By Karim Mekawi
HE'S THE NUMBER ONE SHOW JUMPER IN THE WORLD! EVEN A STATEMENT SUCH AS THIS DOES NOT FAIRLY DESCRIBE OUR GUEST IN QUESTION. ON TOP OF DOMINATING THE WORLD RANKINGS FOR NINE MONTHS RUNNING AND WEARING THE GREEN AND GOLD ARM-BAND, ROLF-GORAN BENGTSSON IS THE RECORD HOLDER FROM THE BEIJING OLYMPICS BACK IN 2008, EARNING THE FIRST INDIVIDUAL SILVER FOR SWEDEN IN 76 YEARS.
BORN IN THE SOUTHERN PART OF SWEDEN WHERE THEY ONLY SEE SEVEN HOURS OF DAY-LIGHT DURING MID-WINTER, ROLF-GORAN'S AMIABLE FACE RADIATES THE WARMTH AND JOY SCARCE TO COME BY. HE IS COOL, CALM AND COLLECTED, WHICH IS A TRIPLE-COMBINATION THAT HELPS ANY RIDER TO FLOURISH ALONG WITH THE RIGHT FUNDAMENTALS SUCH AS SKILFUL HORSES, GENEROUS SPONSORS AND A GREAT TEAM TO KEEP IT ALL TOGETHER.
THE REIGNING EUROPEAN CHAMPION TOGETHER WITH HIS STRIKING CHESTNUT OLYMPIC GELDING NINJA LA SILLA HAVE PROVED TO BE A REMARKABLE TEAM OF HEAVY-WEIGHT CHAMPIONS, WHO CAME OUT WITH THE LION'S SHARE OF MEDALS. MOREOVER, BENGTSSON IS A VERY CONSISTENT GUEST ON THE WINNERS’ PODIUM AT THE GLOBAL CHAMPIONS TOUR, THE WORLD CUP QUALIFIER INDOOR SEASON AND OTHER BIG EVENTS WITH HIS OTHER HORSES THAT STAND AT HIS STABLES IN GERMANY WITH HIS BUSINESS PARTNER AND FRIEND BO KRISTOFFERSEN.
READ ON AND LEARN MORE ABOUT THE TWO-TIME OLYMPIC SILVER MEDALLIST, EUROPEAN GRAND MASTER BENGTSSON AS HE TALKS ABOUT HIS YEARS PARTICIPATING IN THE GCT, HIS CURRENT DAYS WITH MR. ALFONSO ROMO, HIS REMARKABLE STRING OF HORSES, AND A FEW THINGS IN BETWEEN.
YOU WORKED FOR 6 YEARS WITH DUTCH HORSE-DEALING TYCOON JAN TOPS, HOW DID THAT COLLABORATION COME ABOUT? AND WHAT WAS YOUR EVERYDAY LIFE THERE LIKE?
I met Tops at a horse show in St.Gallen in 1997 where he asked me if I were interested to come and ride for him. So I decided to quit my own yard in Sweden and travel to Holland. My days at Stal Tops were very much like they are for me now: lots of horses, lots of riding and lots of shows. However, now for sure I ride better shows than before, that's the difference.
WHAT ABOUT THE MIGHTY MARE PIALOTTA?
Oh, she was a fantastic horse that I was lucky to ride for a year and a half. Of course she also helped me to my first silver medal at the Europeans.
AFTER THAT YOU MADE A DEAL WITH MEXICAN BILLIONAIRE ALFONSO ROMO. WAS THAT THROUGH JAN TOPS?
As you may know I am not employed by Alfonso Romo. In 2002 I considered changing my job so as I talked with Bo Kristoffersen, we decided to work together. We started up in Breitenburg on January 1st, 2003 with training, selling and competition horses.
At the end of 2003 Mr. Romo decided to end his cooperation with Jan Tops and after that he contacted me (as we knew each other from my time in Tops' stable) and in February 2004 the first horses from La Silla walked in and that's how things started...
