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WoSJ Exclusive; Bertram Allen – "Be prepared to do what it takes"

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Bertram Allen and Romanov.
Bertram Allen pictured at his yard in Hünxe together with one of his top horses Romanov. Photos (c) Jenny Abrahamsson.

If the international showjumping circuit could be compared to Hollywood, it would definitely be possible to compare Bertram Allen’s talents on the horse back to the acting talents of young stars such as Daniel Radcliffe, or to that talent Leonardo DiCaprio displayed as a nineteen year old in the movie ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape’. And if we were the Vanity Fair of showjumping, Bertram Allen would definitely make it to the cover of our ‘Hollywood Issue’. Bertram himself would probably object to such a comparison though, as he is one of the most modest boys you will meet in the sport. He is quiet – bordering to shy if he doesn’t know you, but when he starts talking he can indeed be very funny and also very mature.

That Bertram is a talent is something his trainer and mentor Marcus Ehning is willing to sign on. “It is his incredible talent that has enabled him to prove himself in the sport at such a young age. Bertram has a super eye and great instinct,” Marcus says when we ask him about his 18 year old pupil.

Allen’s former trainer and good friend Billy Twomey is also full of praise; “I think Bertram has a lot of talent. He has a really good feeling for the horses. Bertram is a sympathetic rider, and he would never bully the horses into doing anything – he meets them halfway instead. For such a young age he is very experienced as to what the horses need, which is a big plus for him – I would say he has quite an old head on young shoulders. He clearly has a bright future ahead of him.”

What Twomey is saying about an old head on young shoulders is definitely true. Although Allen is busy getting his driver’s license at the time we try to find a time for our interview with him, there is very little else going on in his life that is remotely similar when compared to others on his age. To start with, Bertram lives all by himself in Hünxe, Germany – with his dad, mum, three sisters and three brothers in the age range of 7 to 19 still living in Wexford, Ireland where Bertram grew up.

Bertram Allen and Dino W.
Bertram Allen and Dino W pictured in Allen's stable in Germany. About his move from Ireland, Allen says: “From my perspective this is the place to be if you want to do the sport.”

And it’s not like Bertram recently moved to Germany, to work his way up – he is already a long-time citizen of Hünxe as he has had his base there for over two years. “When I was 16 and had my last year on ponies, I had an exam free year in school – like a transition year where you are encouraged to find out what you would like to do. So, I went to Germany to ride for a few months and I am still here,” Bertram laughs. He was not left all alone though as he stayed – and still stays – ten minutes away from his yard with some friends of his dad. “I get on great with them, so even though the house here is finished now I still live with them,” he adds.

His family are keen visitors though, and all of them spend as much time as they can with Bertram. “They are all very involved, and my dad and my two oldest sisters April and Lucy are over here a lot,” Allen says. His family are all into horses, his younger brother Harry is the keenest rider next to Bertram – and his dad once trained race horses in Ireland ‘until the ponies kind of took over’ Allen laughs as he tells us about how he and his father got bitten by the showjumping-bug. “I started riding when I was around eight or so. I went to a riding school for a while, and went on from there. In Ireland the pony circuit is a big thing, and I did it the whole way from 12.2, 13.2 and up to 14.2. I was lucky enough to have some really good ponies, so that got me off to a good start and I got hooked basically. My best 12.2 pony Magic Shadow I still have, he is retired and out in the field every day enjoying life.”

Because as it turns out – Allen actually turns his horses out. And he isn’t just saying this and showing us the paddocks; his World Champion from Lanaken last year – the seven year old Barnike – is out in a huge grass field bucking and running around without anyone as much as lifting an eyebrow. Next to her is two of Bertram’s other big stars; Dancing Queen Z and Zenzation. And then there is Magic Shadow and a friend. This natural way of keeping the horses happy, is a red thread when speaking to Bertram about his ways of training and keeping the horses fit and sound. Allen is all about keeping the horses sound mentally as well as physically. “I like to keep them fit, and keep their brains right with cantering them outside a lot,” he explains. “I try to get them around the woods here or on the gallop track – or just working them on the grass field – just doing something different with them. I think it’s good for them mentally as they spend so many days of their lives in the arena.”

The 2013 World Champion for six year old horses Barnike out playing in the field - Allen is all about keeping it natural for the horses.

