Jerich Parzival: the horse who was impossible to get on but then ruled the dressage world *H&H Plus*

  • With patience and perseverance, this super- scared legend went from unrideable to a medal- winning machine who conquered the world, discovers Alice Collins

    When it takes half an hour to get on a horse for the first time, most people aren’t keen to get back on it ever again. Luckily for Jerich Parzival, Adelinde Cornelissen is not most people. In 2002, Adelinde was at a loose end when Henk Koers asked her if she’d ride his five-year-old to show him to some prospective clients. Unbeknown to her, none of Parzival’s previous riders wanted anything more to do with him.

    The leggy chestnut and the amateur Dutch rider learnt together and not only reached the international grand prix in 2007, but stayed there for almost a decade. He was Adelinde’s first grand prix horse and, as the linchpin of the Dutch team for years, took her career interstellar.

    Initially, Parzival’s latent talents were well concealed.

    “I tried to get on, but it took me half an hour to get my foot in the stirrup as he’d just take off,” recalls Adelinde. “He was super- sharp; not bossy, just scared. When I finally got on, I had to fasten my seat belt as he was flying from one corner to the next. As soon as he heard a noise or saw himself in the mirror, he’d spin and bolt.”

    When the clients came, they were – unsurprisingly – not interested.

    “I made sure I was on him already,” says Adelinde. “Then they arrived and opened the barn door and Parzival spooked, spun and ran off. It was a bad first impression. After 15 minutes, I asked if they wanted to try him and they said no.”

    3rd placed Dutch rider Adelinde Cornelissen on her horse Parzival reacts after competing in the FEI Dressage European Championship Finals in Herning, Denmark, on August 25, 2013. British rider Charlotte Dujardin won the event followed by 2nd placed German rider Helen Langehanenberg and Cornelissen.     AFP PHOTO / SCANPIX DENMARK / HENNING BAGGER / DENMARK OUT        (Photo credit should read HENNING BAed by 2nd placed German ri

    So Henk was stuck with this unsaleable horse. Adelinde agreed to train him on to make him easier to sell. She embarked on the long and bumpy road of gaining Parzival’s trust.

    There was no indoor arena at Henk’s yard, so she boxed him up and took him to different venues. It was a lot of leg work, and sometimes Adelinde had to spend an hour or two just getting Parzival to trot around a new arena.

    A big factor in his fear-fuelled existence was a lack of socialisation as a young horse, which left an indelible mark.

    “Henk only had mares, so Parzival was on his own until he was three,” explains Adelinde. “That’s partly why he was so spooky. And if something was moved – like a bench – then it would take an hour the next day to get past it.”

    Adelinde fell off Parzival only once: the first time she took him to another indoor arena.

    “Just before me there was a kid on a pony,” she recounts. “Parzival was still a stallion then and he started rearing so high, with his front legs above his head. While I was still on top, he managed to twist my upper arm into three pieces. Then I came off because I had no balance left to hold on.”

    Yet once Adelinde was (mostly) healed, Parzival was the first horse she got back on. She went right back to the business of shaping him into a reasonable citizen.

    “By the time I got him on side and there were serious clients, I didn’t want him to go any more,” says Adelinde. “I’d put in all this work and was finally getting the feeling he was this really amazing, powerful workaholic. I had to ask my dad to finance me so I could buy half of Parzival.”

    DAPH8K Dutch dressage rider Adelinde Cornelissen rides her horse Jerich Parzival during the Grand Prix Special at the European Dressage Championship in Rotterdam, Netherlands, 21 August 2011. Cornelissen won first place.  Photo: Uwe Anspach

    The first show Adelinde – who was still a full-time school teacher – took Parzival to, she retired. She jokes that she was “world champion at retiring with Parzival”. There are so manyn moments in this story where the logical path would have been to give up.

    “Giving up is not in my dictionary,” grins Adelinde. “When I started competing, people told my parents – who are not horsey – that they were crazy to let me ride Parzival.”

    Many questioned Adelinde’s unshakeable belief in the idiosyncratic Parzival, but trainer Johan Hamminga wasn’t one of them. Adelinde credits him with the horse’s good basic training. It was never the dressage movements that were the major challenge for Parzival, but the environment.

    In 2008, when the pair were long-listed for the Beijing Olympics, Adelinde finally decided to become a professional rider.

    “I needed to start training with the team coach Sjef Janssen and we lived at different ends of the country,” reasons Adelinde. “So I went for it. I could always go back to teaching if riding was a failure.”

    They were not selected in 2008, but under Sjef ’s tutelage their scores climbed and, four years later, the pair claimed individual silver (behind Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro) at the London Olympics – and a host of other medals besides (see below). It’s quite the CV.

    “It was after the Windsor Europeans in 2009 [where Parzival beat Totilas] that people started offering loads of money,” she says.

    “Every time I said no, they added a zero. But I wasn’t tempted because what would I do with the money? Buy another horse? I thought I already had the best horse. He’s my buddy; I loved him and you don’t sell your friends.”

    The pressure to sell was very real for Henk though, so Adelinde found a new sponsor, Austrian entrepreneur Herbert Jerich, who helped her secure the other half of Parzival.

    British team rider Gareth Hughes always admired Parzival.

