The Dutch team is currently dominating the international dressage scene. Their success is not only based on talent or mere chance, it also results from a systematic promotion of young talented riders. About ten years ago the "Rabobank Talent Plan" was launched from which now internationally successful riders such as Laurens van Lieren, Marlies van Baalen and Lotje Schoots arose. Its goal is to discover and select young talents as early as possible and to promote actively their riding career. Involved in this process are prominent dressage riders, e.g. Tineke Bartels, Anky van Grunsven or Marlies van Baalen who train the youngsters. The Rabobank Talent Plan is constantly revised, training methods are being evaluated and developed further.
Irmgard Peterek met up with European Dressage Champion Edward Gal for interview about his views on the equestrian world, teaching methods and the Dutch youth promotion system Rabobank Talent Plan.
Peterek: Mr. Gal, when you broke off with your academic studies of economics and decided to become a professional rider instead, how did your friends and parents react?
Gal: Well, a career in management is definitely a more conventional response to society’s expectations on how to plan your future best. Beyond doubt - riding on a professional level involves risks.
Peterek: You have made it to the top now. Which advice would you give to young people who are confronted with the decision concerning whether to start out on a professional riding career. What should they take into consideration?
Gal: Firstly they should really enjoy riding. But they should as well check their talent. Without talent you won’t get far nowadays. Besides endurance, toughness and the ability to compete are also important. Additionally you should be prepared to learn constantly. And you must as well learn not to give up when you lose. The selection of the stable is of utmost importance too. I recommend to look for one where standards are high but where you can feel at home at the same time.
Peterek: And what about money? Young talented riders often end up in a situation where teaching and riding sales horses consumes all their time and energy. In this way they have to earn their living and therefore have nor the time nor the money left to develop further. And if they are lucky and get hold of a talented horse themselves they often have to sell it prematurely to assure that it is young enough and attractive in the market. The consequence is that the career of these young talents soon comes to a standstill.
Gal: This is true. I think that real young talents sooner or later are being confronted with the decision: “Money" or "Sports." Sports is of course the option which is by far more interesting but which involves as well higher risks. I myself decided in favour of sports. This means, I no longer sold horses which had the potential to compete in a Grand Prix, thus I developed my own talent together with them. At that time I was not enough well-known to attract sponsors. So my budget was actually quite low but still I was content. Nowadays I still have three oldies being left from this period who are spending their remaining years in my barn.
But I admit, to find a horse which suits a rider one hundred percentn, this is mere luck. And maybe this happens only once in the lifetime of a top rider.
Peterek: Do you teach at the moment? Which methods do you use?
Gal: At the moment I put the emphasis on riding myself, therefore I have only a few pupils. I do not like to work with uncritical pupils. If someone follows the rule: That’s Mr. Gal and I do whatever he tells me, then this pupil is not very interesting for me. I like pupils who tell me now and then: “What you recommend does not feel ok for me. I need another solution for the problem at hand.” Learning how to ride is an extremely individualistc process. Thus there is no standard method, one size fits all, that is not possible.
Besides I appreciate when pupils are being self-critical. Those who always put the blame on someone else or the horse will not get far.
If you take riding seriously you should anyways learn from various trainers during your career. This way you will get to know widely differing approaches and methods.
Peterek:During the last five years Dutch riders have become very strong. And this does not only apply for the top segment. Which role does the Dutch advancement system "Rabobank Talent Plan" play within this context? To what extent is this programme responsible for the immense boom which equestrian riding has experienced in the recent years in The Netherlands?
Gal: The Rabobank Talent Plan is a great project. Due to this system we have a good overview about our young talents here in the Netherlands. This enables us to select them early, offer tailored support to them and to use the funds in an efficient way. Besides, the Rabobank Talent Plan helps much to increase the popularity of riding among young people. Many children want to participate and thus it is an incentive for them to perform better. Additionally the Rabobank Talent Plan supports the development and trial of new training methods. And young riders can put their talent to the test before they choose a career.
Peterek: Can the Rabobank Talent Plan be transferred to other countries?
Gal: Only to a very limited extent. The Netherlands are a very small country with a specific mentality.
Mr. Gal, thank you very much for the interview.
By Irmgard Peterek
Photos © Astrid Appels
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