There’s nothing complicated about Sandra Auffarth. Eventing’s new world champion is as straightforward as her path to the upper echelon of one of sport’s most challenging disciplines. Horses have been a way of life for the 28-year-old farmer’s daughter from the Oldenburg region of northern Germany. Her heroes are her parents, Karl-Heinz and Bärbel Auffarth, staunch supporters since they first led her into the show ring at age four.
Two horses have had enormous influence on Sandra’s career: the home-bred orphaned foal Carlos, who carried her to junior and young rider honours, and the French-bred Opgun Louvo*. She joined forces with the chestnut gelding eight years ago and together they have won European and Olympic medals. Then last August, at the World Equestrian Games in Normandy, they exemplified the power of their perfect partnership with the World Championship title.
Life must be pretty hectic for you, even more so since you started your medal collection three years ago, and now that you are world champion. What’s your daily routine like?
My normal lifestyle is pretty much still the same. The horses are fed at 7 a.m. – there are around eighty on the yard – then I have breakfast with the team before riding the first of my horses. I have ten to fifteen to ride for competition. During the winter I compete my show jumpers and young horses. I’ll only do some teaching out of season, as I need to concentrate on my own riding during the competition season. What has changed for me is the amount of interviews – a lot! – and most important, the number of new sponsors, which is very helpful.
How did you get started with horses?
I grew up with horses. My parents are farmers. We had mostly cows and pigs, but my father began breeding horses as a side business. I rode in my first competition when I was only four years old.
Can you identify a turning point in your career when you said to yourself, ‘I can earn a living doing this, and I can reach the top’?
It was always my dream to work with animals. It is true that I had no idea I could be so successful, but it was always my ambition. I suppose a turning point came in 2011 at the European Championships in Luhmuhlen. I was 24 and it was my first four-star. Opgun was nine then and the team trainer thought maybe it was a bit early for us. I said ‘no, it’s cool. I have a great feeling about it.’ And you know what happened next!
Horsepower aside, to reach the top of any sport you must be ultra-competitive by nature, but is there another ingredient that gives you the edge?
So many things need to come together – your training, the team behind you, and especially your partnership with your horse. You really need to trust each other on those big courses. I am lucky to have such a cool horse and to have that bond. We grew up together. I’ve been riding him since he was five.
How would you describe your personality?
I am very disciplined and very ambitious – but not too ambitious.
If life hadn’t taken you where it has, would you have had any other profession?
After school I did two years working in the office at the German National Federation headquarters in Warendorf, but I never really thought about doing anything else other than riding.
If Opgun Louvo was a human, what sort of person would he be?
He’s the sensitive, shy type, even though he is another person on cross-country – very bold. Walking to the arena he can be very nervous and I think he is grateful I am with him and he’s not alone. At home he’s totally chilled: friendly, calm, and uncomplicated.
Where is your favorite place in the world?
Aachen. It’s a dream to ride there with its very special atmosphere and with all the other riders and disciplines. There’s no place like it.
Did you celebrate your victory in Normandy with a vacation?
Not exactly, but our national Olympic Committee paid for all our country’s medal winners to go to Egypt for a week in September, which was a lot of fun.
How much success has your family had with breeding, and are you involved?
It’s mainly Dad who supervises the breeding. He’s a foal judge and sees a lot of mares and foals, so he has a good idea. We have four mares and breed three or four a year. I have a good seven-year-old of ours and my junior and young rider horse, Carlos, was bred by my father. He was very special. He lost his mom, but fortunately one of our other mares allowed him to drink from her. She accepted him totally even though she had her own foal. I won the German championships with Carlos. He’s now doing dressage with a neighbor and I see him quite a lot.
Where would you most like to go that you haven’t been?
I’ve never been to Burghley and I’d love to be part of the team going to Rio.
Do you have a specific fitness regimen?
Nothing special. Once a week I’ll go to condition training and spin or swim or have physiotherapy (if I need to).
What are your best memories so far?
I remember that it was so exciting to be riding in the big classes at the European championships in Luhmuhlen. I knew Opgun was on good form, but I never expected to do so well in my first senior championship and winning the silver medal was, well, quite a surprise!
Then came London, which was so special; just being there and living in the Olympic village with all the other amazing athletes – I really can’t put it into words. Sport-wise we had bad weather and it was quite windy, which made Opgun more nervous than normal. The cross-country was also quite tight and difficult with the hills.
The World Equestrian Games in Normandy was also hard for the horses for various reasons, but Opgun did a great job. He was born in France, so I was especially pleased that his breeders were able to see him perform so well. I knew it before and the world championships proved it. I am so happy to have the best horse in the world.