When Henrik von Eckermann won the World Championship gold in Herning last year, the Swedish showjumper secured his place in the history books of the sport. However, it was not always certain that Eckermann would reach the absolute top of his discipline and the top of the world rankings. The story of how he and a very special horse achieved their historic victory together is like something out of a fairytale.
The beginning of the journey
Henrik von Eckermann grew up on a farm in Sweden, in a family whose connection to horses and equestrian sport goes back to his great-great-great-grandparents. In his youth, he excelled in both show jumping and ice hockey, but he became a professional showjumper when he realized that his opportunities for success in ice hockey were limited. However, success in equestrian sport did not come immediately and required both hard work, high ambitions, and a bit of luck.
Henrik von Eckermann spent 12 years in the stables of four-time Olympic gold medalist Ludger Beerbaum, where he started as an intern. Over time, he began to ride some of Beerbaum’s top horses, such as Gotha, with whom he achieved several of the highlights of his early career, including a bronze medal at the European Championships in Herning in 2013. After his time with Beerbaum, von Eckermann started his own company, Von Eckermann Sport Stable in Germany.
A new start
Starting his own business brought both increased independence and increased pressure to perform. It was important to get off to a good start, and the mare Mary Lou was important in maintaining von Eckermann’s position as part of the elite in show jumping. With Mary Lou, von Eckermann achieved top-three placings at both the European and World Championships and in two World Cup finals. In 2020, von Eckermann took the next step in his career when he and his fiancée, Swiss showjumper Janika Sprunger, moved from Germany to their newly established stable in the Netherlands. Mary Lou retired in 2021 to focus on breeding.
One of the main characters in the story of Henrik von Eckermann’s journey to the top of the world rankings is his partner horse, King Edward. The now-famous gelding started his riding career out of the spotlight, as a hobby horse. At the age of 8, he was found by Janika Sprunger, who saw great potential in him. Although his previous owner had no interest in selling him, it quickly became clear that his abilities as a showjumper should not go to waste. After that, King Edward quickly made his debut in international show jumping competitions.
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Before the Tokyo Olympics, von Eckermann took over the reins of King Edward when Sprunger went on maternity leave and von Eckermann himself was without a horse after Mary Lou’s retirement. The Tokyo Olympics were von Eckermann’s third and King Edward’s first. They stood in the shadow of their teammates Peder Fredricson and his horse H&M All In, who had won silver in both the individual and team competitions at the previous Olympics. King Edward stole the headlines when he became the third horse in all of Olympic history to jump faultlessly throughout both individual and team competitions. King Edward and von Eckermann achieved an impressive fourth place in the individual competition and were important parts of the Swedish team that won gold. The team victory was Sweden’s first Olympic gold in show jumping since 1924.
Double gold in Herning
After their great performances at the Olympics, expectations for both von Eckermann, King Edward, and the entire Swedish team had risen for the World Championships in Herning last year. Additionally, von Eckermann was for the first time in his career ranked first in the Longines ranking of show jumpers, and was therefore among the top favorites for the event. These expectations were met and even exceeded in some areas. Sweden had never won the team jumping World Championships before, so when they did, von Eckermann and King Edward once again wrote themselves into the history books of the sport. In the individual competition, the pair was once again successful, going fault-free throughout the competition and winning gold again.
Henrik von Eckermann is undoubtedly one of the greatest showjumpers of our time. As he continues to compete and represent Sweden in international events, there is no doubt that von Eckermann will continue to be a force to be reckoned with in the world of showjumping. Whether he is riding King Edward or any other horse, von Eckermann’s incredible skill and talent on the course will continue to amaze and inspire audiences for years to come.