LET'S TALK ABOUT MORE HORSES, STARTING WITH THE GUIDAM GELDING NINJA LA SILLA OF COURSE. WHEN DID YOU GET THE RIDE ON HIM, AND WHAT WAS HIS JUMP LIKE AT THE TIME?
I sat on Ninja in December 2005 and that was my first. At that time he had been competing with Italian rider Giorgio Nuti who also rode some Grand Prix and Nations' Cup with him, and was 10 years old so he already had some experience on an international level.
LATER ON, HE BECAME YOUR MAIN CHAMPIONSHIP HORSE AND WON THE INDIVIDUAL SILVER AT THE BEIJING OLYMPICS. RIGHT AFTER THAT, DID OFFERS COME POURING DOWN TO BUY THIS HORSE?
He wasn't on the market actually. We kept Ninja as he was in super form and to prove that, he won the Gold in Madrid at 16 years old!
NOW WE COME TO THE CARETINO STALLION CASALL LA SILLA. WHAT IS THE DEAL YOU HAVE WITH THE HOLSTEINER VERBAND FOR CASALL?
Well, Casall is still owned by the Holsteiner Verband, but Mr. Romo leases him. So the Holsteiner Verband has all the breeding rights since he's a breeding stallion, and Alfonso Romo has the rights for the name as a competition horse.
WHAT EXACTLY DO YOU DO WITH CASALL ON THE FLAT, AND HOW OFTEN DO YOU JUMP HIM AT HOME?
At home he does normal flat work, mostly condition training. I only jump him once a week, depending on the show schedule.
WHICH RIDER ON THE TOP 10 LIST WOULD YOU LEND CASALL TO RIDE IN A GRAND PRIX AND WHY?
I don't think I could do that (laughs).
SPEAKING OF THE TOP 10, HOW HAVE YOU MANAGED (THE PAST 9 MONTHS) TO SELECT WHICH HORSE GOES TO WHICH SHOW IN ORDER TO ACQUIRE THE MAXIMUM RANKING POINTS AND STAY ON TOP?
First of all, I want to point out that it wasn't on my plan to keep the position on the World Ranking. I do the show plan with the main goal of riding the best shows around.
This year, however, things were very special for me, as the first 8 months were planned aiming to do the best shows in preparation for the Olympics regarding Casall and Ninja.
CARUSSO LS LA SILLA IS A STALLION THAT WAS HOME-BRED. TECHNICALLY, HOW WAS HE PRODUCED TO REACH 5-STAR GRAND PRIX LEVEL WHICH HE IS JUMPING TODAY?
Well, he was educated through participation in the youngster tours as a 7- and 8-year-old. As a 9-year-old he did a little bit bigger classes, so that he'd be ready for Grand Prix as a 10-year-old and win!
WHAT ABOUT YOUR OTHER STALLION, 14-YEAR OLD QUINTERO LA SILLA WHO HAS BEEN OUT OF COMPETITION FOR A LONG TIME?
Yes, unfortunately he got injured in Geneva last December, but he is fit for fight again, so I plan to start him in the indoor season.
YOU AND BO KRISTOFFERSEN HAVE YOUR OWN STABLES IN GERMANY. WHO DOES MOST OF THE TRAINING? AND HOW MANY STUDENTS DO YOU HAVE?
Bo does most of the training of our students, as I am almost every weekend 4-5 days at a show. At the moment we have three students based permanently in Breitenburg (amongst them Olympic reserve rider Clarissa Crotta who rides for Switzerland) and about 6-7 other riders who are based in Denmark and Sweden that come regularly to train and to show in Germany.
WHAT ABOUT THE DEALING YARD? ARE YOU VERY INVOLVED IN THAT OR SOMEONE ELSE TAKES CARE OF IT?
Bo does the dealing, but of course I also sometimes have contact with customers, or I see potential horses, when I am at shows.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST, WHAT TECHNICAL TRICKS WOULD YOU TELL RIDERS TO LOOK OUT FROM WHEN BUYING A JUMPER?
Actually there are no tricks! But when you look for a horse, you should look for one you like, that is good to ride and fits your own level of capability and ambition.
Photo © Cymon Taylor