Christian Ahlmann is a name that needs no introduction. Currently the top German rider in the world, and one of the most respected show jumpers in the sport, he leads the Longines Global Champions Tour rankings by a significant way just five shows into the season, and looks to be in a strong position to battle for the World Number 1 top spot. Quietly humble, intensely focused and passionate about his horses, we sat down with Christian at the recent LGCT Hamburg to get an insight into his season so far, his incredible equine partners, and his view on the sport of show jumping and its future.
Looking at the statistics, one can see why Christian holds so much respect by fans and fellow riders alike. Currently standing on 161 points in the ranking leaderboard, Christian has consistently being placed at every LGCT show so far this season, and has started to pull away from the rest of the field and second place rider Emanuele Gaudiano. His highest place on the overall LGCT Champion of Champions rankings previously has been 2nd place; this year he returns to the Tour with a clear focus for the season and some serious horse power to back it up.
Photo: Christian Ahlmann on Epleaser van’t Heike. Stefano Grasso/LGCT
Talking of his game plan and intentions for the overall LGCT Rankings, Christian reflected on the season so far: “From the first show I really tried to go for it and to have good results on the Global Tour. I aimed for good results on the overall ranking. I had a very good start, and have had five good shows in a row. We’ll have to see, but I would really like to keep my position now and work for [the overall LGCT Champion of Champions title].”
And what would it mean to win the overall LGCT Champion of Champions? Christian gives a shy smile: “It’s a dream [to win LGCT Champion of Champions] and I really have the power now to do it, and to try 100%. It won’t be easy for sure, but I have the chance to try, and so we’ll see. I had a good start, it’s a small thing, and there’s a long way to go.”
Indeed, horse power he has aplenty — Christian currently has a formidable string of top horses, including his famous dark bay stallion Codex One, the eye-catching grey stallion Colorit, Taloubet Z, Epleaser van’t Heike and grey 9 year old stallion Caribis Z all on his roster and on top form so far this season. Talking about his most recent LGCT show, where he and Codex finished 5th overall after an edge-of-the-seat jump-off, Christian said: “Codex gave me a very good feeling [in Hamburg]. He likes the ring — he did some very good results here over the last few years. It’s my job to ride him as well as possible, and give him the best chance.”Photo: Christian Ahlmann on Epleaser van’t Heike. Stefano Grasso/LGCT
So just how do you choose between so many fantastic horses? Christian replies that he looks at it slightly differently, it’s up to the horses, and they always come first: “[With my horses] I try to find out which places they really like. More importantly is their shape, how they feel, how they’re training. At the moment I feel I’m in the good position where I can change a little bit and I try to pick the best choice. I’m in a good position, I never had that before — so now the job is to make the best of it. The chance is very good; the horses are not doing too much, they stay fresh and concentrated [on their job]. It’s a special situation so I have a good plan and stay organised.”
And it’s the special understanding that Christian has with his equine partners which creates the best formula for success — that is clear for all to see both behind the scenes and the second the combination enter the ring. But what is it that truly catches Christian’s eye when he builds a top partnership with a horse? Christian reflects on why Codex in particular is so special: “Codex is 14 years old now, he knows all the different situations. He’s [competed] a lot of times. These kinds of special horses, these superstars, they know exactly what to do. They have a quiet stable, they’re relaxed, they stay quite relaxed in the warm-up and then they come into the ring and then we get this extra power. It’s 20 or 30% extra — they like the sport, they give everything, and that’s what makes them so special. I think [Codex] likes the crowd.”Photo: Christian Ahlmann on Codex One. Stefano Grasso/LGCT
And it was a phenomenal crowd in Hamburg, with over 80,000 people packed into the arena, and the Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix completely sold out. We asked if that put any extra pressure on the home rider, or whether it was a boost as he entered the arena. Christian replied with his usual humility: “To ride on home soil gives you a push. It’s a very special situation. As German riders the crowd is behind us, they’re really cheering and pushing us. It’s one of the most important shows for us – it’s an amazing stadium, a lot of people come, it’s a lot of fun to ride. First of all though we have to be really focused and really concentrate on our job. 80% of the fans here are real horse people, so they’re watching every step — they’re enjoying the horses and also the training. [People can get] really close to the fence, there are families here, plus people I know, so it’s nice to be there.”Photo: Christian Ahlmann on Epleaser van’t Heike. Stefano Grasso/LGCT
Indeed, that is the beauty of Longines Global Champions Tour shows, designed to allow as many people as possible the chance to get right up close to the stars of show jumping. Christian agreed: “The sport is huge [in Germany]. Luckily we have shows like LGCT Hamburg, like Aachen, where a lot of people come who are interested in our sport — this is really nice and a lot of fun.”
Photo: Christian Ahlmann on Codex One. Stefano Grasso/LGCT
He’s completely right. The interest in show jumping, in the riders, the horses, and the world that surrounds the sport is picking up speed at an incredible pace. What would Christian attribute this to, and how does he see the future unfolding? He replied: “For sure [the sport needs to keep changing]. I think in general the Global Tour has changed [show jumping] so much, and brought our sport financially to a different level — there are so many unbelievable, nice places, new shows — it’s really nice that we have it. Now the next step is the Global Champions League with the teams. I’m not part of a team this year, but I’m interested in how it works and maybe next year it will change.”
And there is no doubt the World Number 2 would be a formidable asset to any of the Global Champions League teams, with his consistency and raw talent clear as a huge trump card in any roster. As the balmy late afternoon sun starts to give way to a dusky evening in the picturesque German setting, we ask Christian one final question, about how he keeps it all in perspective, and what he does in his down time. With another smile Christian replies: “It’s only a few days in-between — for the moment it’s really really busy, but we like what we do; we like the horses, we like the shows. The family like the shows and it’s something we can do together, so we take time in-between the shows, but also during the shows there is time to relax and enjoy it. I’m also a football fan, so I enjoy watching that on TV, or in the stadium which is 10 minutes from my home – there’s not a lot of time but the family is the very first choice. Leon is starting to ride — so when we do something together and can enjoy the time, this is what I really like.”Photo: Christian Ahlmann on Epleaser van’t Heike. Stefano Grasso/LGCT