The facilities at Bertram’s yard are indeed very well fitted to his way of training his horses. There are huge grass paddocks, a big grass ring with an extended part with natural fences – including a hedge and a bank – a race track, a huge outdoor and everything is surrounded by woods with endless roads to hack out on. Inside the stable has big boxes for the horses, with the possibility to open their windows so they can look out and breathe in fresh air. There is no bling in sight, no gold, no chandeliers – it’s all about the comfort of the horses. It’s simple and it’s natural.

“My dad bought the place here as he does a lot of property,” Bertram explains. “It used to belong to Jessica Kürten and her husband. For six months we rented it back to them, and I also stayed here at that point. Then a few months in Jessica moved to France, and I was here on my own for a while with one groom and three horses,” and he starts laughing at the thought of how remote and lonely it sounds. “So, it has come on a bit since then and we have about 20 horses here now, and out of these between 13 to 14 are mine. There are people in and out every day – so that’s great. I have Christian Puck from Austria working as a rider here, and Marlen who is my showgroom as well as a home groom. And then I have an Irish dressage rider renting a stable here, so it’s busy enough,” he adds.

To the question on how he ended up in Germany, Allen quickly replies; “From my perspective this is the place to be if you want to do the sport.” Luckily for Bertram his father was already doing a great deal of property in Germany, and was already over there every second week or so – making the choice to move there quite a natural one. “In the beginning I said I would try it for a few months – but I knew that when I came here I would not go back – but it sounded a bit better to say that I was trying it out. I will admit that in the beginning it was a little hard, I was all on my own here and went to a German school for a few months – and at that point my German was not good enough. But, I was never going to go home. I would not be where I am today if I had,” Allen says.

His talent has certainly taken him a long way, but then it’s never wrong to train with Billy Twomey either from an early age. A lot of right decisions have been made for and by Bertram, and this was surely one of them. “I started training with Billy after we bought a truck of him. Billy’s then stable jockey Anthony Condon’s father trained my brother Harry at home and we get on very well with him. That’s how we found the truck we were looking for, and the next thing that happened was that I went over and got some training from Billy. That certainly helped me a lot!”

Bertram Allen and Molly Malone V in Paris in 2014.
Bertram Allen and Molly Malone V in Paris in 2014.

It was Billy and Anthony that brought along Allen’s stars Molly Malone, Wild Thing as well as showing Romanov. “We bought some five and six year olds – including Molly – which they brought on, so that there would be a bit of a team ready for me when I was coming off ponies. Wild Thing we bought half of Billy, while Romanov was the only horse we got ready produced – and that was for Billy to ride,” Bertram explains of his and Billy’s co-operation. “When I moved to Germany, it was a little difficult going back to Billy to get help so he organized for me that I could get some training from Marcus. I learned a lot from Billy; simple things that showed me I was not that up-to-speed at home when it came to the management and the flatwork – things that you should kind of know. I still talk to Billy three or four times a week, and we still do a lot together,” Allen says.

To train with Marcus Ehning is something every rider – not matter level – dreams of. He is considered one of the best in the world, and Allen is lucky enough to train with the German rider a few times a month. “Marcus lives only thirty minutes away, so it’s easy to take the horses on the truck and go there. Training with Marcus is a bit different from training with Billy, but the same principles are there. They both keep it quite simple and straight forward. With Marcus you can go over and ride a few horses, and he will not be saying a whole lot or shouting at you. The things he does say though are important and you pick up on it,” Bertram says.

Although he has some good horses for the big classes – such as Romanov and Molly Malone, Bertram’s focus and business is centred on bringing along youngsters. “I was lucky enough to get Romanov last year to bring me up in the classes. He took some of the pressure of Molly – and it allowed me to do some bigger shows. Our focus is on bringing youngsters up in the sport though; we try to locate and buy the best five and six year olds that we can find without paying too much and then bring them on until they are eight or nine. Hopefully then we will be able to keep one or two and the rest we will sell, and try to make money out of that. So we will try that idea and see if it works,” Allen smiles.

Bertram’s 16 year old partner Romanov has been very successful in the sport, first under Philip Spivey, then under Billy before Bertram took over the ride. “Romanov is a little bit of a lazy man’s horse,” he laughs. “The reason I got on with him so well last year I think was because I just rode him, I didn’t do too much or think too much when I was on him – and he liked that. Then a little bit down the road I changed things, such as the bit and then I started working him a little more. Following my changes I found that he wasn’t jumping that well anymore, and he had a fence down here and there. In Frankfurt at the end of the year I just changed back to a normal snaffle and didn’t work him in the mornings, and he was much better – he likes it simple. Romanov is a very nice horse, straight forward – fit and fresh for his age.”

