September – A broken arm and can’t wait to be back in the saddle again. Monika Martini, from Greece, twenty-two years old, is one of the six alumni of the Young Riders Academy. Greek Seniors Champion in 2014, as her colleagues, Monika dreams to grow to the top of the sport and she thinks the Academy could be an important step on the road to achieve her goals.
Monika, when was the first time you heard mentioning the Academy?
It was some months ago, it was springtime and I was told about this project. My national federation could choose three young riders between eighteen and twenty-three years old as candidates but I was the only one coming from Greece.
How did the selections unroll?
The selection panel, composed by Otto Becker, Jean-Maurice Bonneau, Emile Hendrix and Sven Holmberg, chose the twenty-five best ones sent by the national federations and then two selections followed, one in Arezzo, Italy, the other one in Redefin, Germany. The selection consisted in both, practice, with a show jumping competition on 1,40-1,50 high classes, and theory, with an interview in order to evaluate our personalities, our background and our communication skills and abilities. I was second in the Arezzo Grand Prix.
How did you feel when you knew you had been selected within the six?
I couldn’t believe it. For me it’s a great honour to be part of the Academy. I never thought I could do it because I come from a country where horse riding is underdeveloped. I’m perfectly aware that being the Greek Champion, outside our boundaries, it is meaningless. To learn something in this sport I have to compare myself with people who are better than me. Look for the best: it’s the only way to grow.
You seem wise for your age. Which are your studies?
I’ve been studying for four years Communication at the Deree College, an American College in Athens. I’ve still fifteen courses left before graduation. Now I’m living in Germany during the six months of the Academy, two have already gone but I was given one more because of my arm. I broke it on a show.
When did you start riding and did you practice other disciplines aside from show jumping?
I started at the age of eight, in a riding centre not far from home. I drove my parents nuts taking me there. It was love at first sight and my other three sisters started riding too. I’ve always jumped, from the very beginning.
Had you ever been in central Europe before the Academy began?
I was here one or two times for the Nations Cup: once in Budapest, Hungary, where I placed fifth in the Grand Prix, and another time in Božurište, Bulgaria, where I won.
How many horses do you ride? And who of them is your favourite?
I have four horses in Greece and two of them are now in Germany: I’m living in Dietmar Gugler’s stable, in Pfungstadt, less than sixty kilometres south from Frankfurt and there I’m riding other horses too. The favourite one is my Cleopatra: a twelve year-old chestnut mare, quite lazy I must say, but I know she’d do anything for me. I love her so much.
When did the program start and how were you six distributed?
The six were announced on the 19th of May, after the panel gathered in Düsseldorf for the selection final meeting. Each of us was assigned to a professional rider for a six month period: as I was allocated to Gugler, Bertram Allen, from Ireland was allowed to stay with Marcus Ehning, who has already been training him for three years. Emanuele Bianchi, from Italy, went to Ludger Beerbaum. The German Kaya Lüthi is working with Rolf-Göran Bengtsson, while the Swiss riders Chantal Müller and Emilie Stampfli ride under the supervision of Gilbert De Roock and Kevin Staut. In this period we have the chance to be invited together with our tutors to major CSIs.
In what does the Academy project consist?
We ride every day different horses, working hard and overlooked by a professional. That makes a lot of difference! We learn and experience much more than we were riding at home with our all day-routine. Being here, without the costs it would require if my family should personally finance me, is something I didn’t even dare to dream of. I’m so happy. Along with the riding we attend an educational program, scheduled on different subjects as mental coaching, team building, business and economics, marketing and communication, legal aspects about sale negotiations, the relationship between National Federation, FEI and riders and, moreover, veterinary and anti-doping basics. We have already taken part to the first seminar in Lugano, we’ll have a second one in October in Stockholm and a third one in December in Geneva.
What about you six? Did you know each other already?
No, we didn’t. Maybe I was the more isolated one in Europe but now that I’m starting to know my mates I like them a lot. We always have great times when we meet on seminars. They are witty and it is easy to have fun together. It’s a very nice environment, we all love horses so much and we share the same lifestyle. Furthermore I’m quite a social person and in Greece I have plenty of friends. I love to be with people.
In what do you think the Academy is trying to enrich your generation of riders?
I’m proud to be part of a project that cares about a complete educational system conceived for athletes. I think it is an important goal to have in the future not only great champions but people who are able to manage themselves. Media have changed the way we live our sport and we can’t miss this challenge. Sponsors, owners, shows, everything requires a professionalism which can’t be improvised. I’m not blaming those riders who just focus on riding: being a professional is a very absorbing activity and it is hard to find time for extras. Anyway I think it is important to learn to deal with aspects that nowadays are part of our sport, such as communication and marketing. The people behind the Academy are there to help us, they are wonderful and we are all living a great experience.
Who was your favourite in the final Four at the World Equestrian Games in Normandy?
I didn’t have preferences, they all four are so great riders. I must say I was sad for Daniel Deusser who didn’t get in. But they have been all amazing.
Do you have a rider in particular you value the most and you try to be like?
No, I never had models in riding. I’m trying to build myself without duplicating anybody. I prefer to stay original and learn from everybody.
What makes you proud of your country and how Greek do you feel?
I love Greece for its landscapes, for its rural countryside. I love the people, their hospitality. My father comes from Corfu and my mother from Cyprus. I feel I’m deeply connected with my origins. And food is absolutely amazing. I think you can see by yourself (She has nothing to complain about, with her beautiful Mediterranean figure – editor’s note).
What do horses mean to you?
Freedom is the first word that pops into my mind when I think about horses, the second is connection: the special feeling you can establish with them, something magic that is hard to explain. I feel this way with my horses and I know they feel the same way with me.