    “We all remember Totilas, but Parzival also changed dressage,” he says. “He was a different type; very tall, leggy and elegant. He made the grand prix look so easy. The piaffe-passage was so good, but the canter work was outstanding.”

    Adelinde CORNELISSEN riding Jerich Parzival NED in the Individual Grand Prix Special in the FEI European Dressage Championship in Herning, Denmark in August 2013

    The quirky gelding’s fears abated in the safety of the arena boards, but he remained scared of prize- givings. That’s why, whenever possible, Adelinde excused herself before the clapping got going.

    In June 2013 at age 16, Parzival was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat. Remarkably, he returned to top form swiftly, claiming three medals at the Europeans in August. The heart rate monitor he wore while standing still in the prize-giving read 160 beats per minute (normal resting is 32 to 36 beats per minute), which confirmed how much they stressed him out.

    The Rio Olympics were to be his swansong at age 19. He was in tip-top shape and Adelinde wanted to defend her London silver medal and deliver a big score for the three- man team, which had no drop score that year. Then, disaster.

    “The day before the grand prix, we found Parzival at 6am with his face all swollen. We spent the whole day in the vet clinic with his temperature going way up, then down. He had intravenous fluids to flush out the toxins in his system.”

    By 5pm, Parzival’s temperature had stabilised and he seemed well again.

    “Then came the question about the competition,” recalls Adelinde. “There was pressure to try for the team. I kept asking myself what I should do and talked to the vets and the coach over and over. Finally, I had to make a decision.”

    The crowd and the media had no idea of the drama unfolding backstage. Consequently, when Adelinde retired part-way through the test, there was consternation.

    “During the first extended trot, he’d normally have so much power and energy,” recalls Adelinde sadly. “And he did it – because he’s a workaholic – but it didn’t feel right. It wasn’t fair on him, so I quit to protect him.”

    It was gut-wrenching leaving the arena with no score, having travelled halfway around the world.

    “I was sad because I couldn’t help the team,” says Adelinde. “I had a million feelings, but the biggest one was when Parzival was safely back in the stable and his temperature was fine.”

    It wasn’t the end that Adelinde had envisaged. She toyed with the idea of another show, but what for? So in March of 2017, Parzival was given an “overwhelming” official send-off. Knowing how much he disliked prize-givings, Adelinde dismounted during the ceremony.

    “I didn’t want to stress him out,” she says. “He deserved a positive experience and I wanted to thank everyone, so I invited all the people who’d helped us. I was never nervous competing, but I was unbelievably nervous for the ceremony.”

    Parzival’s breeder Ria Beijer was also overcome by the achievement of the foal she’d welcomed two decades earlier.

    “It was an absolute honour to be part of the ceremony,” she remembers. “I cried
    together with Adelinde. We always cry together; in Caen and at the Olympics. I am proud of both Parzival and her. It wasn’t just the horse, but the combination that made each other big.”

    After his retirement, Adelinde hacked him a few days a week, but eventually went “flying through the woods one too many times’’ and decided that full retirement would be more restful. Parzival now lives out his days at Adelinde’s place, towing the grooms to the field daily with his little harem of two mares.

    “He’s the world to me and he’s made me into what I am today,” says Adelinde proudly. “I loved the whole journey from him being super-scared to loving his job. I know he misses it because now whenever I have the truck out and I take him to the field, I really have to hold on to stop him running into the truck.”

    Gareth – who is well versed in training a Jazz offspring to grand prix, having done so with Classic Sandman, says: “Their story proves that this quirky horse who had all the ability just needed the right rider to bring out the best in him. Jazz offspring are talented yet quirky, but they can become brilliant when they find the one. Adelinde only got him because he was unrideable, but she persevered and they ended up taking on the world.”

    Parzival’s breeding

    Parzival’s breeder Ria Beijer had bred a full sister, Orleans, in 1996 and liked the filly so much that she used Jazz again on her mare Fedora (by Ulft x Roemer). Parzival arrived in 1997.

    “We had to sell him because we’re a small breeding farm with just mares, and we don’t keep colts,” explains Ria. “When he was a foal we thought, ‘What long legs!’ He was tall with good conformation, but he wasn’t extraordinary.”

    The pairing has proved hugely fruitful, and there are six full siblings. One of them, the 11-year-old breeding stallion Fleau De Baian (pictured, below), is now ridden at grand prix by Adelinde. Orleans, the oldest, is the dam of the grand prix horse TC Athene as well as the licensed stallion Governor, whom Adelinde rides.

    In 2000, Ria got the shock of her life when Fidora produced healthy twin Jazz fillies – extremely rare in horses. Both the fillies, Toulouse and Tuzla, became valuable broodmares, producing licensed stallions and grand prix horses.

    The 2008-born D’Avance De Baian (the youngest filly, retained by Ria) produced the licensed stallion Jerveaux. It’s a mare-line dripping in performance.

    “It’s every breeder’s dream to make an international grand prix horse and a breeding stallion,” says Ria. “My father started all this with just one mare many generations ago, so you can’t imagine how great it is that all this could happen. We really respect Adelinde’s patience with Parzival; he’s a lifetime horse not just for her, but also for us.”

    Also published in H&H 4 March 2021

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