Sabrina von Buttlar’s path most recently included a victory in the 2019 Jump Canada Medal National Final at the illustrious Royal Horse Show in Toronto, ON. The Jump Canada Medal win signaled the realization of a dream the 18-year-old athlete, from Stouffville, ON, has had for nearly a decade.
Riding is in Sabrina von Buttlar’s Genes
Von Buttlar’s dream of winning the Jump Canada Medal National Final was formed around the same time that she began competing in the equitation division, but her desire to ride and compete successfully was fostered long before that. In fact, it is in her genes.
Von Buttlar’s grandmother, Eva Maria Pracht, is a two-time Olympian and was a member of the Canadian dressage team that brought home the bronze medal from the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Her great grandfather, the legendary Dr. Josef Neckermann, won six medals in four Olympic appearances (1960, 1964, 1968, and 1972) for his native Germany including two team gold medals. When Sabrina’s own parents, Martina Pracht and Juergen von Buttlar, married, they brought together the best of both the dressage and show jumping worlds – Martina having represented Canada at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics while Juergen was a renowned show jumping trainer working with the likes of Canadian Olympic gold medalist, Eric Lamaze.
Given her heritage, Sabrina was unsurprisingly presented with the opportunity to ride from a very early age. Her parents, however, provided Sabrina with a large number of alternative options and even tried to persuade her to try something different as her sport of choice. With horses in her blood, riding ultimately won out.
“My parents have always said, ‘Sabrina, you don’t need to ride to please us!’” said Sabrina. “And I mean, they really tried. I danced. I swam. They tried everything else, but I only wanted to ride. I never played with dolls. I only played with horses.”
Von Buttlar is Learning from the Best
It was the early recognition of Sabrina’s shared passion for horses, even amidst encouraging her to try other activities, that led Juergen to ask Canadian show jumping team athlete, Erynn Ballard, if she would be interested in helping to train a then five-year-old Sabrina. Ballard accepted and, 14 years later, she is still Sabrina’s primary trainer, alongside Katie Uloth, Blythe Karolyi, and Sabrina’s own parents.
“Erynn and I have been together for almost my entire life, which is kind of crazy to think about!” said Sabrina of riding at the Ballard family’s Looking Back Farm with Ballard and her assistant trainer, Uloth. “We have a lot of fun. Erynn and Katie both have so much experience. Sometimes they have different things to say, and it’s nice to hear something from two different perspectives.”
Sabrina also gains valuable perspective from her dad, who she trains with throughout the year.
“My dad is on the road much of the year because he works for Ben Asselin,” explained Sabrina of her father, who played an instrumental role in Lamaze’s early successes during the many years they worked together. “In the beginning of the year, I was in Calgary with him; it was just dad and me. Then I came back, and it’s just been Erynn and me. In Florida, that’s when they really split the training. My dad rides my horses and makes sure that they’re great on the flat.”
With a well-earned reputation for being an exceptional flat rider, Juergen could be considered Sabrina’s secret weapon in the competition arena.
“He’s always there to help me,” continued Sabrina of her dad. “It’s a lot of help when my dad rides the horses. He watches things and then we adjust. It’s super to have parents that ride and understand it because then they can help me. Both of my parents are so supportive of my riding. I have a lot of friends whose parents aren’t necessarily involved in the riding, so it’s a little bit harder for them to understand. For us, it’s something that my parents and I work on together.”
Sabrina is quick to credit her parents, as well as Ballard, Uloth, and Karolyi, with her Jump Canada Medal success. She’s also quick to recognize Cinco, the 19-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding that carried her to a national title at the Royal Horse Show.
Von Buttlar and Cinco Claim the Championship
“This is the question I’ve been waiting for because this horse deserves a lot of credit!” said Sabrina when asked about Cinco following her victory. The von Buttlar family purchased Cinco four years ago with the idea that the gelding could be Sabrina’s first jumper, but the pair soon found success in the equitation ring.
“It was a little bit difficult in the beginning because he’d been a jumper for his entire life,” said Sabrina, who also topped the 2019 Ontario Hunter Jumper Association Jumper Medal Finals with the gelding. “It was a bit of a difficult transition for him but in the end, it turned out he’s truly the best horse ever. He couldn’t be any more perfect.
“He’s super honest, and he wants to go in the ring and please all the time,” continued Sabrina. “At 19, he’s an oldie. We’ve taken a lot of precautions to make sure that he’s in the best health. He doesn’t feel like he’s 19, and I don’t think he thinks he is either. He really is the best horse.”
Sabrina’s strong partnership with Cinco was evident throughout the Jump Canada Medal National Final on November 5th, where the pair was one of 25 entries who qualified from across Canada. Sabrina and Cinco delivered well-executed performances over the jumping phase, the flat phase, and final testing of the top five before ultimately clinching the national championship title.
“When you start doing the equitation, you always dream of winning an equitation final at some point, but you never really think it’s going to happen,” said Sabrina. “It’s a dream come true.”
With one dream fulfilled, Sabrina already has her sights set on her next goals, including growing in the jumper ring with her newest mount, an eight-year-old gelding named Peregrine.
“He’s green, and I don’t have that much experience in the jumper ring, so we’re going to grow and learn together,” said Sabrina of her new partner. “I’d like to jump at the North American Youth Championships and the Under 25 at some point. Further down the road, I’d love to represent Canada on a team.”
Given her family history, the odds are certainly in her favour.