Anky on the Future of Dressage–and Herself… Maybe–Part 2

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Anky van Grunsven with the team bronze medal at the London Olympic Games in 2012. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Anky van Grunsven with the team bronze medal at the London Olympic Games in 2012. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

The single name Anky is recognized around the world with two decades at the pinnacle of Olympic sport, a fashion clothing line and a future that is… well, after all she has accomplished what do you do for an encore.

With a treasure trove of precious metals earned in a career of seven Olympics, five world championships, nine Europeans and 14 World Cup Finals in which she has hoisted the winner’s trophy nine times her two childfren are her highest priority.

At the age of 45, Anky van Grunsven is okay about whether she rides down the centerline of another Olympic arena for the Netherlands or whether it’s one of her students. But whoever it is it almost certainly will be with passion, focus and a hugh dose of stress–the ingredients that have made Anky successful and are vital in coaching a new generation.

With championship accolades on four continents–Australia, Asia, Europe and North America–earning the title “Queen of the Kür” for raising the musical freestyle to stadium-filling ecstasy and perhaps unique in competing in Old World dressage top hat and tails and New World reining in cowboy hats and chaps, Anky has credibility in speaking about the state of dressage today as she did to dressage-news.com at the European Championships in Herning, Denmark.

The sport, she said, “has to change. I really think we have to reconsider our sport.

“Here we can see it’s great sport that can be so exciting. It was the most exciting dressage competition I have ever seen in my life. It was really, really good. But we have to look at two things.”

Hardly a surprise that the first issue involves judging.

Dropping the highest and lowest scores of the seven judges that make up the ground juries at championships like the Europeans, the World Equestrian Games and the Oympics with a Judges Supervisory Panel of three members looking over their shoulders but limited in the corrections they can make.

That change became a possibility within a day of the interview.

Frank Kemperman, who heads up the International Equestrian Federation Dressage Committee, reviewed scores in which a 10 per cent difference between the highest and lowest scores for a rider relegated Great Britain to bronze in the team competition, behind Germany with gold and the Netherlands silver. The review showed if the highest and lowest scores were dropped the placings for Britain and Holland would have been reversed.

“As a spectator you don’t have to be upset because one judge is completely wrong,” Anky said. “I think it’s more fair because one judge should not be able to change the score. I saw it in reining years ago. It’s more clear to everybody. The one thing no one wants to think about–the German judge cannot be more positive on the Germans, and Dutch cannot either.

“It makes it much more fair for everybody.

“We can all have a bad day–riders can, judges can. If something is wrong one day your score is out. It’s not attacking anybody, it’s only to make sure it’s the best for the rider as well.”

Anky also suggests that an open draw should be scrapped in favor of the best national teams going at the end of competition to make it more exciting for spectators. With an open draw, “you see one good rider than it’s an hour and you see another combination that’s a good one.”

Her suggestion would be to start championship team contests with countries that are lower in the rankings with the higher-ranked teams in the second phase.

“We all know it doesn’t matter whether you ride the first day or the second day, the judges wont be higher on the second day than they are on the first day–at least that’s what they tell me,” she said, laughing, “so that is not an argument.

“I think it’s better for the excitement of the sport–the English after each other, the Germans after each other, the Dutch after each other–the five, six or nine best countries on the second day so you will have a pretty exciting competition.”

And to add increase excitement, she said, maybe include the Special as well as the Grand Prix for team competitions as occurred at the London Olympics last year.

Just one of the nine times Anky van Grunsven has hoisted the World Cup. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Just one of the nine times Anky van Grunsven has hoisted the World Cup. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

If the sport does not change?

“In this modern world, we have to move to keep things going. If everything stays how it is, if you stay here you go down. You have to keep improving things you have to find better ways to be ahead of things.

“Our sport is so nice we can get more spectators, we can get more attention. But we have to bring it in a better way, especially in this fast moving world nowawadays. we cannot stick to what was. We have to go with what is.”

Anky has coached several youthful riders, including Danielle Heijkoop at the Europeans who beat out her team mate Hans Peter Minderhoud for a start in the Freestyle, and Spain’s Morgan Barbançon who rode at the London Games on Painted Black that was Anky’s World Cup mount.

The Under-25 division that both riders, as well as Germany’s Kristina Sprehe, competed in after Young Riders and before joining the senior riders should be a championship, in Anky’s opinion.

“At the Europeans, they have learned to live with pressure already,” she said. “It’s a big differece going from Young Riders to Grand Prix.

“Maybe it should be held at the Junior and Young Rider competitions or make it a big competition. We need the U25. If you get them in the place where the big tour is I think that’s a lot of inspiration as well, and it will motivate them.”

A poster celedbrity--Anky van Grunsven wearing Olympic gold on Salinero. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
A poster celebrity–Anky van Grunsven wearing Olympic gold on Salinero. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

As so many kids grew up with posters on their bedroom walls or in the stables of Anky riding Bonfire or Salinero what advice would she give them?

“Enjoy the riding. The most important thing in riding is the horse. You have to enjoy your riding.

“Choose what you like–it doesn’t matter whether it’s dressage, jumping, reining. Find your own motivation and then enjoy it.

“The reason I have been so good is not because I wanted to have a medal but I enjoyed every day I have been riding my horses… and I still do.”

Anky van Grunsven on WhizashiningwallaBB © 2010 SusanJStickle.com
Anky van Grunsven on WhizashiningwallaBB at the WEG in Kentucky in 2010. © 2010 SusanJStickle.com

Will she resume reining–she competed on the Dutch team at the 2010 WEG in Kentucky?

“I have to pick it up again,” she said. “The problem is I’ve been really busy helping students at competitions, then I missed the Dutch championships and my horse was injured.

“Maybe I should try a bit harder again to try to get to the WEG nex year. Sometimes it’s difficult because it is my hobby and it always has to go on the side because dressage comes first.

“It was so much fun in Kentucky–not that I was doing so well but I really enjoyed it, such a great atmosphere.

“I have to start practicing again. My new goal–tack up my little quarter horse.”