HSJ meets with riding super star Lars Nieberg.
HSJ caught up with Lars Nieberg, fresh from victory in the CSI2* Schwerin GP, thanks to a lightning fast run at the jump-off with Casalora and the only faultless run just when it mattered most. But it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, seeing the results and achievements of the rider over the years. Nieberg can boast two gold medals at the Olympics (team event in 1996 and 2000) as well as regular appearances at European and World Championships. The rider has a great career behind him, but even at the age of 54 he’s as determined as ever. This is what he had to say to us in an exclusive interview.
When did you start and how did you get into the sport?
– At the age of 10. My parents were farmers and as soon as they had some money, they built a small stables. As is often the case in life, chance was involved too. I had two siblings, a brother and a sister. They were perhaps more talented riders but “unfortunately“ for them they were also doing well at school. I meanwhile didn’t and so I dedicated myself to riding with even more zeal and here I am today.
When did you realise you had what it takes to be a top-rider?
– Just like every other young person, I always dreamed of it and I fought to become one of the leading riders in the world but it was a long journey full of obstacles. I didn’t have any money and thinking back now to my first major competition… it was at the age of 23 and with a horse that had just been saved from the slaughterhouse, Ducato. It’s difficult in Germany to reach the top and you have to do it early. For me it was already late or at least that’s the way it seemed. For instance, Ahlmann had already won a lot at a really young age. But from this difficulty there were advantages as I was able to work with young horses which provided me with an enormous amount of experience.
Have there been any key figures in your career?
– I grew up in an area where it was hard to get noticed in the equestrian sector. But I met Achaz von Buchwald, an important German rider, and he asked me to work with him in Hamburg and it proved to be the right choice.
Did you have any role models?
– To tell the truth, there wasn’t anyone I tried to copy. I was more focused on what I had to do. I must however thank Herbert Mayer, the former Germany coach, who took me under his wing at the age of 16 and made me understand all about equestrian technique.
What do you look for in a horse?
– I think I have the ability to sense if a rapport can be instilled. When I test out a horse, there is a voice inside me that tells me to take a chance and almost always this feeling has been proved right.
Describe a typical day.
– I get up at around 6 and at 6.30 I go to the stables. I check if the staff are there and I like to prepare the first horse by myself. By 7 I am riding. Usually the first horse I ride is a difficult one so I can dedicate more of my time to it. At 8 I have breakfast with all of the family and apart from a short break for lunch, I ride all the way through to the evening.
What type of horses do you prefer?
– It’s not that important to get too bogged down on whether it is lively or reserved. What counts is the winning mentality. For example, Esprit in the stables didn’t want to do anything but during competitions was phenomenal.
Tough question now; who is the stronger nation, Germany or Holland?
– At the moment, Germany are not as tough and unbeatable as they once were. A lot of nations can now match them. Taking into account recent championships, it would seem like Holland are well ahead.
What are the technical differences compared to 20 years ago?
– It is all much more different today. The teams are looked after by excellent coaches and there is a lot more attention on an individual level too. Everybody’s riding technique is better too. Countries that didn’t take part in 5 star events, now buy super horses and are competitive.
As a gold medal winner on two occasions, give us your thoughts ahead of this year’s event in Rio.
– It is really hard to make any predictions. There are numerous nations that can win it. But if I have to say the riders whose abilities I admire most, I would say Penelope Leprevost, Beezie Madden, Marcus Ehning and Christian Ahlmann.
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