Horses, our teachers

Horses make our sport evolve. It's all very simple if we learn to listen to them.
Experiences and reflections by Franke Sloothaak.

  • #german
  • #jumping
  • #european championship

One of the most popular riders of international show jumping, a true legend of equestrian sports: the German Franke Sloothaak whose stellar career has made him an icon of show jumping. Thanks to his extraordinary charisma and captivating personality, as well as to his talent and huge passion for horses, since the early eighties Sloothaak has left his mark in the most prestigious competitions, collecting medals and making a career out of the ordinary. Those who followed horse riding in those years know it full well: when Franke Sloothaak entered the competition arena with the extraordinary San Patrignano Weihaiwej, also known as the blue-eyed mare, or with the champion Jolie Coer, the audience cheered for the strong emotions that the German champion could transmit with those two horses who, for a decade, led Franke on the highest steps of the podium worldwide. Two horses that have also made the history of Italian riding, having belonged to Vincenzo Muccioli, the patron of San Patrignano, the team that was the flagship of horse breeding and Italian riding for decades.

Born on February 2nd, 1958, in Heerenveen, the Netherlands, Franke Sloothaak has made his career in show jumping nothing short of stellar. It 's impossible to tell all his victories in short. He played his junior career in the Netherlands before moving to Germany with the intention of improving his riding skills. In Germany he met Alwin Schockemöhle, who asked him to work for him. They agreed to a trial period of six months, he stayed eight and a half years. Currently the Sloothaak stables are located in Borgholzhausen, Germany. Sloothaak continues his career as an international rider as well as of a trainer of young horses and trainers, with workshops in the Netherlands and Germany. His 'legendary' horses were San Patrignano Weihaiwej and Jolie Coer, but many others have accompanied him in his astonishing career: the important stallions Cassini I and Corrado, and then Walzerkoenig, Aquino, Legurio, and many others.
Among his current best horses mention should be given to Al Capone and Wavanta. As of today, Sloothaak has taken part in four Olympic Games, winning two team gold medals, in Atlanta in 1996 with Joli Coeur, and in Seoul in 1988 with Walzerkoenig. Individual and team gold at the WEG in The Hague in 1994 with Weihaiwej and team gold and individual bronze at the WEG in Rome in 1998 with Joli Coeur. Five editions of the European Championships with a team bronze in Dinard in 1985 Walido.
​Fifteen Finals of the World Cup and sixteen participations at the German National Championships with three gold medals, seven silver medals and three bronze medals. In addition, there are countless victories in Grand Prix and Nations Cup competitions.

Training at the Alwin Schockemöhle school, where he remained for eight and a half years, and then with his brother Paul, Franke has dedicated since the beginning of his career the greatest attention to the training of horses on flat level, crucial point on which the riding of Alwin Schockemöhle is based: 'When you work a horse, it does not matter where its head is; the head can be as low and as far as possible, the important thing is that the withers is high. In fact, that's where the fulcrum of the balance of the horse is: whether the head is high or low is not important, what counts is the movement of the horse, the thrust and the push coming from the rear'.
Sport evolves but the basics remain the same: "Sport is always changing; especially in the last ten years, the evolution has been even faster - emphasizes Sloothaak - The difference has been made by the horses. Today, horses are extraordinary athletes, with good pedigrees derived from crosses studied by experienced breeders in the production of sport horses. A beautiful and athletic body, attitude, character, resistance, mind, strength, agility, respect... the top horses have everything and they are many of them. Throughout Europe exceptional horses are bred. Where once you could make mistakes and still remain at the top of the charts, today a single mistake can get you out, you can't make any at all. Years ago there were not so many top level pairs or so many teams, it was easier to reach and remain at the top. Horses are those who make this possible.
Let's think the style of the riders: it is the quality of the horses that allows riders to mount well, to improve. The lightweight hot-blooded, quick and agile horses allow to have a beautiful style, minimize interventions and concentrate on the feeling, on the communication. Twenty years ago it was not so, horses were different and you had to ride in a different way, with more aid. Top riders such as Beerbaum, Dubbeldam, Whitaker, Brash, Bengtsson, and Delaveau - to name a few but the list is very long - constantly evolve and improve thanks to their the ability to listen to their horses, to empathize with them, to acquire the necessary feeling to understand what happens in every moment. Today this is what we must concentrate on, and automatically we become finer, lighter on the saddle, more delicate with the aid because it takes nothing for such quality, respectful, sensitive horses, to understand you."

​To be continued…