A chat with the young Polish rider Andrzej Opłatek, who has just had a very good result last week, finishing in fourth place with Le Cordial, in the LR ranking class at the Jumping International de Dinard.

You had a successful career as a Junior and Young Rider. What is your story as a rider? Why, when and where did you start?

I began riding at the age of 12 in Poland, where I was born, but I actually had wanted to start riding earlier than that but never wanted to ride ponies, so I had to wait until I was tall enough to ride horses. So, everything was delayed for a while. And then it all started at a cultural event in Poland, held in the forest and called Fox Hunting. That was the place where I first got on a horse and had my first experience. And since then I all I ever wanted to do was ride and my career slowly developed from riding once a week to twice a week and then cantering over poles on the ground to jumping 50cm classes, building up to what is now a professional sports career.

When did you understand that this would be your life?

I think it was when I realized that every time I rode I wanted to do more and jump more and never got tired. I had tried a few other sports before; I tried soccer, team volleyball and other sports but I never had the same drive I felt when riding horses. So I understood that horses and jumping were something I would never get tired of and never have enough of and then I understood that this was what I should be doing and I liked doing and will never get tired of.

Who have your trainers been?

I always tried to learn from everyone I can, not necessarily only from show jumpers and this sport. As far as show jumping is concerned I spent time with the Fuchs family in Switzerland which was very important to me.  I stayed with them for two and a half years. There I learned a great deal about horsemanship and how to take care of horses and how important it is to keep them close to nature and keep them happy and how horses can make us good sportsmen and partners as in long-lasting healthy relationships. I think this is a very important lesson I learned that in Switzerland and I have a lot of good memories connected to the time I spent there. Now I train with Darragh Kenny and this is quite a new relationship with Darragh. It started this year but I have certainly learned a lot and this is another step forward and another partnership, another mentor for my career. And of course there are lots of people, from blacksmiths to dieticians and physiotherapist as well as osteopaths and all sorts of people I have learned from. I really like to learn in general and especially about horses so as to understand what’s bothering them, what they don’t like, what could be stopping them from using their full potential and kind of trying to figure out every different horse step-by-step. Of course, not one cannot do everything oneself, so that’s why I like to involve other professionals to get to know them better and always get to shows with my horses in the best possible form. My goal is to understand horses, to love them and help them to be happy.

What is your daily life like now you are based in Valkenswaard (The Netherland)?

Yes, I’m based there together with Darragh and we work together.

I ride between 2/3 to 6 horses and things change depending on what they need, what our plans are, what kind of training we are doing, so it changes constantly. My youngest horse is a nine-year old and all the other horses I am riding now have been with me already for a couple of years and I was riding them when they were 6- and 7-year-olds. So, I have had quite a long relationship with them and I still don’t feel I have figured out everything about them, so I’m happy to still have them with me so I can explore them further and see how much they have to give and how far we can go. I always say I love horses and I would like them to feel at their best including physical and mental health and I would also like them to be at the same level or in the best possible form, so I can feel we have reached the maximum of our potential both as individuals and as a combination.

In 2017 you took part in the Young Riders Academy. Could you tell us something about this experience?

It was a very exciting experience for me because we were able to learn a lot of things along the way involving showing and physio, anatomy and course building, addressing everything in a little more in detail. At the Young Riders Academy I understood that I had started to ride better and better, but I sort of missed some of the basic knowledge that everybody should have. The Academy made me realize that there were a lot of things I should know and didn’t and that I needed to catch up. So, it was very valuable for me to realize that. The second very important thing for me was that they could provide us with access to shows and it’s normally very difficult to get into 5* shows when you are a little bit further down in the ranking. I think when you are up in the top 30 then you don’t need to worry about entering any show but anything past this point makes things more difficult, so I really appreciate every opportunity I get. All the same, I always want my horses to be ready for this kind of show and like to compete when I feel they are ready and I’m ready too so we can deliver a good result.


a The moment in which the Athenaeum Board in Geneva has graduated the athletes from the fourth year of the Young Riders Academy program in 2017. Francesca Ciriesi (ITA), Kendra Brinkop (GER), Michael G Duffy (IRL), Matt Garrigan (IRL), Adam Grzegorzewski (POL), Guido Klatte (GER), Niklas Krieg (GER), Karin Martinsen (SWE) and Andrzej Oplatek (POL) were the riders from the 2017-team who graduated.The team was welcomed at the FEI headquarters in Lausanne. Photo (c) YRA/Fabio Petroni

And what about the International Jumping Riders Club? Do you know about the work that the IJRC does for riders and horses?

Yes I do. I think this is a very important initiative, because in my opinion the Jumping Riders Club is the voice of riders and there are a few very good riders involved and it involves real horsemanship. I think they all have quite close relationships and everything the Club is doing addresses what if good for horses, riders and owners and they respect fair play rules. That is how I would describe the work they do.

You are a very good example of good ethical sport values.

I am happy to hear that, but must add here that I’m very fortunate that I have my parents backing me and I don’t have pressure to deliver results coming from the owners who have entrusted a horse to me. At times one needs to deliver so people are just pushed and they have to deliver even though the horses may not be ready. Then there are other circumstances they may be facing or chasing ranking points or other matters while I don’t have this pressure. I can really focus on things that are very important to me and do everything I feel is right.

What advice would you like to give a young rider who would like to follow in your footsteps?

Well, I think that I would first give the advice I gave myself a couple of years ago. This would be to see horses for what they are, living beings and not something that you need to get on and use like a racing car. Or to devote a little bit more time to feelings and bonding with the horse and spend more time with the horses while sacrificing a little some other things and even just watch them and try to understand them. What I have realized while attending the Academy is that I had missed out on the most basic and very important knowledge about horses’ anatomy, their mental side and also their origins, the fact that they come from nature, that they should be outdoors. Those are also things I learned in Switzerland and in order to demand so much from our horses we should want to keep them happy and as close to nature as possible.

Who is your idol, the rider that you admire the most? And which is the horse that you would like to ride?

I think I never had just one idol, there have always been a couple of riders that I liked and things that I liked about them, but, after visiting Switzerland, Martin Fuchs and Steve Guerdat are certainly two guys who are really very special in the way they do things and they have an amazing partnership with their horses and that is something I really admire. I could see them close up while with others you just see them riding at shows. So, it was always difficult for me to estimate things exactly because I had never seen them working at home, seen how the horses are treated and all that. All this is about what I learnt in Switzerland. As far as Darragh is concerned, I really appreciate how well he trains horses and understands them and what they need in terms of training and rideability and all the small details he pays attention to.

Regards to the horse I would like to ride, well, that’s a very good question because I have always watched horses such Explosion or, for example, or Clooney ridden by Martin. I’ve always seen these horses not as I see mine but as the horses they are. I never felt that “oh, I would like to ride his horse” because I don’t know it. Maybe I might not like it or would not feel comfortable; perhaps I would not feel confident, so then I always think that I have my own horses, I love my horses. Some of them are better, some are less gifted, but they are mine. I know what I can expect from them, they know me and they trust me. So, I never felt I preferred one specific horse and the same applies to riders. I feel they too feel the way we treat them and I never want any of them to feel like I like one more than the other or that it’s all about one horse.

Text © IJRC