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The Next Generation: Ioli Mytilineou – "Sometimes, I feel I understand horses better than humans”

Thursday, 26 August 2021
The Next Generation

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping With a strong string of horses, that includes the hugely talented 10-year-old stallion Levis de Muze (Elvis Ter Putte x Tinka’s Boy), the future looks bright for 24-year-old Greek rider Ioli Mytilineou. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

 

Text © World of Showjumping

 


 

With a strong string of horses, that includes the hugely talented 10-year-old stallion Levis de Muze (Elvis Ter Putte x Tinka’s Boy), the future looks bright for 24-year-old Greek rider Ioli Mytilineou. After impressing with good results during this year’s Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida, Ioli more recently delivered a strong performance in the CSIO5* Longines Grand Prix of Rotterdam when jumping a double clear round to finish 7th. In June, Ioli won her first five-star class during Knokke Hippique and in August she followed up by taking her biggest victory yet when topping the three-star Longines Grand Prix in Deauville. 

Ioli started to ride before she could even say the word. “I was born into a horsey family with my mum and dad both riding – my mum to a more professional level; in 2004 she represented Greece at the Olympic Games in Athens,” Ioli tells. “Although very involved, they never put pressure on me to ride, as they just loved that I enjoyed it as much as they did. Growing up, it was the only thing I wanted to do; after school and on the weekends, I would be down at the barn all the time. In Greece, they have some great riding clubs, which consisted of one or two trainers who helped everyone that was based there, so all the kids would hang out together. We were all part of a big team, which was a great environment to be surrounded by.”

“I did my first European Championship when I was 12, in the children’s category,” Ioli tells. “It was such an experience as well as a whole new ball game for me. There were so many young people that rode so well, which was super eye-opening. From then on, during the summers when I was off school, I would start going abroad to international shows – especially in preparation for the Balkan and European Championships. The Balkan Championships are a big thing for Greece, because as a nation we have high chances of doing well, having won the team events on multiple occasions.”

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping “If I was able to create my dream horse, it would be exactly Porky," Ioli tells about Levis de Muze. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

“In 2015, when I graduated high school, my plan was to pursue riding as a full-time career, so I moved to the heart of it all: Belgium,” Ioli tells. “It was a huge transition for me; coming from a very team-orientated environment in Greece, I felt quite lonely in Belgium to begin. It seemed to be more of an individual sport here, compared to what I was used to back home – more of an each to their own type of sport. Coming from Greece, where a class could be won simply by leaving out a stride down a line, it was initially slightly disheartening when I’d do the same here, but end up 30th instead. After some time, I thought to myself that perhaps I should look further and assess other potential options – maybe riding wasn’t the be all and end all.”

“Throughout school I always tried my best when it came to academics and was studious enough that if I ever wanted to go to university, I could secure a position at a good one,” Ioli tells. “Having done so, I applied and got accepted to King’s College in London and decided to start studying. However, I should have known that once I was there, I would not be able to get my mind off the horses. In the seminars, my mind would drift off and I would constantly text home to ask about my horses and how things were. I only ended up staying in London for three weeks – but honestly it felt like three years. You’d think I was there a while from the number of stories I have to tell! Even though my parents are easy-going, it was a tough conversation to have, as I felt that dropping out meant I was letting them down. It was made easier by the fact that I was now so certain that I wanted to pursue showjumping as a career; all I wanted to do was get back to it. During this time, I went to Oliva to compete with the plan of flying back and forth to follow my classes. After two days of being in Spain, I e-mailed my university saying “I would like to withdraw, how do I proceed?”. And that was that! I went back a month later, packed up my little flat and I was on my merry way. Today, I can confidently say that I am very glad I made that decision,” Ioli smiles. 

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping. “If he was human, my boyfriend would have some serious competition!” Ioli laughs whens speaking about Levis de Muze. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

With La Perla vd Heffinck (Cooper vd Heffinck x PKZ Contact vd Heffinck), L’Artiste de Toxandria (Toulon x Kashmir van Schuttershof) and Levis de Muze leading the way as her top three horses, Ioli has spent the last two years building towards the future – one step at the time. While she has high hopes for all three, it is Levis de Muze – or Porky to friends – that holds a special place in Ioli’s heart. 

