‘He loves his horse so much he has a tattoo on his chest’: the story behind an emotional inking

  • When Irish showjumper Darragh Kenny won a recent grand prix at the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) in Wellington, Florida, riding Teddy Vlock’s 14-year-old stallion Volnay Du Boisdeville, he revealed: “Teddy seriously loves Volnay. I’m not kidding. He has a tattoo of him on his chest.”

    So H&H spoke to 25-year-old Teddy, who represented Israel at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 before hanging up his show jacket, to find out more about this inking.

    US-based Teddy first teamed up with Volnay Du Boisdeville (Winningmood x Jalisco B) in 2019, and enjoyed a glittering two years together, competing at some of the most prestigious events in the world, including Spruce Meadows, Paris and London, jumping on Nations Cup teams and in five-star grands prix.

    He and the stallion enjoyed an “amazing connection” and it’s that feeling that led to Teddy having a permanent etching of Volnay’s head tattooed on his chest.

    “I got it because I don’t want to forget how special that connection is,” says Teddy. “I now work at a private equity firm and sit at a desk all day – I’m not around horses at all – but every morning when I take a shower or whenever I get changed, I still get to see this moment in my life that I don’t ever want to forget. It was so special, so unique – so few people get to experience that horse-human connection.”

    The horse tattoo was added next to another memento of his time in the saddle, the Olympic rings (pictured below) on Teddy’s arm. The ambitious young rider had made the Tokyo Olympics his goal less than a decade after he first took up riding and he achieved his dream when he was selected to ride for Israel on his other top horse Amsterdam 27.

    “That was a big motivator for me when I was training – I thought it would be fun when I made it to the Olympics to get a big tattoo on my arm,” he explains.

    Former Olympic showjumper Teddy Vlock shows off his Olympic rings and horse tattoo

    Volnay ended up being Teddy’s reserve horse for the Olympics, but will always be “a very, very special horse”.

    “He took me to my first Nations Cups and jumped consistently at five-star level,” he explains. “To me, what is so special about our sport, and what makes it unique from all other sports, is that you build this connection with your team – and while you can build a connection with your teammates on the baseball field or playing basketball, equestrianism is the only sport where your team-mate doesn’t know you’re in a competition. You’re working together to achieve a goal when one of you has no clue what that goal is!

    “But every time I went in the ring with Volnay, I trusted him with my life, and that’s very, very special. It’s such a beautiful thing,” he reveals. “I’ve had some good wins and jumped five-star grands prix, but I don’t remember that or miss that, what I remember is the connection with the animals.”

    Teddy Vlock: ‘It makes me emotional every time I sit on Volnay’

    “Volnay was the perfect fit for me in that I’m a smaller guy and he’s not a big horse,” Teddy adds. “But he has so much engine and so much energy, but in a way that’s controllable. He’d never drag you to the jumps – you really felt like you were a team together. That’s unlike many five-star championship horses, who are a bit too revved up. He’s a stallion, and yes he has a few stallion tendencies like he’ll scream if he sees a mare, but at the same time he’s a pretty chilled guy! He’s that perfect balance of when you want the energy it’s there, but also he’s not too amped up all the time to the point where you feel like you’ve no control.

    “I always felt very, very connected to him as if he and I were one being, we were just always on the same page. If we made a mistake in the ring, it was my fault. Obviously horses hit jumps and that’s OK, but it was never because he got spooked or he pulled me too deep, it was always a mistake I made. I just love that he was always going to go as good as I could let him.”

    Teddy had always planned to take a step back from the sport after the Olympics as he had recently graduated from Yale University and he started a job in New York two weeks after he returned from Japan. Leading Irish showjumper Darragh Kenny took the reins on his beloved Volnay under the Vlock Show Stables banner and fortunately Teddy was in Florida earlier this month to see the pair win WEF’s grand prix, on what happened to be his owner’s birthday.

    “I love watching Volnay with Darragh now, but I still ride him – I’ve probably ridden seven times since the Olympics and most of them have been on Volnay – he’s the only horse I really want to ride,” says Teddy. “It really makes me very emotional every time I sit on him because I remember that feeling of being so connected with him, and I still am.

    “I love horses and this is something I’ll always be passionate about, I’ll always be a big supporter of the sport, and I’ve kept some horses from my career that Darragh’s going to be riding and I get a lot of enjoyment out of that. But I always knew it wasn’t what I wanted to do as my long-term career. I went to Yale and I gave myself until I graduated to reach my goal and Tokyo happened to be at the end of that, so during that time 90% of my focus would be on horses and 10% would be on other things like graduating from school, and other work that I was doing. It was an intense few years!

    “I have so much respect for people who do the sport as a profession, but I find other things interesting as well and after being an Olympian the next goal would have been to be number one in the world or to win a gold medal and to do that you have to be 100% focussed for ever on horses. You have to eat, sleep and breathe them. I love horses – I’ll always want to be around them and be involved in some way – but I have other things I’d like to spend my time doing.

    “Being an Olympian is enough for me.

    “But who knows – maybe in five years I’ll be back and will show again. But I’m an all or nothing kind of guy and so right now the entirety of my focus is building a career in finance.

    “But I will always have that tattoo as a reminder – it makes me smile every time I look at it.”

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