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Portrait: Emmelie Scholtens, Dutch young horse champion

Emmelie Scholtens was born into the world of equestrianism. Her mother was a breeder, so horses were always a part of her life. She has mentioned that she learned to walk and ride almost simultaneously. Starting at a young age, she began competing as a pony rider and achieved great success, winning several Dutch dressage championships. Her passion for equestrian sports endured over the years, but major senior-level achievements didn't come immediately.

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Success with young horses

Instead, Scholtens found success with young horses. In 2007, she was selected as part of the Rabo Talent Team, a program where the Dutch Rabobank provided financial support to young riders to improve their riding skills. Two years later, at the age of 23, she made her mark as a prominent rider at the World Championships for Young Horses. There, she competed in the 6-year-old division with Westpoint, and the pair secured gold medals. This marked the beginning of a five-year period where Scholtens dominated the competition. The following year, she won gold again, this time with 5-year-old Astrix. In 2011, Scholtens achieved two medal placements, another gold with Astrix in the 6-year-old category and bronze with 5-year-old Bretton Woods. In 2012 and 2013, she won a silver medal with Borencio and a bronze with Dorado, respectively.

While enjoying these successful years with young horses, Scholtens also achieved success outside the riding arena. She co-founded the training stable Witte Scholtens along with her life partner, Jeroen Witte. They initially started the stable at Witte's parents' place and remained there for five years. Eventually, the stable became part of the prominent Dutch Ad Valk Dressage stable, which owns the horses Scholtens competes with. Witte Scholtens primarily focuses on training young horses to the highest level, while some horses stay to compete with Scholtens.

Read also: Portrait: Dutch Dressage Darling Dinja van Liere

Apache

Apache was the horse that elevated Emmelie Scholtens to the next level. The stallion Apache was owned by Ad Valk and was trained to Grand Prix level by Scholtens herself. Together, they improved their performance and, in 2018, were selected for the Dressage World Championships. They achieved individual placements of 23rd and 25th and a fifth-place finish in the team competition. While they didn't win any medals, it was a significant milestone to make their World Championship debut.

The following year, Scholtens participated in the World Cup Final, the Dutch Championships, and the European Championships. In the first two competitions, she partnered with Apache again, securing 8th and 3rd place finishes. However, at the 2019 European Championships in Rotterdam, she competed with Desperado, who had seemingly overtaken Apache as Scholtens' preferred competition horse. The pair had mixed success in the individual competitions, resulting in 13th and 29th place finishes. However, in the team competition, they celebrated winning silver medals on home soil.

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Read also: Can horses really think and feel?

The route to Riesenbeck

Half a month after the European Championships, Emmelie Scholtens shared sad news. Apache had suffered from laminitis and had to be euthanized after weeks of battling the condition. Apache was 14 years old and will always be associated with Scholtens' journey to the top of the equestrian world. After taking a break from major competitions due to injuries, COVID-19-related cancellations, and pregnancy, Scholtens returned to the big stage as a new mother in 2022. Three months after her return to competition, she performed well enough to be selected for the World Championships in Herning. Here, she partnered with a relatively inexperienced horse at the highest level, Indian Rock, who is the son of Apache and has shown great promise.

Scholtens recently returned from a knee injury she suffered in February of this year. Nevertheless, she and Indian Rock have demonstrated a high enough level to be in Riesenbeck, where this year's European Championships are being held. While they may not be among the favorites for top placements in the individual competitions, one should never underestimate the Dutch dressage riders in major competitions.

Read also: Portrait: Marieke van der Putten's patient rise to the top

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