Jenny Lang and Loverboy with Mutual Love and Respect to the Top

Mon, 08/05/2013 - 07:24
Young Guns in Dressage

If horses could speak Ronaldo surely would have much to say about the petite rider Jenny Lang, who daily trains his even smaller successor Loverboy in front of the 20-year-old's paddock at Stable Hubertushof near Karlsruhe in the south of Germany. Twelve years ago Ronaldo safely carried Jenny through the riding badges and her first competition. The Westfalian was the first horse German Grand Prix rider Jenny Lang and her younger sister Christin had. Both girls started to ride at age 13 and took their first lessons on the lunge line in the riding club of Karlsruhe. From these very first moments in the saddle in 2000 it was a long way to 5 May 2013, the day Jenny Lang made her interntional Grand Prix break through. 

On that day 26-year-old Jenny Lang rode herself into the spotlight with Loverboy by winning the freestyle at the 2013 CDI Mannheim during their very first outdoor CDI of the season. It was the way both danced to victory that many kept them in mind rather than the result itself. Their youthly enthusiasm and love for what they did shone through and was the best promotion for dressage.

Jenny Lang and Loverboy are not an unfamiliar face in Germany as they successfully competed in the national Under 25 circuit called the Piaff Forderpreis. They won the finals in 2010 and were second in 2012. Turning 26 in 2013 Jenny was forced to start riding at senior level and remarkably is now taking a firm stand against much more experienced combinations.

Traditional Beginnings

Unlike other Piaff Förderpreis girls, the tiny blonde's dressage career was more serendipity than a planned route which started with buying an expensive riding pony. "My girl friend already rode, so she took me to the riding club. My sister followed me shortly after. We both rode there on school horses for about two years, then our parents agreed buying us a horse of our own. So 12 years ago Ronaldo came into our lives and he is still with us," Jenny reported.

The big framed, gentle giant by Ribbeck wasn't a ready trained competition horse, but his friendly temperament helped a lot and somehow he is to blame that Jenny turned her interest to dressage. "At the beginning I also jumped, but my jumping career was short-lived. When I was 14 I rode Ronaldo in a relay jumping competition at the lowest level, but we did not even get over the first jump! Well, generally I am not the type who loves to take risks. I love a challenge, but I need to have positive control. As Ronaldo was not able to round his neck I was lucky to get Charly and my riding instructor fostered us."

Charly's owner agreed to give Jenny the ride on the 147 cm pony and "he got me hooked on dressage." Both competed quite successfully at A and L-level and even though Jenny  physically hasn't truly outgrown ponies, she got older and her parents were looking for a more suitable prospect. Jenny's parents were absolutely non-horsey and they were lucky to have a very knowledgable woman at their side: Katrin Burger. An accomplished Grand Prix rider, Burger used to manage Gestut Schlossäcker, where horses such as the licensed stallions Cabaret, French Kiss and Sir Oldenburg stood. Now the vice-president of the Oldenburger Association, Burger is a decisive person who recognised Jenny's talent and helped her family find the right horses.

Riverman and Rubin soon moved in their stalls at Schlossäcker Stud, where Jenny and sister Christin were the only boarders back then and got their regular lessons. "I got Riverman as a 6-year old. He is a Bavarian gelding by Rivero. My sister got Rubin as a kind of schoolmaster. With Riverman I started at L- and M-level and all was progressing well," Lang reminisced.  Jenny's sister was less lucky with Rubin as the horse just didn't show the right work ethic to advance, so the family decided to sell him.

Loverboy, a Love Exchange

No one knew then that this difficult decision, made for the welfare of a horse who couldn't live up to the expectations, would be the beginning of something extraordinary. "Katrin has a very good eye for horses and when my family was looking for a replacement for Rubin, she led us to horse dealer Günther Karle near Heidenheim. We went there with her to have a look and saw Loverboy," said Jenny. The Langs drove there two times to look at the horse and try him out. "He was 5 then, but barely trained which showed in his lack of balance. However, he had elastic movements and we liked him, so we exchanged him for Rubin at the end of 2005."

Loverboy is sired by Lorentin I,  a Grand Prix horse under Wolfgang Schade and out of Eira by jumping sire Alcatraz. The then 5-year old was destined to be sold at the stallion auction in Elmshorn, but despite his good gaits his 162 cm height were just not enough to be accepted for licensing. Breeder Gert Hansen, who also bred the international jumper Lord Luis (Lars Nieberg) out of Loverboy's dam, kept Loverboy in the field for another year after which he sold to Günther Karle. The renowned South German horse dealer saddle broke the horse at 5 right before the Langs bought him.

