Behind the Medals with Anky van Grunsven

Following her dressage freestyle demonstrations at the 2006 Spruce Meadows Masters Tournament, Anky van Grunsven Anky van Grunsven gave a glimpse into her life behind the medals.

Karen Robinson: When a situation arises that you are not leading from the start, do you change the way you mentally prepare as you go along?

Anky van Grunsven: In the Grand Prix [at the 2006 World Equestrian Games (WEG)] I think I made mistakes and maybe it was because my horse was going so well that I had a great feeling, that I was too confident. But even if it goes well, you still have to stay on top of it. I never get nervous about it, but it would be boring if you always knew how it would end up.

KR: At the 1994 World Championship in the Hague, you had the same medal placement with Isabell (Werth) that you had in Aachen. Was it the same format as in Aachen?

AvG: No. In Den Hague I won the Grand Prix, and then you had to choose between the Special and the K?r. I chose the K?r and Isabell chose the Special.

KR: You said at the WEG that, at first, you were not a fan of the new medal format, but after the Freestyle final you said you had changed your mind. You would have been the overall gold medalist on the old format with the scores you got in Aachen. Are you still feeling favorable towards the new format?

AvG: I was really happy that I was the best over three days, but on the other hand I do like the new formula because everybody had a new chance every day. You never you never had a feeling that you could just relax for the last test, so it kept more pressure on all the riders. And more exciting for the sport I think.

KR: HRH Princess Haya said that she thought this format was what really filled the stands for the Special. Do you believe that it was the medal that brought so many spectators?

AvG: Yes. If the Special is only there to find out who is competing the next day it’s less exciting.

KR: Andreas Helgstrand’s horse Blue Hors Matine–do you think she will become a real force to reckon with?

AvG: Yes, of course, we could all see that she’s a very spectacular horse. She is still very young, so he’s done a great job there. In one way you can see that she has great abilities and in the other way, you can see that it she still not completely ready yet. I think it’s good that we have horses like that in the ring because it makes the sport more interesting.

KR: And it pushes you a little bit too.

AvG: Yes, but I don’t need anybody else to push me!

KR: When Salinero bolted in the team victory gallop, was that the first time he has done something like that?

AvG: I was really shocked because I take him to all my prize givings, always. Krack C gets really nervous at prize givings. But I never thought something like this could happen with Salinero. He has always been good in prize givings. But it was an enormous stadium, and the crowd was unbelievable.

KR: Was it a disappointment to do your victory lap on the police horse?

AvG: I didn’t want to take him to the other prize givings any more because I didn’t think it was worth it. I think it’s more important that he’s happy than that he does the lap of honor.

KR: Do you have superstitions or lucky items of apparel that you always use in competition?

AvG: Yes I do. I have a belt with elephants, I have a stock pin and a bracelet that I got from my dad, and I have a watch that I got from Sjef. And then I always put on my left boot first.

KR: When you are on a series of wins, what do you do not to become complacent?

AvG: Sjef and I have the feeling that with Salinero there are still things that we can improve, and that’s also the fun part of the daily work at home. I do like competing but that is not the main goal of the fun that we have every day. You know for yourself the things which you could improve, and it’s fun at home to work on it and see if it gets better. And I must say with Salinero it does get better and better. Okay, then when you go to a competition and it all works out well and you win, that’s great fun.

KR: For those of us who only see you competing, there are things about Salinero that are reminiscent of Bonfire.

AvG: What is very important to me is that they are both very sensitive, and they don’t want to make mistakes in the competition. So they always do the best that they can. If we get a mistake, it’s because they try too hard or I’m not right on it. It’s never because of a lack of wanting to do it.

KR: Since Bonfire, did it become more important that you really make sure that you don’t get a difficult walk again?

AvG: No, I don’t care. To be honest I still think that everybody made a bigger problem of Bonfire’s walk than what it was. Other horses don’t have a nice piaffe, and I’m sure every horse has his weakness. If I had to it with Bonfire again, I would, even with the walk. There were so many other things that were good in him.

KR: You ride several stallions. How do you compare them to geldings?

AvG: I’d rather ride a gelding (laugh). I still think it’s less complicated. But I have these two stallions–Krack C and Painted Black–and they are owned by other people. They are great horses and I’m happy that I can ride them, but it’s too bad that they are breeding as well from my point of view. On the other hand, probably I wouldn’t have them if they were not breeding because they make money for their owners.

KR: Sjef has been training you for 15 years now. Much of the world–perhaps less and less so over time–sees Sjef’s methods as revolutionary in some way. But when you started to ride with, him did it feel like that? Or did it feel like a natural progression of your development?

AvG: At that time, I was riding Bonfire. I knew that I had a great horse, but I didn’t have the knowledge to get everything out of him. With Sjef, I had to start, sort of, all over again. But for me, it was more natural what he taught. And I still think it’s like that. It’s a natural way of working with the horses and it’s the only system that works for me. I’m really happy that we train together still.

KR: How do you and Sjef balance fact that you have a professional and personal relationship and you spend so much time together?

AvG: We don’t talk horses when we’re done. And it’s only in the morning that we work together. In the afternoon, we have our own things.

KR: If someone gave you a month off right now, what would you do with it?

AvG: I don’t want to have a month of holiday. That’s too much for me (laugh). A few days is fine. That’s what we’re doing now.

KR: Sjef is an avid golfer. You don’t play golf do you?

AvG: I used to, but with a kid I don’t do it anymore. I like to play with my kid better than play golf.

KR: Did you time your two pregnancies to be after these big competitions?

AvG: Yes. I wanted to have a second child, and I thought OK let’s see if it works like that, and it did. But if it had been a little later that would have been fine as well.

KR: Do you plan on finding out if the baby you are having is a boy or a girl?

AvG: We are going to find out, but not yet.

KR: Do you think you will slow down a little bit when you have two children?

AvG: I slowed down having one already. I only work 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. at the moment. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life working day and night. I really look forward to having enough time for them, but I would never give up riding.

KR: If you looked at your life 10 years from now, would you see yourself doing more training and coaching?

AvG: Yes, definitely. Training of people and training of horses is the thing that I would like to do 10 years from now.

This article originally appeared in the November 2006 of Dressage Today magazine.

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