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The Next Generation – Konstantin Deeken Künnemann: “The ultimate goal is Herning 2022, but keeping my horses happy and healthy comes first”

Thursday, 06 January 2022
Interview

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ Konstantin Deeken Künnemann and AK’s Crowney at last year's European Championships in Riesenbeck. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

 

Text © World of Showjumping

 


 

At last year’s Longines FEI European Championships in Riesenbeck, Germany, 23-year-old Konstantin Deeken Künnemann did his senior championship debut with the Danish team. Riding the now 14-year-old gelding AK’s Crowney (Cartani 4 x San Patrignano Cassini), the young Dane impressed with solid rounds and qualified for the individual final. To World of Showjumping, Konstantin tells about his special relationship with the home-bred Crowney and how his full focus in 2022 will be on the World Championships on home soil in Herning.

Let talent play a part

“It is not easy to find a good horse, nor to get them,” Konstantin begins. “To have a home-bred horse like Crowney is incredible, but after him I really have to do something to find another one. While the prices of horses are getting higher and higher, which is good for the business, it’s becoming really difficult to find horses for the top level. I have a nine-year-old mare coming up, that seems talented, but she is from a breeder who for sure wants to sell at some point – so there will be big shoes to fill in the future, which will be hard to do I think. That is also why my family keeps breeding, in the hope of making the next good horse ourselves. It is many years of work, but you can’t rely on finding a good horse now-a-days.”

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ “To have a home-bred horse like Crowney is incredible," Konstantin Deeken Künnemann says. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

“Business-wise it’s of course positive that good horses have become expensive, but I think we should not forget that this sport is supposed to be for everybody,” Konstantin says. “I am a little bit frightened about our sport going more over on a commercial track; I think it should still remain a sport and it should not only be for people who have the financial means to do it. Talent should still play a part, but it is getting increasingly difficult to find a balance between money and talent.”

Encouraged by the Chef d’Equipe

“Given my parents, who are breeders, it has always been the most obvious option for me to ride – they have always been supportive,” Konstantin tells about the beginning of his riding career. “When I was younger, I actually played football on a high level for many years. Then, I got more and more interested in horses and got lucky to have a very nice horse when I was still competing in the children’s classes as a 14-year-old. With that horse, I ended up doing the Europeans in 2012 and since then, it really started rolling. Then I got Crowney, and our Chef d’Equipe at the time, Bo K. Møller, really pushed us to try and do bigger things. He took me with on the Nations Cup teams and really motivated me to try and do more.”

Turning point

After finishing primary school in Denmark, Konstantin moved to Sören and Charlotte von Rönne in Germany – which marked a turning point in his career. “I was 16, and stayed there for two years, which probably were the best years of my life,” he recalls. “Although we worked a lot, it was really an experience with super nice people – they more or less taught me everything I know about horses. Of course, my parents had already taught me a lot, but when you are sixteen you don’t always listen to them. Sometimes it is good to go away from home, and Sören helped me a lot. I have a lot of respect for how they manage their horses, and that is the system I rely on now. I want to try and be as good as they are.”

“Sören is a real perfectionist, but in a nice way, and I really took that with me,” Konstantin tells. “He taught me to appreciate and respect the horses, he taught me so much about the ways of working with them. It is always good to hear more, and I think spending those years in Germany was a turning point for me.”

First senior Europeans

“To be honest, I would say that the first year after my young rider time I was frightened,” Konstantin tells about his step up to senior level. “However, after getting more experience, it has actually gone easier and smoother than I thought it would. Of course, it is a huge step, at least for me since I have not been that much out on international shows.”

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ "After the Europeans, it took a couple of days for me to realise how big of a thing it really was," Konstantin Deeken Künnemann tells. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

“The Europeans came a little sudden,” Konstantin tells about his championship debut on senior level. “I was fortunate to have jumped a few bigger rounds at the Sunshine Tour in the spring. In Prague, I came to be a part of the Nations Cup team after Lars Bak Andersen sold his best horse. I thought we did quite well there, with one down and a time fault. Then we went on to Uggerhalne to jump the Nations Cup. In the end, Zascha Nygaard Andreansen, Sören Pedersen, Andreas Schou and I were the only four riders qualified to jump the Europeans: Due to Covid, many people did not get the chance to ride enough shows prior to the event.”

“All the other riders were really experienced, and I was the young one,” Konstantin tells about the team spirit within the Danish squad. “They have done a lot for me, especially Andreas Schou – he has been very supportive and has walked the courses with me – not only in Riesenbeck, but at all the shows we did prior to that. I think we have really stood together as a group. When everyone knows each other, we can also help each other in a good way.”

