.20m classes and I was really a bad rider. However, Wings was always so good and understanding – he has every quality a top horse should have. And he taught me a lot; we went all the way to the World Equestrian Games! It is really a cool journey I have had with him.”

“My biggest classes were always his biggest classes. I feel so confident when going in the ring with him; I never feel that any jump would be too big," Polle says about With Wings. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

“Wings has a big personality, is very opinionated and is not shy of showing how he feels. And he can be extremely wild; he has the fastest spin and likes to buck – preferably five times in a row. He has a trick where he starts to rear to get me out of balance and then he starts to buck. Nonetheless, most of the times that I fall off him is while walking, since he spins so fast,” Polle laughs. “During last year’s Thanksgiving we were on a trail ride in Wellington and he spun around and I fell off – normally he waits for me, but this time he was extra fresh and took off. I never ran so fast in my life!”

Polle got With Wings at the beginning of his seven-year-old year and grew up together with him. “My biggest classes were always his biggest classes. I feel so confident when going in the ring with him; I never feel that any jump would be too big.”

"The most important thing with Wings is that he really changed my life," Polle says. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

So, how can With Wings be so fit at the age of 18, we ask Polle? “He really enjoys his job, he loves to compete, to jump and to gallop. I know little about his life before I got him, but I have always done a lot of different work with him. In Florida, we have a big grass field to ride on, I take him to the trail and I make sure he is not getting bored. I work on his body and fitness in different ways on different days. Then he loves to be in the paddock, so he is out for as long as he likes every day and there he can move constantly. I also make sure he is really fit before I go to shows, and I’m picky with when and where I show him – for me it’s important that the footing is good.”

To get to know more about With Wings’ upbringing, WoSJ called up Egbert Schep who bought the gelding as a foal and had him until he was sold to the US. “While he was with us, he did the young horse classes for 4-, 5-, and 6-year-olds, I think up to 1.35m. I was very high on the horse and always believed in him,” Schep tells. “With Wings was always careful and he always made the same jumps. Other people doubted that he had scope enough, but if the horses want to do it, they do it! With Wings has done some amazing things and is a real winner.”

“When I got him, I started in the lower junior jumper 1.20m classes and I was really a bad rider. However, we went all the way to the World Equestrian Games! It is really a cool journey I have had with him,” Polle says. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Schep does not think that the way With Wings grew up and was produced has much to do with his longevity. “I wish it was so, but no I don’t think so,” he says. “I believe the horses have to have sound genes. It has nothing to do with x-rays or scans. One horse is much healthier than another. We breed about 40-45 foals every year and buy around 40-50. I have noticed though that our foals have better x-rays than the foals we buy. All our young horses grow up in big groups. I hate when foals go in the stable to get food, so our horses are out on the field until November or December and they eat grass. They are maybe a bit behind in the development as young horses, but they are mostly healthy. Already when they are yearlings we do a selection in April with free jumping, before they go out on the field again. The horses that are not selected get sold – but nowadays we also sell a lot of the good young horses because there is so much work with developing them and it is really difficult to find the right people to do that job correctly.”

As the 2021-season got underway, With Wings and Polle competed at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida. “I tried to pick the important weeks that I wanted to show him, then I saw how he felt and made a plan based on that," Polle says. 

I have no idea what this year will hold and will take it one day at the time.

“When we were forced to stop the shows last year, Wings was very fit and ready to go. In that sense it was a pity that we missed the shows. We were in Florida when the lockdown hit and instead of showing we took the time to train on things that I wanted to improve, but that we normally don’t have the time for. I also made sure to keep Wings jumping. Not big or a lot, but since he is older, I wanted his muscles and joints to stay loose,” Polle explains.

Karen Polle after delivering a clear round with With Wings at the World Equestrian Games in Tryon. Photos © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Polle has many fond memories with With Wings, but two stand out. “One is from the World Equestrian Games in Tryon. In the third round we had to jump a clear round to make it to the individual final on the last day. It was a lot of pressure and when walking the course, the fences felt so big. However, when I got on him and started to warm up, I felt that I could do anything with him and we ended up jumping a clear round. It had been a secret dream of mine to make it to the individual final at a major championship, so it was the coolest thing ever! The second best memory is from Wellington in 2017. We won the Grand Prix qualification on Thursday and then on Saturday night we won the Grand Prix as well. This was our first 5* Grand Prix win, and it was just such a special thing when everything came together. It really was an amazing week,” Polle tells. 

“However, the most important thing with Wings is that he really changed my life. I don’t think I would have jumped at this level without him. He totally changed my approach to shows."

I knew he was a once-in-a-lifetime horse when I got him, and I wanted to do anything I could to be the rider he deserved.

"I worked really hard on my technique, my strength, learning from my mistakes so I wouldn’t make the same ones again, and watching top riders – I did everything I could to become a better rider. He motivated me to do this and he changed everything in my life. I’m really lucky to have a horse like Wings," Polle concludes. 

 

 

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