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Equitana 2005 - Interview with special guest Anky van Grunsven

Claartje van Andel Media Release

Anky van Grunsven will be one of the special guests at this years Equitana, here's an interview from Anky written by Claartje van Andel from www.dressagedirect.com


Anky van Grunsven: Quality decides

Olympic champion and record-breaking World Cup winner Anky van Grunsven, 37, has lived two lives in one decade. After her Olympic glory in Sydney, and Bonfire’s retirement, Anky had thought she might have a period away from the burdens of pressure and expectation which can often weigh on  “the favourite.” A badly broken leg, suffered in a fall during training, did indeed keep her out of the sport for nearly a year but her days on the sidelines were numbered with the arrival of Keltec Salinero. Anky van Grunsven and Keltec Salinero in Düsseldorf

“Originally, after Sydney, I had put my cards on an easy slow down in my riding career with the stallion Krack C and with Joker,” although the latter proved to be “just not my horse,” says Anky.“I really did make up my mind that I didn’t want to ride endlessly from eight in the morning until eight in the evening anymore. I wanted less horses in my stable. I am now riding only five horses a day now instead of ten and I am training less pupils. I only go for quality now: less riding, less horses, less pupils. Quality only. I don’t care about what stage my pupils are at in their riding. They don’t have to be at Grand Prix like Edward (Gal). They can be a Young Rider or Junior, like Tommie Visser and Dominique Filion. What counts is their willingness, their talent, their ambition. That’s what makes the fun and the quality. And that’s what I prefer to do now. Quality only, in riding and teaching, in stabling, in management, in the freestyle music, in everything.”

Unexpected wins

A strange situation occurred last year when Anky and Keltec Salinero found themselves on top of the world before either Anky or her trainer and now her husband, Sjef Janssen thought their performance warranted it. First of all there was the World Cup Final in Dusseldorf in April, where the pair beat Edward Gal and Lingh for a record sixth victory. Then a few months later they faced Ulla Salzgeber and Rusty away. “The win in Aachen last year came as a surprise,” admitted Anky then and now. “All those years with Bonfire I never did it, and I certainly did not expect it with Salinero, not then. Both Sjef and myself felt there was still plenty of room for improvement.”

Sjef Janssen and Keltec Salinero at home.Surprise at Salinero’s fast track approach to learning, quickly turned to astonishment in Athens. “It was unthinkable to win the gold again,” said Anky, “especially without the perfection I saw Keltec Salinero achieving in, maybe two, or three years time.”

Van Grunsven and Janssen see enormous untapped potential in the horse. “We are really excited about it. We have to work it out step by step, quietly, easily, and without pressure, because his unimaginable potential still scares the horse himself. It will take a year or two I think and that is also the challenge. After my wins in Aachen, Athens, Las Vegas and recently in the Dutch national championships, I really want to keep on winning, there’s no discussion. I’m motivated for two reasons. The first is the incredible potential I feel we have yet to explore in Salinero, but I must find  the balance between improving and giving essential time for relaxation, and developing a relationship of deep trust. The second is the strong improvements my colleagues are going through, especially my own student Edward Gal and Geldnet Lingh! The competition is intense yet none of us have reached ultimate perfection. In one or two years time, you will probably see what I mean. Until then, it is a pleasure to train daily because we are working on something very worthwhile!”

Born curious

Anky thinks that her soft touch is one of her best developed skills although she does appreciate a sensible horse “like Bonfire, Salinero and my youngster, Painted Black. We understand each other.”  Her ability to cope well with the stress that goes with competition, is another vital skill. “In my situation, a lot of people would really love to see me not winning. I don’t care, it is human to be in favour of the underdog and I try not to notice. It doesn’t influence me anyway. My concentration and my imperturbability have always been my strongest points and I am still improving thanks to the help of sports psychologist, methodologist  and friend Peter Murphy and Sjef of course. The mental attitude of a top athlete is one of the best weapons in competition.”

‘We never think that we know everything. Good is never good enough. Good should be superb.’

Anky describes her natural state of mind as “born curious.” Sjef is the same. “We are always looking behind the scenes, observing, watching. We never think that we know and have learned everything. Good is never good enough. Good should be superb. Superb in anything, the training, the stable management, the vet, the farrier, the preparation, the quality of the freestyle, the groom, the daily routine, anything, you name it.

“If something doesn’t work one day, I have to go back and find the reason,” says Anky. “Take for  instance the Grand Prix in Las Vegas. It was all my own fault not being enough with my mind and concentration with Salinero. I was so aware of everything that could be spooky for him, that I was not concentrating myself and riding enough. There was not enough elasticity in my mind to cope with it.”

Mental attitude

Anky believes that in order to give your best in competition a rider has to be mentally and physically at their peak. “You have to look after yourself in the same way as you look after your horse.”