“The first time I saw Porky was as a 7-year-old, in the warm-up at the Sunshine Tour, with Youssef Salmeron,” Ioli tells. “The reason I noticed him was because he looked very similar to another horse I had at the time, called Broadway. One day, as I was sitting by the main ring, I saw him going in, so I thought I may as well watch him jump,” Ioli tells. “From fence one, I already loved him, but since I was on the phone, I signalled to my mum to ask about him. Mum being mum jumped up to ask just as he had taken his first step out of the show ring. En route, she spotted two other well-known riders approaching – so mum shot off at a hundred miles an hour to get there first,” Ioli laughs. “At this stage, there was actually somebody else coming to see him, but luckily for me that trial got cancelled. Porky has a very sensitive mouth, so before I even got to try him, Youssef asked to watch a video of me riding just to make sure it would suit. After having only done a few fences, I knew... The feeling was unbelievable. I re-tried him again one more time at home in Belgium, and here we are today.” 

“Honestly, I could not even begin to describe him to you,” Ioli smiles when speaking about Porky. “If he was human, my boyfriend would have some serious competition!” she laughs. “If I was able to create my dream horse, it would be exactly Porky. There is not one single thing I would even consider changing when it comes to him- in my eyes, he is the whole package. He is small, but his size is perfect for me, as I’m not awfully big myself! Despite being only 1.64m, he is a big mover, he has a lot of engine with a high head carriage and his balance is impeccable. To top it off, he is so incredibly clever – almost too clever for his own good at times. My admiration for him as a horse and an athlete is endless.”

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping "Every time you go in the ring, you just know she will give 110 %,” Ioli tells about La Perla vd Heffinck – who was her partner when winning the CSI3* Longines Grand Prix of Deauville in August. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

“For the last few years, I have not had a horse that has come to me with more experience than myself. Every time I have moved up a level, it has been my first time as well as their first time,” Ioli tells. “This has also been the case with Porky, which in one way has been tricky – especially in the bigger classes. On one hand, I battle between having faith in myself that I can do it, and on the other, I know that if I doubt my ability it will come through to the horse. I’ve always had the feeling that Porky could do anything, but you just never know until you actually get there. He does make it easy for me though; the bigger it gets, the better he jumps. Being able to grow together like this is amazing, and you learn so much about one another – down to the smallest detail. Building up in this way, when you have success, the feeling of achievement, for me, is much greater. With Porky, I can confidently say that I was a part of developing him to where he is now. In a way, I guess this makes me feel less pressure – there are no expectations, you just go out there and do the best you can. Saying that, due to how special he is, I do always feel I have to deliver because so many people think so highly of him.”

“It is a weird thing to have such a feeling for a horse as I have for Porky,” Ioli smiles. “The relationship I have with him is really special, and I am so lucky to be in the very fortunate position of having parents that want to support my career and enable me to keep him. Part of me thinks I will never find a horse like him again, but at my age I can’t have that mindset either.. I’m always looking for the next best thing!”

La Perla vd Heffinck and L’Artiste de Toxandria also came to Ioli fairly young. “La Perla was ridden by my boyfriend Harold, who bought half of her when she was seven – he owned her together with Enda Carroll. Harold was probably riding her for a year and a half, and since he is based at my stable, I would see her every day. I grew more and more fond of her as time went on and Harold always spoke so highly of her. After a while, I brought up the idea of a trial for myself, and luckily he was ok with that. While La Perla has her own way of going, and you have to leave her a bit the way she is, she is such a trier. Every time you go in the ring, you just know she will give 110 %,” Ioli tells about the mare that she won the Longines Grand Prix of Deauville with. “L’Artiste came to me from IN Showjumpers, where he had been produced by Anna and Tim Wilks. Anna always loved him and would often tell me how he was one of her favourite horses – but it never occurred to me to try him. At that time, my trainer Sean was helping Anna a little bit, so he got to work with L’Artiste at home. After Sean had been over to the UK a few times, he told me he thought the horse was exceptional and that he saw him suiting me, so I eventually ended up trying and then buying him. I really believe in L’Artiste; he has so much ability and talent. He is so elastic in his way of going, and will sometimes jump a fence like there’s fire underneath it – he is super sharp for a big horse. We both still have a lot to learn, as he is a lot of horse for me; but I have no doubt in our partnership.”