“Lori” as Loverboy is nicknamed joined Ronaldo and Riverman at Schlossäcker, but soon it became obvious that he just wasn't the horse Christin liked to ride. A few years younger than Jenny, Christin had difficulties handling the young Loverboy as he was more than a handful. So the girls swapped horses and Jenny tried Lori. "Lori was a bit cheeky, not rude, but very self-confident. He could jump into the air with all four legs at the same time," Jenny laughed.

She liked the dark brown gelding straight away and got lots of help from Dennis Meschke, a bereiter who had come to Schlossäcker and who took over the girls' training after Katrin Burger had left at the beginning of 2006. "Dennis said from the beginning that Lori owns world-class potential, but our mutual start was a rocky road. My horse has an unusual, very special way of moving and the judges first didn't know how to handle it and they didn't like him. They always wrote that Lori was too tense. So we hadn't much success in our first A-level competitions for dressage horses, but at the end of our first season the first placings came."

Growing Pains

This special way of moving Loverboy kept until today. It is quite typical for the original Holsteiner breed: high and pronounced forehand action and active hind-legs pulled rather high under the body. One cannot deny that the gelding's mechanic is far from mainstream and his gaits can easily be misinterpreted as tense, but dressage horses had been and still are successful in all shapes and sizes and Loverboy is no exception.

Rather unique is the way he made it to the top because he and Jenny learnt the ropes together. Even though this way is usually considered  the hardest, the 26-year-old denies it with a smile: "In the winter of 2006/2007 Dennis Meschke moved to Munich and took Lori with him to continue his training. He taught us all the movements up to M-level together. He also taught Lori the first piaffe steps in hand."

However, as Jenny had started to study industrial engineering in her home-town of Karlsruhe and could not commute often enough between Munich and Karlsruhe, Lori returned home. But without a regular trainer some help was needed, so Jenny moved her horse to Dutch born dressage trainer Pieter van der Raadt who runs a dressage stable in Zeutern between Karlsruhe and Heidelberg.

"Pieter really helped us getting to S-level and training the Grand Prix movements. In 2008 it was my first and last year at Young Rider's level and I rode my first S-dressage and won at Billigheim. This was a real feat for us! Later that year we won bronze at the Regional Championships in Schutterwald behind Nicole Isser and Tiffany Bingmann and we were allowed to represent Baden-Württemberg at the German Championships at Hannover. It was by far my biggest show so far," Jenny remembered.

Although he's not a star horse at Grand Prix level, Loverboy did not place very high that year at Young Riders. He was only 8 at the time and it was the pair's first season at S-level. Furthermore Loverboy is one those few horses which really come into their own at the most difficult level, the Grand Prix. At small tour level fancy gaits are important to score highl but at Grand Prix-level more attributes are necessary, such as the ability to collect to the extreme. Movements like piaffe, passage and canter pirouettes require a horse not only with the right basic training, but also with a very good natural balance so he can lower the haunches and still keep the activity and rhythm.

The Leap to Grand Prix

After another year at small tour level in 2009 in which Jenny rode the federal iWest-Cup held in Baden-Württemberg and finished second in the regional final at Schleyerhalle Stuttgart, both were ready for more in 2010. “I was invited to the preparation clinic for the Piaff Förderpreis at the beginning of 2010. I showed Lori in Warendorf and we left a good impression, so we got permission to start on this show circuit. Unfortunately my horse got an infection the day before our first qualifier at Mannheim, so we stayed home. Then at Lingen we won the warm-up class, but had mistakes in the qualifier, it was somehow a rough start," Jenny admitted.

Nonetheless the two bundles of energy qualified with good rides at Cappeln and Verden and then they were the big shooting stars at the final. “It was really a great surprise to us, but Lori won the final tying with Marion Engelen's Diego OLD. Prior to the final I had started to train regularly a few days each with Jürgen Koschel. I now and then drove to his barn and he supported us a lot at that time.”

The rise of the crowds' favourites seemed unstoppable after both continued with impressive rounds at the Dortmund U-25 classes in February 2011. But then Loverboy's exuberant temperament threathened his career as a dressage horse. “At the beginning of 2011 I moved back from Zeutern to Schlossäcker. Not long after the move my farrier came to shod Lori. He uses to be a bit jittery during these sessions and jumped around a bit and stood on one hoof. I didn't think anything more about it, but the next day he came out lame.” Loverboy had sustained a protracted hoof injury which put him out most of the season. “We did three MRIs. He was out for 3 months, then we started to exercise him lightly and my vet checked on the progress regularly as we didn't want to risk anything with him."  Finally, in March 2012, the Holsteiner was fully back in training, even though “I still was very very careful.”

