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The backstage pass: Ken Ruysen

Friday, 11 October 2019
Interview

Photo © World of Showjumping by Nanna Nieminen
“I have been lucky to work with amazing teams and events with a great history," Ken Ruysen tells about his job as sport director. Photo © World of Showjumping by Nanna Nieminen.

 

Text © World of Showjumping

 


 

You often hear riders say how it ’takes a village’ to succeed, referring to their teams that make sure their equine super stars stay safe and sound. But what about the other side of the backstage crew – the event organizers? In our new series ’The backstage pass’, World of Showjumping goes behind the scenes at some of the biggest events in our sport, with the people who work around the clock to put together a great show.

First out is Ken Ruysen, by now well known as one of the best sport directors on the circuit. For the past two years, Ken has worked as sport director at two of the biggest five-star shows in Belgium: Knokke Hippique and Brussels Stephex Masters, and since October, he is taking on the role as Managing Director at Equestrian Centre de Peelbergen. In his position, Ken is truly feeling the pulse of the sport and has a front row seat to all the action. Yet, he can always be found calm and focused in the middle of it all.

“It is an unbelievable feeling to follow it so close, to work in between the best horses and riders in the world,” Ken says. “At five-star shows the relationship between a rider and a horse is even more incredible to witness, the level of the sport is so high at the moment. Staying close to the riders also helps me work better, I get a lot of feedback for example with my timings and schedules,” he continues.

Photo © World of Showjumping by Nanna Nieminen
"To build an amazing event together with people I know I can trust, is great. It gives a lot of satisfaction to end a weekend well, and to know it was a success," Ken says. Photo © World of Showjumping by Nanna Nieminen.

But what does a sport director actually do? “We create the sport program and the FEI schedule for each show, we appoint all the officials, course designers and announcers. My responsibilities cover all the organization regarding the sport, so from footing to fences, to the decoration in the arenas, the course building, all the daily schedules and timing, protocols, as well as the timing and organisation of the entertainment,” Ken explains. “I have been lucky to work with amazing teams and events with a great history. In this way, you never really start an event from scratch – normally there is always some history already there.”

“I think as a sport director, you need to understand the sport,” Ken continues. His knowledge of the sport stems from his riding past – something he believes has helped him in his work. “I am really closely involved with the equestrian world and I still have the opportunity to ride at home at the stables of my girlfriend Aniek Poels,” Ken explains. “The riders know and see me as a horseperson, they know I am closely involved and that I know the basics of horses and riding. Of course, all this helps me to see what is going on in the sport.”

Growing up in Diest, Belgium, Ken studied sports and event management at the University of Leuven and was always riding on the side of his studies.

“At 21, after I was done studying, I wanted to try my chances as a rider and to learn more about the sport,” Ken – now 30 – tells. “I took a chance to work for Zangersheide. I literally just contacted them to ask if they had any open positions for riders, and they did,” he recalls. “I stayed in Lanaken for three years and it was a great experience. I learned a lot about how a big stable is running. Back then I already had a big passion for the events Zangersheide was organizing, from the Z-Tour to the stallion presentations to the FEI/WBFSH Jumping World Breeding Championship for Young Horses.”

After Ken’s time at Zangersheide, another opportunity came about: The Meynaerts-family invested in Sentower Park and offered Ken a job there. “They asked if I could help with creating a business plan, and I worked for them full time for three and a half years. After that I got an offer from the Stephex Group to work as the Sport Director for Knokke Hippique. It was the first five-star show I ever did, and in Belgium – it was a great honour for me and a great opportunity. Afterwards, the other Stephex events followed, and I took the decision to work for myself as a freelancer,” he continues to explain about his career path. “Next to that, I have other jobs as well – like the Longines Masters of Paris and the FEI Longines European Championships in Rotterdam, as well as the FEI/WBFSH Jumping World Breeding Championship for Young Horses at Zangersheide. I also organize one event myself with Luc Poels and Carlos Pinto, the three-star show Winter Masters at Equestrian Centre de Peelbergen.”

Photo © World of Showjumping by Nanna Nieminen
"For me, my main task is to keep the overview of the whole event, and to give everybody the opportunity and room to do their job professionally," Ken explains. Photo © World of Showjumping by Nanna Nieminen.

But what are the building blocks for a successful event? “The team around you and the people you know, they are the most important thing,” Ken points out. “It is impossible to do these things alone. Through the years you build relationships with different people and every year you fine tune the details of an event to make the next edition better than the last. On a longer term, it is important that everything goes well financially. You need a lot of sponsors behind you to run an event, to make it possible for riders to compete for good prize money,” he continues. “It is important to have good relationships with your sponsors.”

From hectic show days to his calmer home office, there is great variation in Ken’s daily work. “During the shows we are always early, we are at the showgrounds upfront to do our daily tour. We check all the arenas, the footing, the fences – we make sure that everything is ready before the competition starts. During the day we follow up and guide our arena crew and course builders,” he goes on. “We prepare everything behind the scenes, communicate a lot with the officials and the organising committee. There is always a lot to do at big events.”

The days in between the events are spent planning and preparing, and in numerous meetings with different stakeholders. “So far as a freelancer I have had the luck to get a lot of work done from home,” Ken says.

“The team work, actually,” Ken answers when asked what he enjoys most in his job. “It is nice to have a great team around you, and I must say I meet a lot of good people at my events. To build an amazing event together with people I know I can trust, is great. It gives a lot of satisfaction to end a weekend well, and to know it was a success.” But team work is also the biggest challenge in Ken’s position. “One of my main tasks at any event is to let everyone work smoothly together, so that there is a good understanding between all the different aspects of the show,” he explains. “Everyone should be focused on their own tasks. For me, my main task is to keep the overview of the whole event, and to give everybody the opportunity and room to do their job professionally. On the other hand, my main priority is the sport. We have a lot of people involved in the events, but we need to make sure everything runs smoothly together and that the sport comes first.”

From the 1st of October, Ken has started on his new adventure as Managing Director at Equestrian Centre de Peelbergen. “It is a great opportunity and a fantastic facility with a lot of potential for development, and it is close to home,” Ken says. “I am really looking forward to further develop Peelbergen. They have had a great start over the last 3-4 years. For me, my dream is to stay really closely involved in the sport and I feel like I have all the opportunities for that in my new position alongside the few five-star events I am working with,” he continues. Moving from his home office to Peelbergen is another step forward on Ken’s career – and the best is surely yet to come. “I believe that there are no limits as to what can be organized at Peelbergen, but we have to go step by step. Let’s dream big and work hard!”  

 

No reproduction without permission, copyright © World of Showjumping 

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