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Victoria Gulliksen: “Every round with Papa Roach feels like a bonus”

Tuesday, 01 November 2022
Interview

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for WoSJ.
“If you don’t have the drive from the beginning, I don’t think you will get far,” Victoria says about making it to the top of the sport. “And what really drives me is my love for the horses.” Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

 

Text © World of Showjumping

 


 

Growing up as the only daughter in Norway’s leading showjumping family has not meant that anything ever came for free for Victoria Gulliksen. “If you don’t have the drive from the beginning, I don’t think you will get far,” Victoria says about making it to the top of the sport. “And what really drives me is my love for the horses.”

That drive has now taken the 30-year-old to the top of the current standings of the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup Western European League, after a runner-up position in the season opener on home soil in Oslo, followed by a 6th place in Helsinki a week later – both aboard Papa Roach (Perigueux x Zeus). Victoria and Papa Roach also had a great run at last year’s European Championships in Riesenbeck, Germany – where they finished 9th individually.

To World of Showjumping, Victoria tells about her endless appreciation for Papa Roach and how every day with the 13-year-old gelding is a gift.

Meant to be  

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for WoSJ.
“He was like a child with a lot of energy who had trouble channelling it," Victoria tells about the beginning of her journey with Papa Roach. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Victoria’s unique journey with Papa Roach began eight years ago, when she was in Salzburg. “I was sitting at the show, watching the U25 classes and a boy randomly came up to me asking if I was looking for a new horse – and told me he had one that I should see,” she recalls. “The horse was in Germany, and, at the time, Eva Bitter was riding him. I liked the video, so I went to try and really liked him. A week later, I was in London to watch my dad compete and showed him the video of me trying Papa Roach. He was not really impressed, but another top rider was with us and told my dad he thought the horse had something and that we should go and try it again. So, we did, and he jumped great again. Finally, I found an owner to co-invest with me because I could not afford him alone.”

He has a very funny character

“When Papa Roach came home, it was obvious he was very talented, but he had a lot of energy – he was wild,” Victoria continues. “He was like a child with a lot of energy who had trouble channelling it. He jumped big classes already as an 8-year-old, but he was not really consistent; he felt very weak, like he was struggling with his body. I took him to America when he was nine and he did well there.”

“He has a very funny character,” Victoria continues. “He is very kind, gentle and soft – you cannot be angry or stressed around him, as he absorbs that. If you go to him angry, you cannot get him out of his box – no chance, he will sense that something is off. You have to do everything in his tempo, you cannot rush him and then he is very nice to handle. He is super cuddly as well, he gives you kisses and lays in your arms if you sit next to him.”

Against all odds

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for WoSJ.
"When we had that year and nine months at home, I was forced to return to square one with him, really start from the beginning; from hand-walking five minutes to jumping again,” Victoria tells about Papa Roach's nearly career-ending injury. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

However, in 2018, Papa Roach had an accident during a flight and tore a tendon on his hind leg. “When we took him to the clinic, the vets said that he would never jump again – that we should be happy if he survived and could have him in the field at home,” Victoria tells about the freak accident. “In the end, he was out for one year and nine months. I believe that everything happens for a reason and in the end that time off was good for us: We got to be together without showing, without competing. I always really liked him, but it took a long time before we really bonded, but when we did, we built a very strong relationship. He was so talented as a young horse – and I was very young then – and when I think back now, I feel like I maybe skipped the basics and was too keen to compete. When we had that year and nine months at home, I was forced to return to square one with him, really start from the beginning; from hand-walking five minutes to jumping again.”

Every round I jump, I am just so appreciative of him

“When Papa Roach got injured, I was really sad,” Victoria recalls. “I blamed myself for the accident, I felt it was my fault because I dragged him to that show, I made him go on that plane. The fact that we now managed to get him back to the sport, has been the best feeling ever. Every round I jump, I am just so appreciative of him and the time we have together – I feel like this is such a bonus, it should not have been possible. While he was out, I did not get placed in a single Grand Prix, and the fourth class we did with him after he was back on track, we got a placing! He is the only horse I have done this well with. When we went to the Europeans last year, I did not even think about the results – I was simply riding, just enjoying jumping with him again.”

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for WoSJ.
At last year’s European Championships in Riesenbeck, Germany, Victoria and Papa Roach finished 9th individually. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Victoria has made a careful plan for Papa Roach and does not show him much. “I skipped the Nations Cup Final in Barcelona this year – even though I really wanted to jump there – because I felt he had been so good in Herning,” she explains. “I wanted to give him a break and get him ready for the indoor season. Before Oslo, he had time to recover and he got to jump a smaller class at a national show before he had to jump big again. In Oslo, I was only riding and enjoying myself – not thinking – but in Helsinki I was nervous in the jump-off. I tried too hard, and that’s why I got one down; I was too eager there. Afterwards, I was angry with myself, because I should just ride and have fun.”