Jürgen Koschel subsequently gave her permission to start in the Piaff Förderpreis series and both did not disappoint his trust by winning in Balve and Verden as well as coming second at Donaueschingen, before they returned to Stuttgart where the popular pair was cheered on by their own fan-club. They finished in a remarkable second place behind Stella-Charlott Roth on Dorothee Schneider's Olympic team silver medal winning ride Diva Royal.

Hitting the Big League

Stuttgart in November 2012 marked the end of a successful time in the Under 25 tour, but it was also the beginning of a new student-trainership which made a major contribution to Jenny's and Lori's smooth and successful transition to the seniors this season. “After the competition at Stuttgart Monica Theodorescu talked to me and offered her help. Since then we have trailered Lori a few times to her barn near Warendorf to train and prepare before important shows. I always get very good impulses from her which I do apply in my daily training at home," she explained.

Monica Theodorescu strongly encouraged her to compete at international senior level instead of hiding at national Grand Prix shows. The national coach knew this was sound advise: “It was time that Jenny and her horse competed internationally and it is great that it worked out so well. It also proves that our Piaff Förderpreis concept works," said Theodorescu. “Our first senior show was the CDN Münster in January," Lang added. "I would now call it a show to learn. The arena was quite noisy and the spectators close to it, so Lori didn't perform to his best ability. We still scored 66% and I really learnt a lot.”

Theodorescu then sent her off to their CDI debut at the CDI Stadl Paura in Austria at the end of March. “I really didn't have any expectations other than getting more experience. I had been at Monica to prepare a fortnight earlier and she helped me a lot. Then in Austria everything went so well, despite the heavy rain and mud everywhere. My horse was liked very much there." Both finished second in a strong field of 24 competitors behind Victoria Max-Theurer on Blind Date, but ahead of Dane Lone Bang Larsen on Fitou L. They obtained the same ranking in the Special. 

“It was planned that Mannheim, which is so close to us, would be my first outdoor CDI. But since Lori's injury I am always a bit careful with too much planning. Even though he is fit as a fiddle ever since, I only plan in short term, from show to show," Jenny stressed. At Mannheim Loverboy left no doubt that he prefers the big stage to really shine. After an already really exciting third place in the Grand Prix behind the Danish shooting star-horse Akeem Foldager and Wolfram Wittig's Bertoli W, Loverboy came into his own in the kur to music ridden in the big Mannheim main stadium, where usually only the jumping competitions are being held. He literally grew inches and trotted into the stadium like an 17 hh giant, eyes shining, expressing pride and eagerness to start the “dance”. They rode to music which was a mixture of Dumbo, Jungle Book and Pink Panther. “I wanted to have familiar melodies in my freestyle, but I also need to like it. I think the Disney music suits Lori great as it underlines his elasticity and lightness and his slight playfulness," Jenny explained.

Making the German B-Team and Moving to a New Home

Loverboy's real strong spot is his joy to present himself to an audience and to really shine and fight for his rider. Meeting him in his spacious stable not many would recognize him as the dressage horse that is making headlines. Loverboy without saddle and bridle looks like a cute outgrown riding pony with a very special back-line, although his alert character always shines through, even when he is tied to the wall in the washing-box.

Jenny recently moved Loverboy to a new barn Hubertushof a few months ago, along with his long-time stable mates Ronaldo and Riverman. All three love their new residence which is a brand-new, very horse-friendly barn: bright big stalls, most with long paddocks and slip-free surface in front. Several times a day the horses get hard-feed and roughage from automats which are attached to each stall. Even though the whole atmosphere on the property is very familiar, there are 100 horses stabled here and the yard is not far away from Karlsruhe.

"We have all kind of horses and riders here, from dressage horses to cold-bloods, from show riders to hackers," said Jenny.

Loverboy has to wait a few hours each morning until his rider comes. Jenny has just finished her studies and wrote her diploma work at the beginning of the year. Now she works in the morning in her father's business which is a big car dealership in Karlsruhe. This situation seems ideal to combine working life with her passion for dressage and Jenny is happy about the opportunity. “I usually work about 6 or 7 hours at my father's. I have taken over the Mazda transactions within our business and it is much fun, even though at the beginning it was challenging as I had to work in the new software.” The afternoons are completely dedicated to horses. At Hubertushof Jenny is always joined by her sister Christin who is her greatest supporter at all shows.