“I love Molly,” Bertram says when asked about the 10 year old mare that have brought him wins in Barcelona, Gijon, Leszno, Lyon, Millstreet and Paris last year – to mention some. “Dad bought Molly as a five year old at the Sunshine Tour after he was told that she had jumped something like 14 out of 15 clears down there. She didn’t look all that special back then I have to say, and she was quite strong. Molly is so sweet in the stable, and when you ride her she is a real worker. The more she is worked the better she gets. She is the complete opposite of Romanov,” Allen smiles.

Bertram Allen's yard.
Happy horses at Bertram Allen's yard.

One of the most promising horses in Bertram’s stable is Barnekie – the horse he won the World Championship for six year olds on last year in Lanaken. “She is a bit funny actually, I don’t know what she will turn out to be,” he laughs. “Nikki is a really special horse. We had her here this summer, and then jumped her a few shows and it didn’t go very well. Then I did a show with her in Bondheiden and the last day she was second, which was a big improvement compared to what she had done the weekends before – but still I was not really happy. So, I spend some times on the roads and on the track to do some gallops – because she is actually a hot mare – so I galloped her to make her relax, and she got a bit quieter. Then I did a local show on her just up the road, and she got a score like 6.4 or something – nothing at all. After this show I brought her to the championships in Lanaken because I could go with a spare horse, and she won – I definitely did not expect her to do that! Since that she has come a long way. Like Molly, she is a super sweet horse in the stable.”

Watching Bertram in the ring, what will hit you is how his horses always seem to fight for him – not to forget with him. Does he find them like that or make them this way we ask? “I suppose a little bit of both. I wouldn’t like a horse that doesn’t like to fight for you. Maybe it’s a bit the way I ride them as well; I mean I have to ride a bit lighter than most riders and I think they like this and give me something back. I mean, the way you act on a horse and around them – they pick it up – they are very intelligent. So, I try to stay positive in my riding and always go forwards so that they get confident. I try to teach my horses to balance themselves; I like it when the horses come out of the corners and keep their head up looking for the fence.” Even with the young ones, Bertram wouldn’t be afraid to let them turn a bit or gallop a little. “They need to learn to go against the clock. If they learn this gradually from a young age, it doesn’t take anything out of them when they get older and you really need to go for it,” he explains.

Although he likes to go fast – the word that comes across most often to describe Allen when asking those who know him is ‘Relaxed’. When we ask him if he would describe himself in the same way he nods and says; “I try and keep relaxed. It goes back to what we spoke about earlier on – I suppose if you are worried and tense, running around – and then jumping up on a horse it will not do it any good. But I suppose I can maybe be a little bit too relaxed sometimes,” he smiles and confirms that he at his first Nations Cup show almost went into the ring with a pair of draw reins on. Nervousness is obviously not something young Allen does. “Nervous – no. Anxious to do well – yes,” he replies when asked.

"I like to keep them fit, and keep their brains right with cantering them outside a lot," Bertram says of his way of training the horses.
"I like to keep them fit, and keep their brains right with cantering them outside a lot," Bertram says of his way of training the horses.

Talent, the best trainers, a good choice of horses and a fantastic family. All these factors has contributed to getting Bertram to where he is today. “You cannot base yourself on your talent only, so Bertram still has a lot to learn,” Marcus Ehning says when we speak with him. “Although he is very well underway. Like any other young rider he needs to learn more about precision, preparations and management. But, the talent is definitely there and that is a very good basis to build on.”

And Bertram knows this very well. “You have to be dedicated. Be prepared to do what it takes to get to where you want to be. You have to get out and work your way up by learning from the best, and then the opportunities will come,” he says when we ask him about what else it takes to reach the level he is at today at only eighteen.

Where there any sacrifices though – or does he somehow feel that he missed out on being just a regular teenager? “Not really,” he says. “I spend three years in boarding school, which I enjoyed – and I guess that was my normal childhood so to say. To be honest I am very happy the way I do things, and going out partying or doing homework is not really something that I miss!”


Photos by Jenny Abrahamsson/Text by Jannicke Naustdal - copyright © 2014.

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