Chris Hector of the Australian Horse Magazine pinned down young gun Andreas Helgstrand at the 2005 World Cup Finals in Las Vegas for an open talk about his dressage career and future aspirations. The Horse magazine gave Eurodressage.com kind permission to reproduce this insightful tête-à-tête with Denmark's leading dressage rider.
Andreas Helgstrand… Obtaining this interview with the young Danish super rider, Andreas Helgstrand was one of those examples of sheer luck, or is it serendipity? Sitting up way too late in one of the myriad of bars in the Paris Hotel, with our old friend, Bernadette Faurie, that last cognac delayed my departure perfectly, since there in the lift was Andreas, and I was able to tee up an interview before he took off with his family to check out the Grand Canyon.
“In the beginning I started at the age of 7 or 8 together with my brother. After a while we were so afraid that we stopped…
“We’d been kicked off, it was not funny at all. Then my father started also, and he liked it a lot. He bought some horses, and then they bought a place where they could keep the horses, and I started riding again.”
“In Denmark we have an education system so you can become a Bereiter, and I did that in Ålborg with Søren Valentin. I was there six years, and did a really good examination there. Then I spent a little while in Holland with Anna van Olst.”
“Then I spent one and a half years in Norway.”
Not one of the great dressage centres?
“No, but I was a jumping rider before. In the education in Denmark, you have to study both disciplines. I went to the European Young Rider Jumping Championships, I had a really good jumping horse at the time.”
“Then I started more and more dressage, then the people from Norway called – it was a super job there. I had really good horses, I was trainer for the junior and young riders there. That was a really great time.”
“Then Lars Petersen from Blue Hors called me, and asked if I would be interested in the job there, if he quit – and I said YEAH! Of course it was interesting!! Then the boss at Blue Hors called me, and said I should come down and talk with the owner – now I have been there for three years.”
“It was for me a very big step because Lars has competed so well, and it is not so easy to start and be as good as he was. I told them when I started, I cannot do as good as Lars, and they said, no no we want a new Andreas, not a new Lars Petersen.”
“I was lucky when I started at Blue Hors there was just one horse that was trained to Grand Prix level – it had not competed Grand Prix – and Cavan was not there, he was in the United States with Lars. So I started not with five super horses, I started from the ground, and I had really good results from the young horses. In two years, I won the four, five and six year old championships. So it is not only Cavan or Don Schufro, we have a lot of other young horses. It was nice, I could start slowly and build it up, build it up again. The results were coming faster than we thought it could go.”
“Then I was lucky, Cavan came back, and now he is fit again, and I am really happy to ride such a horse.”
He looks so strong and balanced, as if the work is never too hard for him?
“Yes is really fit. The horse did not need to learn any more, he knew it, so the biggest part for me was to get the mind with me because if you train and train and train, then they start to get ‘oh I don’t want to do it.’ Leading up to a competition, of course I have to give them more work, but I have only set him up for the World Cup Final for two weeks, then I take it slowly again, just a little bit again. I rode my first Grand Prix in May last year – before that I had one horse, my father’s, that I was riding in Grand Prix, it was a normal horse, it made all the things, but it was not international – so in May I took Cavan and Don Schufro, and the whole of Denmark could see, and I was really nervous because they would be asking ‘Cavan, how can he ride that horse?’ but after that start, Rudolf Zeilinger was there, and he said, you have to go to Norton Hardenberg next week. And I said, ‘no, no’ – I had done it in Denmark and I was really happy, now I would wait a month or so and then see. No, said Rudolf, you must go. So I went. The whole of Denmark had tried to qualify for the Olympic Games, and they none of them had done it. In Denmark you have to score two times 69% to qualify. I did it with both horses at the first international competition! Then it was all going so fast, Wiesbaden was my second start, and there I won with Cavan, then it was Aachen, then the Olympics!”
Rudolf is your trainer?
“I have a trainer at home who comes once a week and helps me with young horses, and Cavan and Don Schufro, that is Finn Greve, he is 63 years old, he has made a lot of Grand Prix horses but nobody used him. It was a bit of a funny thing, the boss and the owner said to me, now you must find someone who can help you. I said ‘yeah of course’ – we were talking about it, maybe we can get someone from Germany… but I said it is more important to have someone who can help me every week, and not try to sell us a horse every time, a guy I can really trust. I had worked with Finn when I was doing my education, and I thought he was a really good guy, so he started working with me, and now the whole of Denmark wants to use him!”
Rudolf Zeilinger is the Danish team coach?
“At the big competitions, Rudolf is with me, and we also go to him before the big shows – like the Olympic Games. Rudolf is so good at the big shows, technically he is super. Finn, he is more basic, but he knows, it is a very nice combination.”
The Danish system is basically the same as the German training system – the same training scale and theory?
“It is very much German. A lot of the good Danish riders are in Germany, and they come back to Denmark. Also a lot of the horses are from Germany.”
Don Schufro – we know he is a very good competition horse, but as a stallion, what qualities does he give his progeny?
“I have not seen a stallion who makes foals better than he can. He is really going up as a competition horse now, and his sons and daughters, they are very easy to ride, they have nice hind legs – and that is very important in dressage, that you have the hind legs with you. All of them have a super canter. I think he is one of the best breeding stallions at the moment.”
You have some very good stallions at Blue Hors?
“I must say my best horse ever is a son from Don Schufro, Don Romantic, he won the licensing as a four year old, and that horse is now six. But he has some problems with the nerves in his neck, when he bends to the right there is nothing, but there is a problem bending to the left. They can’t find out what is wrong. We hope to fix it because I have never seen a horse like that before. We have had him to Newmarket, to everywhere. He didn’t always have this problem so hopefully we can fix it. Don Schufro is good, but that horse is amazing, an unbelievable horse.”
And how would you feel about coming to Australia to teach?
“That would be great, I would really like to come. I have always been an instructor in the past, and I enjoy teaching - at Blue Hors there is no instructing, so it would be nice to teach again.”
Many thanks to the Horse Magazine
Photos copyrighted: Astrid Appels/Eurodressage