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping Ioli credits her trainer, Sean Crooks, for helping her take the step up to the higher level. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

This year, Ioli has taken some big steps up with all her horses – starting the season at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida. “Going to Wellington was a bit far-fetched for me, but as COVID grew more prominent in Europe throughout the fall last year with show after show being cancelled, I started considering WEF as a serious option,” Ioli tells. “With my current string of horses, I thought it would be a big mistake to not go if there was even the slightest chance of having no shows. It was a big investment going to Florida, but eventually I committed and decided to go. It was quite daunting, as I had never been there before, so I was not sure what I was dealing with – or organising. Luckily, my good friend, Jess Mendoza, has been based out there for a few years, so I got a lot of help from her to get everything sorted. I took four horses with me but ended up only competing three, as one got injured two weeks into circuit. Fortunately, the others did well enough for that not to be a huge issue in the long run. Competing at WEF was an amazing experience; the level of competition, talent and work ethic is extremely high – everyone is keen to get stuck in and do well. If there would be a motto over there, it would be ‘do better’. With an abundance of top riders in the same place week in and week out, you learn so much simply by being there. I aimed to come out of WEF stronger than I went in, and I think we managed to achieve that – with Porky I was placed 4th and 6th in two of the four-star 1.60m Grand Prix classes. I definitely left there with a lot more confidence than I arrived with.”

Ioli credits her trainer, Sean Crooks, for helping her take the step up to the higher level. “I have been training with Sean since late 2018. We get along really well and have a very open way of communicating – honest and respectful,” Ioli tells. “The main and initial reason I reached out to Sean was because I was looking for someone who had time. I very much like sticking to a plan and tend to be quite a rule follower – some would say rigid,” Ioli laughs. “For this reason, I knew I would work best choosing a trainer who would manage well with such traits. When training with a professional rider, you can definitely learn a ton, but it’s difficult to pin them down and get them to spend time helping you, simply because they have a busy schedules themselves. With Sean, I knew that if I needed him, he would be there for me, and this was important when making my choice. Sean is very invested in our training and is very good at relating – he knows how to deal with emotions and the psychological side of the sport. He has helped me understand that you don’t need to seek perfection.. just try to do a lot of small things really well, which in the end will all add up to being great. Sean works very much on the basics and keeps things simple – but at the same time, does not allow any slack when it comes to the details.”

“Although Sean is essential in my improvement, it goes without saying that I would not be where I am today or going where I would like to be going without the continued support of my family. They have been and still are by my side every step of the way, and I couldn’t be more grateful. I won’t ever be able to repay them, but I hope to always make them proud.”

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping “Undeniably, the most unique part of this sport is of course the bond you are able to create with the horses – it is so special," Ioli says. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Ioli now has her eyes set on the European Championships in Riesenbeck, Germany. “When I did the children, juniors and young riders, the Europeans were the highlight of the year for me,” Ioli smiles. “This year, the Europeans are also an aim, and they will be my first championship as a senior rider. However, I’m trying to make sure I don’t do too much to revolve around it. I don’t want to create too much internal pressure and make it a big thing in my mind. I try to see it as another show in my schedule, and I will do as best as I can for myself and my horse.”

“My biggest challenge at the moment is getting into some of the higher-level shows,” Ioli says about stepping up. “I have three horses that have the ability and are capable to jump at that level, but because I have an FEI ranking that is not quite high enough, the current system does not provide me with the opportunity to partake. Whilst the riders that are ranked high enough are able to give their 4th, 5th or even 6th horses that experience, someone in a position like mine, is prevented from giving that to their top one(s) – which makes it more challenging to improve. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great opportunity for those that are at the top of the ranking and they undoubtedly deserve that by having made their way there – but I also think it is equally as important to enable other, maybe less experienced riders with eligible horses to do the same. In order to move up the ranks, you also need to jump the bigger shows because that’s where the points are.. making it a slightly vicious circle,” Ioli points out.

“Today, you need constant and solid horsepower if you want to stay at the top – one or two good ones wouldn’t be enough,” Ioli says. “If I am going to aim for the World Equestrian Games next year and the Olympic Games in Paris in 2024, which is all easier said than done, I need to continue developing a string of horses that will allow me to not only reach, but also remain there. Seeing it from a business perspective, you also need to have room to sell one or two without that side-lining you from the bigger classes – so strengthening my string is a priority for the next year. Ideally, we do try to buy younger horses, develop them and be self-sufficient this way, but it’s not always easy, as that seems to be what the majority seek to do.”

Ioli loves the sport, and at 24, there is nothing she would rather do. “What I really enjoy about this sport is that there is always room for improvement and learning new ideas – you can never claim you know it all. The sport is forever evolving and changing, and I think what can make a good rider great is one that has the ability to keep up with those changes and adapt. I try to soak in as much as possible, so as to be the best version of myself for the horses that I have at the moment, because I truly believe they are all exceptional,” Ioli says. “Undeniably, the most unique part of this sport is of course the bond you are able to create with the horses – it is so special, and without speaking a word you can understand one another. Sometimes, I feel I understand horses better than humans.”

 

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