Showjumping legend John Whitaker is Horse & Hound’s guest editor this week (2 April issue) and he gave himself the assignment of interviewing world number two Ludger Beerbaum. You can read the full feature in the magazine but here are the two friends, and rivals, in conversation.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
Ludger: That’s difficult to answer — I’ve had a lot of experiences that have helped me. John was one of the riders who, just by watching, gave me a lot of advice. Believing in his own strength, knowing what he was doing, staying focussed… especially in the beginning when I was doubting myself, I saw he had such self-confidence and calm.
John: One piece I’ve had which stuck with my from when I was quite young came from David Broome. He said in a jump-off, you have to go as fast as you can, but clear. Not just as fast as you can! That stuck with me.
What is your favourite show?
Ludger: Coming from Germany, it’s definitely Aachen — it’s a fantastic show anyway, but it’s a special feeling to enter the ring in front of your home crowd and try to win.
John: Aachen has got to be right up there for me too, because it’s not often you ride with 45-50,000 people watching you. That doesn’t happen in our sport.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever read about yourself?
Ludger: Being tested positive in Athens [Olympics, 2004] and being found guilty as a doping person when I used betamethasone cream on the heels of my horse because he was really sore and not knowing at that time that was wrong. Reading all those headlines was pretty tough. People in the media sometimes exaggerate things also — they say I am a superstar but that’s a complete joke and makes me laugh.
What is your biggest regret?
Ludger: Athens again. My colleagues and I won the gold as a team but, because of my failure with the cream, I gave away the medal — I didn’t feel good about that.
John: There are lots of horses I should have bought when I had the chance and lots of horses I shouldn’t have bought! And not being part of the team in London 2012 — it doesn’t worry me in the slightest, but that was a once in a lifetime opportunity to jump at your own Olympics. Don’t get me wrong, I was there, rooting for them to win that gold medal, but afterwards I thought it would have been nice to be in the team.
What is your earliest memory of riding?
Ludger: My first ever show was just a simple riding test and I came third from 14 or 15 people — I was pretty proud!
John: My mother encouraged all four of us and I remember riding my first pony, a Welsh Mountain called Silver, round the farm.
What is your biggest extravagance?
Ludger: I don’t think I have one! I’ve had cars for many years but they don’t mean anything to me. I’ve won Volvos, Audis, Volkswagens… I’m an easy, happy person!
John: I’m a bit like Ludger in that respect — cars don’t mean much. It’s nice winning them though! I’ve won about 90. If I’ve had money to spare I’ve invested in land.
When do you feel at your happiest?
Ludger: Obviously when you win, but I like to be productive — when what you’re doing turns out to have a good result, even if it’s bringing up a horse at home. Family is another very nice aspect — I don’t know if it keeps you young but it’s very positive to have happy, healthy kids and I really enjoy the relationship I have with my English wife! She motivates me a lot.
John: My guilty pleasure is farming — I’m probably not going to get rich out of being a farmer but I enjoy it.
What is your set-up at home?
Ludger: I would say half a day I ride my horses and the other half I run the yard. We have around 85 horses at home and Henrik [Von Eckermann], Philipp [Weishaupt] and two other boys ride for me and we train young horses. We also have a stallion station — we had 1,600 mares to cover last year. So there’s enough things to do, even with 30 people employed.
What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?
John: There’s not much I would have done differently. I was travelling the world, I felt really privileged. Finding Ryan’s Son when I was 18 that was the biggest change in my life and the family’s.