After the year she had gone through, it was hardly surprising that in Las Vegas Anky was not at her best. “I had a pretty exhausting year emotionally and physically. I had to recover from my broken leg, I lost my father and had a premature baby.” After Yannick Janssen was Anky and her son Yannick: “The feeling I have for my son, was something I was not prepared for.” The shirt ‘born winner’ was a present from grandma Van Grunsven.born (ten weeks early), for ten weeks Anky neglected her leg gymnastics. “I had seriously been following my daily routine just as it  was prescribed but in Las Vegas I felt the effects of not keeping up with it.”

It has been over a period of time that Anky has developed her mental attitude towards the sport but a turning point in her approach to competition came in 1988 at the World Equestrian Games in Rome.

She was placed second individually, to gold medal winners Isabell Werth and Gigolo. They were a tough combination, known for their power and faultless performances. Anky and Bonfire were their greatest opponents in the world of passage and piaffe for almost a decade. They were mostly known for their agility and harmony. The natural intensity of the rivalry between Anky and Isabell was heightened by those around them, not least by the veritable army of fans behind both camps. “I will never forget the terrible atmosphere in the stadium in Rome during the prize giving ceremony,” Anky says. “The crowd didn’t understand the final decision and neither did I. At the time I said to myself: ‘I will never feel like this again.’ I made up my mind then and there that I had to find my own reasons to work this hard and to lead this busy life. Judges’ decisions are out of my hands, but riding to my own expectations, for my own pleasure and to the best that Sjef and I can do, is something I am in control of. And that’s what I have been doing ever since: riding to my own expectations and goals. Of course I am very happy to win, but winning is not my decision and not my main goal.”

Anky and Sjef’s exceptional Las Vegas wedding ceremony conducted by ‘Elvis’. Luckily Anky is, in her own words, “a superstar in positive thinking.” In all things apart from her father’s death, she adheres to the theory that there is no cloud without a silver lining.. “ My father’s death was a relief for him, but the fact that he was struck by his disease, I have not been able to find something positive in that.”

To maintain one’s position is always more difficult than getting there. Oddly enough, at the moment Anky’s greatest opponent is her own pupil Edward Gal. Again, Anky feels that the groundswell of support is for Edward the usurper. Isn’t she afraid that the relationship between the two will be affected? “I am pretty aware,” Anky says openly, “that the challenge for Edward and me is to concentrate on our communication. Neither of us should listen to anyone else, but communicate with each other only.  We really like each other and trust each other and train hard together to improve. Edward’s partner Nicole Werner always accompanies him with the training. That is necessary to keep on track. I don’t see any sense in changing anything. I think the combination of Edward and me works pretty well.”

“Edward is very fanatical and inspired and he can be a workaholic. He needs me to apply the brakes sometimes, to release him from the pressure, to help him relax. Two years ago at his first European Championships in Hickstead he was too nervous to be able to ride properly. Now he has learned how to cope. He is funny, makes jokes, and he talks to avoid the stress and tension. I am quite the opposite in this: I disappear, close my eyes in the lorry for an hour or so, and make myself free of thoughts to be able to concentrate.”

It is not the first time that a student of Anky’s has worked and competed alongside her. In 1999 she trained Arjen Teeuwissen to an individual bronze at the European Championships. Before Athens she trained Imke Schellekens-Bartels. She made the individual final.


The bond with her own trainer Sjef is all the more emotional because it encroaches (initially) on the personal relationship Anky has with her horses. The ‘partnership’ which over a 14-year stretch has had its share of tempestuous moments reached a new level of understanding with the birth of little Yannick Janssen. Sjef is a very proud father. His friends admit they have never seen him so content with life. “This is something I wasn’t aware of before Yannick was born,” Anky says honestly. “We take life more as it comes now and very often leave home for a few days together, just the three of us. We are a happy family and like and need to be with each other.”

 Father Sjef Janssen, mother Anky van Grunsven, terrier Bush and son Yannick Janssen.

This peaceful unity and contentment is only occasionally shattered by criticism over the training methods employed by Anky and Sjef. It simmers away in the background and ever so often explodes. “The last two years I have learned to deal with a lot of personal sorrow and disharmony,” Anky says. “But this is something I don’t understand and it hurts. One after another of our pupils are successful. Bonfire was at his best at the age of seventeen. My horses are happy and healthy. They are not spurred, their tongues are not blue, they live a well preserved, happy life. I would say, live and let live. Just look, compare and judge without preconception, like we do. Training methods aren’t a point of discussion for me anymore…”

All pictures © by Claartje van Andel
Source: This article has been published in Horse International No 5-2005, July-August

Please visit www.dressagedirect.com for more of Claartje's articles and results from Dressage competition globally.


24 July 2018
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