Christian Kukuk’s Journey in Showjumping

Christian Kukuk su Mumbai nella tappa del LGCT a Miami Beach

LGCT Miami Beach | Christian Kukuk riding Mumbai | ph. Stefano Secchi / ImageSS

Growth, Lessons, and Ambitions of the German Rider

The world of equestrianism continuously welcomes new talents, and among them, the name of German rider Christian Kukuk certainly stands out.

Despite dreaming of a life dedicated to soccer and football shoes as a child, fate led Christian on a different path, guiding him in jacket and boots towards the exceptional career that sees him today as one of the most prominent figures in the global showjumping scene. Currently, Kukuk ranks 18th in the world rankings and boasts a total of 80 victories and 2477 international competition appearances.

“I changed my mind when I was fifteen… basically, it was no longer possible to do both sports simultaneously, as both competitions were always on weekends. There came a point where I had to decide what I was more passionate about. That’s when I realized that horses were becoming my true passion and motivation.”

Among the rider’s accolades, we recall his “Goldene Reitabzeichen” medal in Germany in 2015 and the silver medal at the European Championships in Riesenbeck in 2021. Unforgettable moments such as his victory at the Longines Global Tour Grand Prix in Rome in 2022 have further solidified his reputation, as well as his individual participation in the Tokyo 2021 Olympics.

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LGCT Miami Beach | Christian Kukuk riding Mumbai | ph. Stefano Secchi / ImageSS

Recently, in the last week of the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Christian achieved another incredible success in his career, perhaps one of the most important to date: winning the Rolex CSI5* Grand Prix riding Checker.

I was really thrilled. That evening was truly something unique, an exceptional competition surrounded by an extraordinary setting and an incredible crowd,” said Christian of that evening. A child of the sport, Christian breathed the air of equestrian competitions from a young age, accompanying his father to various shows. It was this early bond with the world of horses that shaped his vocation, highlighting his natural affinity with this world and his undeniable talent for showjumping.

I was still young and still going to school, at the time I mainly rode at home, regularly followed by my father. This experience was the starting point.”

Experience in Ludger Beerbaum’s team

Christian Kukuk’s journey in the equestrian world took a significant turn when he had the opportunity to join the Beerbaum Stables team. The rider chose to dedicate himself entirely to his passion for riding, moving to this renowned facility and joining a team of highly skilled professionals.

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“After finishing school, more or less at twenty-two years old, I decided to move to Riesenbeck to work with Ludger Beerbaum, and I’ve been there ever since.”

— Christian Kukuk

“I started like everyone else, working with young horses. Then, over time, I had the opportunity to ride more experienced horses and participate in my first CSI2. Then I moved on to 3* events and to the German championship. It was a gradual progression, moving from 5* events to Nations Cups and the Global Champions Tour. And finally, last year, I participated in my first championships. At first, I couldn’t imagine all this, but it was definitely something I dreamed of.”

Once he joined the Beerbaum team, Christian gained access to resources and opportunities that allowed him to grow technically. His dedication to work and his determination to achieve excellence made him a valuable member of the team.

My daily work has changed: initially, I did a bit of everything, there was less time to ride or at least it was difficult. But now my daily schedule mainly focuses on horse training. I ride between seven and nine horses a day, and some days I also train one of my students at home. So sometimes it’s six horses, especially if there are important competitions scheduled. I would say my daily work is more flexible now, but definitely more focused on training.”

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LGCT Miami Beach | Christian Kukuk riding Mumbai | ph. Stefano Secchi / ImageSS

The Longines Global Champions Tour, Lessons, and Aspirations

Christian Kukuk is making a name for himself in the Longines Global Champions Tour circuit. Currently in fifth place in the provisional LGCT 2024 ranking, Kukuk recently shared his experience with “The biggest lesson I’ve learned from participating in this circuit is that staying at the top is really difficult,” he said, smiling.

At the time of the interview, Kukuk was in third place in the overall standings, with the Mexico City leg still to be contested: “So far, there have only been two events, so it’s not that difficult to be in the top three, but the real challenge comes after fifteen legs, when staying in the top three becomes really difficult, it’s a challenging goal,” he admitted, demonstrating humility and realism, two fundamental qualities to achieve success in this sport.

However, the German rider’s ambition does not go unnoticed: “Last year I finished fourth, and I definitely want to improve. So if I manage to rank in the top three of the overall standings after fifteen legs, I would be really satisfied with myself. But I also know that there are other goals to achieve this year,” he continued, “It’s not a walk in the park, but it’s the same for everyone. I will try anyway. His determination to continue to excel in this sport emerges clearly from Christian’s words.

Managing the emotional aspects of competitions and the importance of feeling with the horse

Competing, at all levels but even more so at such a high level, brings with it a series of challenges, not only physical but also mental and emotional. In this sincere reflection, emerges the perspective of an athlete accustomed to managing pressure, keeping calm, and facing the inevitable emotions that every competition brings, especially at such a high level.

“When it comes to managing the emotional aspects of competition, I don’t have a particular strategy. I consider myself lucky because I can really handle pressure without feeling anxious. I’m not saying the pressure isn’t there, it’s always present, but I can handle it quite well without resorting to specific tactics. Certainly, as in everything in life, it is essential to have trusted people around you who support you and are supportive in the most difficult moments, but fortunately, I can say that I am surrounded by such people, which makes everything much easier. So I don’t adopt particular strategies to face these moments, I simply rely on my ability to handle the situation.”

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“Everything comes down to emotions: they are what drive us to give our best.”

— Christian Kukuk

The rider also spoke about how crucial it is to trust the horse, how the feeling with one’s companion can make everything easier even from an emotional point of view. Like many other professionals, Kukuk firmly believes that in this sport, it is essential to create an authentic bond with the animal, considering it not only as a means to achieve the goal but as a living being to be respected and with whom to collaborate to achieve common goals because the true protagonist of this sport, let us remember, is and remains the horse.

“Building a solid bond with your horses is essential for success, just like in any other relationship… it’s like with people. There is no universal strategy; you have to be in tune with your horse, learn to listen to him, get to know him, and understand his character and the reason behind certain behaviors. Every horse is unique, so you have to be flexible and adapt to their individual needs. You can’t treat them all the same way. This is what makes riding such a captivating and challenging sport, but at the same time rewarding.”

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LGCT Miami Beach | Christian Kukuk riding Mumbai | ph. Stefano Secchi / ImageSS

Limonchello, much more than a horse

Christian spoke about one of the many horses that have marked his career and personal and professional growth, Limonchello Nt.

“I am deeply grateful to Limonchello. We have shared many adventures together for many years. I had the privilege of riding him from a young age, when he was just six years old. Together we started competing in young horse competitions, then moving on to more challenging competitions. We faced international stages together, I participated in Aachen with young horses, along with him. Then we moved on to my first five-star Nations Cup, and so on, to the global circuits. We took part in many high-level competitions, and together we achieved numerous successes. Limonchello was not only an extraordinary competition partner. Thanks to him, I learned a lot, and I grew as a rider. Our bond was one of the most significant in my career.”

Looking to the future, Christian’s primary goal is represented by his ambition to participate once again in the Olympics. Surely, however, his primary goal is to strive to continue to be highly competitive in his sport, with the aim of positioning himself among the top ten in the world rankings.

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