Christin is three years younger and also competes up to S-level on Riverman, an appealing 14-year-old Bavarian warmblood. Both girls spend the afternoons in the barn, each training their horse and also taking care of dear old Ronaldo. With only one horse to take care of each day, the Lang horses always get the royal treatment. Jenny takes her time grooming Loverboy, preparing him for the a schooling session.

Training itself does not follow a strict plan. Instead Jenny is flexible to adjust the daily programme to her horse. “I try to vary as much in my training to keep Lori entertained and fresh. After his injury we did lots of strength training and I have the feeling he is still building up each month. Usually I do my dressage training about 4-5 times a week. The rest he is exercised at the lunge line, then for about 20-30 minutes and we go hacking.”

Hacking opportunities around the yard are very good, as the farm is situated at the edge of a forest. There is also a small race-track, even though "I consider it too small to really let the horses go forwards in canter. But I am not that type anyway. I want to have some control left." Instead Loverboy and his rider often go on trail rides in the forests where the feisty Holsteiner is usually well behaved and reliable. "It is also possible to hack him in company, although I don't do this so often." Jenny trains Loverboy regularly in the double bridle, "because this is the required tack at Grand Prix-level," bur otherwise she prefers a snaffle-bit with a dropped noseband.

After work Loverboy is allowed to relax a bit in a small field behind the stables. Like many horses greedier for the fresh green grass than for cantering around, he prefers putting his head down as soon as he is in the field. This year Jenny has bought him a quirky looking bug rug with zebra pattern which is said to fend off flies more effectively than uni-coloured ones.

Respecting Each Other to the Fullest

Sitting next to her grazing horse Jenny told Eurodressage about her plans and her horse's unique character. “I have the feeling that he has still so much left in him. In piaffe and passage he can still further improve and he gains strength with each month we train. Lori is a very self-confident horse and he could never be commanded in his training or anything else. You need to allow him to be himself, otherwise it wouldn't work. This means I make compromises and he accepts them and never takes advantages of the freedom I give him. This might be the secret of our partnership and the success we shared together.”

Jenny prefers to always say "we" instead of "I" when she talked about her riding. It shows how closely connected she sees everything she has accomplished with Loverboy. She also stressed how important the support of the whole family is. Her non-horsey parents “enabled me to follow my passion and support me morally and financially. I am very very grateful to them.” On shows Jenny is never seen without Christin and her friend Michael. The latter used to be non-horsey, "but he has been taught how to unwrap bandages and much more," Christin remarked with a twinkle in her eye.

Christin helps Jenny with all the grooming at each show they attend and also gives moral support whenever needed. “Christin is priceless. She also knows Lori inside out and always helps me in my daily training and at every show we attend," said Jenny appreciating the invaluable support of her younger sister. When asked if Christin envies her sister having so much success with a horse meant to be hers, she smiled and replied, “oh well, that is the way it went. I am really happy my sister is progressing that well with Lori and we can experience all this.”

Is Jenny a “one-horse-wonder”? Like many other riders she is in the situation that her family cannot afford buying ready-made Grand Prix-horses to back up Loverboy. Therefore Loverboy as well as Riverman were bought quite young and trained with the help of very good trainers to the level they now are. So to secure the future, Jenny and Christin have three very good young horses they want to bring along: the 4-year-old licensed Oldenburger stallion Just in Brown (by Just Perfect) was bought at the auction at Vechta, and Diamond Song, a six-year-old “very well behaved” unlicensed stallion (by Diamond Hit x Sandro Song). Both horses are still with Jenny's long-time trainer Katrin Burger and Joachim Neubert in Oldenburg, “because I didn't have the time for them when I was still in my final semesters at university, but this summer we want to take both home and continue working with them here.” Same goes for the third, 7-year-old Florentino (by Fidertanz) who is with Dennis Meschke in Bavaria.

Watching Jenny and her sister one afternoon one slowly realizes why this little horse came so far: Tell somebody so self-confident as Loverboy day by day that he is the greatest and most loved and he will try to fly to the moon. Let's see to what this real character of a horse is able to do in the future on the basis of talent and a real friendship with his rider.

Text and Photos by Silke Rottermann for Eurodressage

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