“It was surreal,” Konstantin tells about his week in Riesenbeck. “Riding there, looking to the left, I had Fuchs and Guerdat, looking to the right I had Ehning and Ahlmann riding next to me – I got star-struck. I kind of had to get settled in, but once I got comfortable, I learned a tremendous amount just by watching them with their horses. It was an amazing experience, seeing all the top riders and how they work, on the flat, daily, warming up… It was motivating, I hope to do it again, many times.”

“The first day, I was really nervous when riding,” Konstantin continues. “Going forward, I had the feeling that I knew what I had to improve, and I felt it was possible to improve. Then the second round went really well, I had the penultimate fence down and I kind of got more into it from there. After the Europeans, it took a couple of days for me to realise how big of a thing it really was. When I was there, I just tried to focus.”

AK’s Crowney

“I saddle broke him together with a friend of mine when we were young – so actually, I have ridden him all my life,” Konstantin tells about AK’s Crowney, his home-bred championship mount. “I think he is a little bit unusual; not the modern type but a bit slow. However, he is extremely careful from nature and has loads of scope. I believe he has everything you need for the top sport, and he is a real friend: I don’t have that much experience on the highest level, and neither does he, because everything we have done, we have done together. He does everything he can to do his job.”

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ "I think the fact that we know each other and trust each other 200%, was – and is – a huge advantage," Konstantin Deeken Künnemann tells about his bond with AK's Crowney. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Konstantin believes that the special bond he has created with Crowney during their years together is a massive advantage in the ring. “Every morning, when I go to the stable, I know how he is, how he feels. We just know each other so well, and I think this really played a part at the Europeans. Although we did not get a top placement, we got to the final. I think the fact that we know each other and trust each other 200%, was – and is – a huge advantage,” Konstantin tells.

AK’s Courage (Chepetto C x Lennon 5), who won the team gold with Switzerland’s Bryan Balsiger at the 2021 Europeans, is another horse bred by Konstantin’s parents Birgit Deeken Künnemann and Andreas Künnemann. “My parents are passionate about breeding. Back in the days we had a farm with 110 horses, but today we get around five to six foals per year,” Konstantin tells about his family’s breeding program. “You could say that we have an old-fashioned approach to it: When we have a mare that has done well in sport, or we think is promising, we leave her for breeding. We don’t use embryo transfer or ICSI, it is not our thing. Our philosophy is having the foals grow up with their own mothers, we believe they also learn from them. We have previously used a lot of Holsteiner-stallions, due to my father being German and his involvement in the Holsteiner Verband in the past. However, the choice always depends on what suits the mare in question the best and we are very open minded on that."

From Baekgaarden to Vejle

Prior to the Europeans, Konstantin was based at Kim Kristensen’s Baekgaarden in Denmark, dividing his days between riding Kim’s young horses and running his own business. “Over the last two years, Kim has been a key part in the success I have enjoyed and the operation has grown. Kim helped me a lot and pushed for the shows, he really wanted me to do well. My mom has always trained me in dressage, and Kim does the jumping now, as well as our Chef d’Equipe Bo K. Møller and my father.”

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ “The World Championships in Herning is my ultimate goal,” Konstantin Deeken Künnemann tells about his plans for 2022. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Since last year’s senior Europeans, Konstantin’s business has grown and the young Danish rider will from the beginning of 2022 focus solely on running his own stable. “The World Championships in Herning is my ultimate goal,” he explains. “In order to fully focus on it, I will only be riding my own horses. I run the business together with my girlfriend Astrid Wisholm, who mainly focuses on the sales horses while I will put my all on another championship.”

The couple will remain based in Denmark, but is moving south in the country – to Vejle. “We have talked about moving to Germany, or Belgium even, but for now we will start up here in January and see how it develops. We hope it will be possible, but it is not that easy: It is a long drive every time we go abroad,” Konstantin says about the challenges of being based in the northern part of Europe.

Working for the future

“Doing the big shows, like a championship, is always an experience, but what I really enjoy is working with the young horses,” Konstantin tells. “Working with the four- and five-year-olds – if you are able to keep them for a longer period – getting to know them and understanding them and for them to understand you, is really fulfilling. Young horses develop from day to day, and I think it is cool to follow their progress.”

“I hope that in a few years’ time we have developed into a business where we have the right balance between selling and being able to ride the right competitions, to do the big shows,” Konstantin says. “And maybe someday buying or building our own farm, where we can also breed some of the horses ourselves – that is probably the biggest dream of mine.”

“In 2022, the World Championships will be the main goal and my biggest dream, but I know every rider that has a chance will work for it, it is a once in a lifetime experience,” Konstantin concludes. “The ultimate goal is for sure Herning, but keeping my horses happy and healthy comes first – then we will see what happens.”

 

No reproduction without written permission, copyright © World of Showjumping



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