Anky van Grunsven on the Past, the Now and the Future–Part 1 of 2

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Any van Grunsven on Salinero at the London Olympics, the final competition for the horse that Anky rode to medal-winning performances at three Olympics. Was this also the last international dressage show for Anky? © 2012 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Any van Grunsven on Salinero at the London Olympics, the final competition for the horse that Anky rode to medal-winning performances at three Olympics. Was this also the last international dressage show for Anky? © 2012 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

One year ago, Anky van Grunsven rode Salinero at London in the third Olympics for the partnership and a Freestyle she describes as “this is the test you want to do… to make a farewell for a horse.”

Whether that Olympic performance on Salinero who was 18 years old and scored 82 per cent–virtually the same as four years earlier when the Hanoverian gelding was at his peak and the pair took individual gold at the Beijing Games–turns out to be the swan song for Anky is, in her words, “I don’t know. I don’t even think about it.”

At the Athens, Beijing and London Olympics on Salinero, she added two Olympic gold medals, one silver and one bronze to her collection of Olympic gold and four silvers on Bonfire, two gold and four silver at the World Equestrian Games and four gold, eight silver and two bronze at European Championships.

And a staggering nine titles at the World Cup, the only annual global championship in dressage and created as a showcase for the musical freestyle to breathe much-needed life into the sport and that earned Anky the title, “Queen of the Kür.” A two decade rivalry with German superstar Isabell Werth is credited by many as the top billing for spectators that kept the sport alive.

Now, at the age of 45 and the mother of two children, a son, Yannick and a daughter, Eva, that she misses like crazy when they aren’t with her, she maintains a full schedule of teaching and coaching. Among her students is the new star Danielle Hiejkoop, barely out of Young Riders, who not only made the Dutch team for the European Championships at Herning, Denmark last month but beat out veteran Hans Peter Minderhoud for a start in the Freestyle.

Anky van Grunsven with her children Yannick and Eva at the European Championships. Wim Earnes, the Dutch coach, is next to her. © 2013 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Anky van Grunsven, being Mom with her children Yannick and Eva, while also coaching at the European Championships. Wim Earnes, the Dutch coach, is next to her. © 2013 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

In the past year, a lot of folks have declared the Freestyle at the London Games as worthy of a medal, but Anky’s response:”I don’t want to think about it because I was so happy with my horse and myself. I love to be at the Olympics.”

In the year before London, she didn’t even want to think about the Olympics–Sjef Janssen, her husband and the Dutch coach at the time, was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and Upido, the horse she thought could be a contender for the team, was plagued by injuries.

Sjef talked her into competing with Salinero, who also was recovering from an injury and at his age with his record as one of the most honored dressage horses in history had nothing to prove–individual gold at both Athens and Beijing.

“I was there for the team bronze team medal and that we got,” Anky told dressage-news.com of her London experience. She and Salinero posted the second highest scores for Holland in both the Grand Prix and the Special that made up the team competition, and was the top placed combination from the Netherlands in the Freestyle to finish sixth overall.

“I could not have dreamed it could be so good in the kür. To make a farewell for a horse this is the test you want to do.

“I never thought about the rankings. It was unbelievable.”

For the moment, she said, she is working Upidor who is healthy and fit, rides Salinero three or four times a week, has a lot of clients and is training some nice younger horses.

“There’s not really a plan under me yet… maybe competing, maybe selling, It depends on how it works out. I’m really happy with that.

“I dont miss to be in the competition one second.”

Really?

“Yes, really,” she said. “Maybe it’s not such a good sign. But I already withdrew before Kentucky (in 2010) because I felt that I really didn’t want to do it. Then Rotterdam (the 2011 European Championships), I was happy not riding.” One of her students at the time was Morgan Barbançon whom she coached through the London Olympics before ending the relationship earlier this year.

Anky van Grunsven and Salinero creating new Grand Prix world record of 81.33 per cent at Rotterdam in 2006. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Anky and Salinero establishing a new Grand Prix world record of 81.33 per cent at Rotterdam in 2006. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

“I really enjoy the coaching,” she said, “which I’ve being doing forever next to my own competitions.

“I still have stress because I want my students to do as good as possible, but I don’t miss competing.”

Anky needs the challenge to get motivated, or as she puts it, “to get going,” and that may get her to return to competition.

Are you thinking seriously about not returning to competition?

“I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t even think about it. It depends on the horses.

“Maybe it’s a bit of survival thinking. I can imagine I’m thinking like this because I think maybe it’s not going to happen so it doesn’t really matter. Maybe it’s a survival thing. I don’t know… because I feel good enough if I have a horse at home and if I think I can be at the top I’m not going to stay at home.

“But for now… if it’s never going to happen that’s fine as well.”

Anky has the ability to focus on horses she is competing, make herself available to the media even when she knows the questions will be thorny and can poke fun at herself, as she did at the Europeans at Herning.

“If Upidor was going really well and staying sound I can imagine I will tell everyone I am the best in the back yard,” she laughed “we are so good at home.

“At the moment I don’t know what will happen so I’m happy like this.

“I’m not sitting here thinking, ‘Ooh. I wish I could have been riding.’ Not at all.

“I really enjoy it in a different way. Now you can get to see all the other tests. The Grand Prix was really exciting. I enjoyed the top rides. It was really really nice and if you’re riding yourself you miss all that.”

Anky’s perspective on dressage now she is what dressage-news.com put in the question as “semi retired?”

“You never know what’s going to happen tomorrow,” she said.

“I like to live like that as well. I dont want to look in the future. I want to be in a here and now situation, that’s my favorite spot to be, so whatever is tomorrow is tomorrow.”

Part 2–Anky’s View on Dressage Now and the Future