One of the hardest decisions a professional rider will ever make is to give up on his own aspirations of stardom with a horse and sell it so another can achieve that dream. Christoph Koschel had to make that choice and likely for that very reason he did not become a household name.
Nearly a decade ago, Koschel, son of consummate professional trainer Jurgen, was the youngest member of Germany’s third-placed World Equestrian Games team in Lexington. Talented, stylish, confident, thoughtful and articulate, he was an instant hit. After adding a team silver at the European Championships to his WEG bronze, Koschel and Donnperignon were a sure thing for Germany’s London Olympic team, but father and son decided to sell the dark chestnut gelding in order to build their own stable. Under Anna Kasprzak, Donnperignon went on to compete for Denmark in eight straight championships.
Today, at 43, Koschel’s focus is on training. He loiters around the top 200 in the world rankings, trains 12 horses a day, has multiple private clients plus the Japanese team, and spends his winters in Florida at the Global Dressage Festival. He is the only rider ever to win the Hamburg, Munich, and Palm Beach Dressage Derbies.
How long have you been spending your winters in Wellington?
Seven years; the last five we brought quite a few clients and their horses with us. Last winter we had 18 horses. It’s 24/7 – even when I’m not showing, my clients are, but then again it’s why we get up each morning.
Every one of my riders who comes to Wellington wants to come back. They love it here. The conditions are perfect and the horses don’t tire of showing because they don’t have to travel. In Europe, in winter they have to travel long distances, so the number of shows they can do is limited. With the good weather the horses stay in shape and when we go back to Germany for the summer they are really fit. And it’s a great experience for riders, too; you have a bad ride one week and so you shrug it off and say we’ll do it better next week. This is not possible anywhere else, especially in winter.
Do you come from a long line of horse lovers?
My grandfather was a mechanical engineer and into sailing. My father was the first in the family to become involved with horses. He grew up in Berlin near a riding school and at 15 he decided he wanted to ride. He became a professional rider and trainer and I stepped into his footsteps. Although my father didn’t push me, by the time I was 16, I had reached the Nurnberger Burg-Pokal final and a year later did my first grand prix. It all went very quickly.
Did you ever think of doing anything else?
My mother is a doctor and she wanted me to study medicine, but that would have been too hard to study and ride at the same time. I had a great time studying law in Hamburg, but it was always my aim to become a professional rider. I decided early on that I really liked teaching. It’s not so easy just to have your own career as a rider. I like to find young horses and produce them and get them to the top where everyone wants to have them. It’s hard to let them go, but it’s also nice to get them to that point.
If you could relive a period of time in your life, when would that be?
I often wonder what would have happened if I had not sold Donnperignon. I had nice horses before, but I never had the 100% feeling with a horse as I did with him. At the time we were averaging 78%. It wasn’t the best we could do and he was still young. It would have been fun to ride him another three or four years as he grew to the point where I could have given him full gas. But at that time my father and I wanted to build our own place and you know the life of a professional rider – when you have a horse that people want, the moment comes when it’s the right moment to sell. There is no other horse in the world which did so many championships in a row with two different riders. I’m very proud of him.
Horsepower and competitive instinct aside, what gives you an edge?
What I have learned from my father, and what is really important to me, is that you should never give up with a horse. I always try and find the best in a horse. You can’t have just one system for every horse, because they are all different. You have to be flexible. Maybe that’s why I like the derby classes [where riders swap horses] so much and why I’ve won them all over the world. You only get four minutes to figure out how to handle the horse. It’s very challenging.
Is horse sport your only sport?
I played a lot of golf when I was studying, but now there is no time. I practically live on a golf course [in Wellington] but I have no time to play! It’s a good sport for concentration and a nice workout.
How do you describe yourself?
I am not the loudest person; I usually stay in the background, but I don’t like to be treated unfairly. Then I’ll get aggressive. I’m very sensitive in this regard. I want to be treated fairly and I want others to be treated fairly. My wife says I’m easy to live with. She has to admit it could be worse!
Where would you most like to go that you haven’t been?
Alaska would be impressive, and I would like to see more of Asia (we went to the Asian Games in Jakarta last year) and definitely South America … Brazil and the Amazon and more of North America. It’s a pretty long list!
Where did you last go on vacation?
Last year we went to Majorca. My kids love it and it’s only a two-hour flight.
Do you have a fitness regimen?
I do some exercises at home for my back, but that’s about it since I’m riding so much. I did a lot of athletics as a student and I was a good 100-metre sprinter. Sprinting is good, because you can get it over quickly! I hate jogging.
What’s your guilty pleasure?
I love beer, craft beer especially. I also like wine, but beer is my favourite. I have to take care of my body, so I have to watch my intake [laughs[.
If you were castaway on a deserted island and were allowed to bring one music album, one book, and one luxury item, what would you take?
My book would be Lord of the Rings by John R.R. Tolkien, my music would be by Depeche Mode and my luxury item would be a cruising yacht to get home.
If a genie were to grant you three wishes, what would they be?
Keep my family healthy. Let my kids grow up in a world such as I grew up in and that they find their way in life and have a job they like. Lastly, a Ferrari – on four legs. It would be nice to be on the German team again. I would always prefer to have a quality horse than a fancy car, although the feeling is the same!
If you could have four famous people come for dinner, who would you invite?
Tiger Woods – I love to play golf and he is my absolute idol. Although he is my age I think I could learn a lot from him, because he has gone through all the ups and downs in life and sport. Sir Peter Ustinov – I loved his sense of humour and his wisdom. He was one of the greatest actors and authors. You need to see him as Nero in Quo Vadis and read his novel Achtung! Vorurteil. Leonardo DiCaprio – I would love to talk about his environmental commitment and also a little bit about his numerous girlfriends. Finally, my wife – otherwise she would kill me if I had these three guys as guests and she wasn’t invited.
Money or medals?
Medals. Winning a medal recognizes an achievement, namely that you and your partner the horse have grown together. That’s worth more to me than getting money for something.
What are your goals this year and next?
While I have five or six good young horses coming up, my main goal is to create a Japanese team that will be competitive, have great team spirit and get great results in Tokyo. We have eight or nine riders who have the talent and the horses to get scores in the 70s. Now it’s about getting them showing, gaining experience, and putting them in front of the judges so they get to know them. It’s an exciting challenge.