“I will do at least Verona and Stuttgart,” Victoria says about her plans for the remaining World Cup season. “Next summer, my only goal with him will be to qualify for the 2024 Olympics. That would be a dream come true, if I could compete with Papa Roach at the Paris Olympic Games. I know he is going to be fifteen then, but that is my dream and I hope we can keep him fit.”

Nothing comes for free

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for WoSJ.
"It was never a case of horses being bought for me – horses and ponies simply came in and out and I rode whatever we had," Victoria tells about her career. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Even though Victoria is a daughter of Geir Gulliksen – Norway’s most decorated showjumper – she has not been given anything for free. While her mother Elisabeth is very much involved in the family business and her younger brother Johan-Sebastian is a successful showjumper in his own right, Victoria has been brought up to be independent. “My parents were very busy when Johan and I were young,” Victoria tells. “Mom was working at the airport and dad was doing his sport, traveling around teaching and trying to survive; he had started from zero and now had a family to provide for. He did not have time to follow up on us, and I started to ride at the riding school down the road. I lived down at the riding school every summer so I could do the summer camps they had. I always got old ponies or ponies that did not work for others. My best pony was originally bought for the riding school, but it was too wild, so I got it. With that one I won silver at the Norwegian Championship for ponies and at the Europeans. Since I was eleven, I have been making my own horses – I never got a pony or a horse that was ready. And I always had to push to go to the shows; I had to prove that I really wanted to go, deliver all my homework early, do other sports… It was never a case of horses being bought for me –  horses and ponies simply came in and out and I rode whatever we had.”

You have to be willing to work

“I think it has made me strong and independent,” Victoria says about her upbringing. “I had to learn everything by myself, but I believe it has helped me; in this sport, you need to have that will to do it. You cannot just have nice horses and go to nice shows, you have to be willing to work. If you don’t have the drive from the beginning, I think you won’t get far. I never had four Grand Prix horses lined up for me, never. In our family, we have respect for each other and a very close relationship between all of us. It has not been about laying on the couch and getting everything for free; we have all worked really hard for what we have. I know my dad could have sold Papa Roach a long time ago if he wanted to, but he is very kind and knows what this horse means to me.”

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for WoSJ
"I really appreciate that my parents gave me the freedom and sent me off; I was never overly protected, never isolated in one place,” Victoria tells about growing up in the Gulliksen-family. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Victoria believes that her strong character comes from her father. “It must be genetic,” she laughs. “We are very similar. However, what really drives me is my love for horses. The daily work at home is what I love the most; hacking in the woods, riding on the beach, doing all the basic chores… However, I also think jumping 1.60m is so cool! I love it.”

I feel like this industry is full of strong, independent, hard-working people – and I admire that

“I feel lucky that I have been involved in the industry from a very young age,” Victoria continues. “I got to go to the shows with my dad and saw how hard everyone was working. I feel like this industry is full of strong, independent, hard-working people – and I admire that. I can’t pick just one person, because I feel I have looked up to everyone that has been around me growing up. Of course, female riders like Laura Kraut, Edwina Tops-Alexander and Jessica Kürten have been especially inspiring for me. Since I was fourteen, my dad would send me away for the summers; I have been at William Funnell’s, at North Run in the States, at Tops, and at Helena Stormanns’ yard. I have tried to take the best from everyone, put it together and make it into a system that works for me. I really appreciate that my parents gave me the freedom and sent me off; I was never overly protected, never isolated in one place.”

A new focus

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for WoSJ.
“Jordy always fights for me and wants me to do better,” Victoria tells about her supportive partner Jordy Van Massenhove. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Today, Victoria is based near Knokke in Belgium, with her boyfriend Jordy Van Massenhove. “We moved here two years ago,” Victoria tells. “I wanted to do something on my own. There is a lot of work with the clients at home in Norway, I felt I could not focus on myself – and I really wanted to go for the sport. I feel the move here has been the right thing to do. Jordy and I have foals, young horses and older competition horses; it is not too big but just enough for us. I have two horses for five-star level and a few young ones coming up.”

I really wanted to go for the sport

“Jordy always fights for me and wants me to do better,” Victoria tells about her supportive partner. “However, we are very different: I like to ride fast, I am a ring jockey – I get into the ring and get on with it. He is such a perfectionist, and picks on me all the time to be more focused, more detailed and I in turn encourage him to let go and follow his feeling a bit more – I think we complement each other very well. We are honest, and support each other. In Helsinki, we were both clear in the World Cup, and after his round Jordy said he was so happy he didn’t care if he did the jump-off or not; we had a reason to celebrate already.”

“It feels unreal,” Victoria says about her recent success and the fact that she currently leads the Western European League. “I never thought that this would happen! I have competed in so many World Cups, and had so many good rounds, but never been good enough for the top. I am used to watching the jump-off and the prize giving from the side-line. When I was in Oslo, it felt so surreal, like I was watching myself from the outside – I never thought I could be there with the big guys. And then it happened again in Helsinki! I know I have my horse to thank for all of this, and the biggest challenge in our sport is to find and keep the good horses – and I know it will be hard to find another Papa Roach.” 

 

No reproduction without written permission, copyright © World of Showjumping.com

 



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