Danish showjumper Jennifer Fogh Pedersen lives by the motto “a winner never quits and a quitter never wins”, spending her time training a wide variety of horses, some of which that others before her have given up on.
Text Maria Graae Photography Philip Ørneborg / The Horse Rider’s Journal No. 11
We meet up with Jennifer Fogh Pedersen during the Danish Derby Equestrian Federation Indoor Championship. The talented 33-year-old show jumper, former Danish national team member, and business woman greets us with a smile. “My mum and I often say the horses that come to us are the horses that need us – those who are more sensitive and sensible than most,” Jennifer explains as we settle with cups of hot chocolate at a small table ringside in the arena to talk about her success in training young horses and her new life in Germany, after leaving Denmark in 2011.
While Jennifer’s father Lindy Fogh Pedersen tragically died when she was in her early teens, her mother Bettina Kirk has been her longtime trainer and supporter throughout her career, and today still serves as mentor and problem-solver. Being the child of two professional riders and having grown up at Katrinelund, one of Denmark’s leading stallion stations, horses have been a part of Jennifer’s life for as long as she can remember and she never needed much encouragement to pursue the sport. Competing for the first time at the age of four, she went on to win the Junior Nordic Championship and never looked back. Throughout her junior years, Jennifer was a member of the Danish national teams for both dressage and jumping. Being involved with the training of sport horses and stallions like Andiamo, Calato, Crelido and Ulrich Z has given her great international experience at Grand Prix level.During her twenties Jennifer successfully ran a sales and competition stable with her former husband and was a frequent rider on the Danish national jumping team, with countless wins and placings in Nations Cups and European Grand Prix.
You’ve enjoyed great success these past couple of years on a very special horse… “Yes, Cleopatra – she was five when the owners told me they had just the perfect horse for me. It turned out she was semi-difficult, to say the least. She’s headstrong and not one to be ordered around. Later, I started hearing stories about this horse from everyone else, and it became clear that I pretty much had been the last stop for her. As she quickly improved her behaviour, her talent became obvious and I soon decided to buy her in partnership with my mother.”
How is Cleopatra different?
“I have to ride her with the patience of having all the time in world, and I have to make sure she knows she’s loved. She’s super sensitive to my legs so I don’t wear spurs when I ride her. She won’t do anything against what she considers her better judgement This also means I can go for three whole rounds in the arena in walk while trying to politely convince her to shift forward to trot. She is very headstrong.”
How do you manage a horse like that in the show ring?
“In the arena she’s completely cool. She’s so confident that she can do everything by herself – she doesn’t approve of me guiding her and tends to think I’m cramping her style. So I do very little jumping with her at home, because she’s already more than capable. Instead I take her out twice a day, like the rest of our horses. But instead of doing the high jumps I do lots of dressage work, lunge work, cavaletti and trot jumps. It’s about doing several hundred half-halts, having her accepting and waiting for my signal, thinking and training differently. But that’s also very much what keeps my time in the saddle exciting and interesting.”
So what’s the secret of working with horses like that?
“To train them so they keep their character intact, by giving them the patience and time they need. I believe in simplifying things; most horse wants to do its best in the ring, but often doesn’t understand what’s being asked of it. It’s the rider’s job not to complicate things for the horse. When something doesn’t work, it’s because we’re asking it the wrong way or because they are not capable of doing it. I can honestly say I’ve never lost my temper with a horse. It’s about taking a step back to analyse, then trying another tool. If there’s a secret, it must be that I’ve got a larger toolbox than most.”
In training Cleopatra what did you do, specifically?
“With Cleopatra, some days it’s down to basics, like her accepting of the bridle – it all depends on her comfort zone on that day. But still, in the ring there’s nothing she can’t do. It’s about making sure that she doesn’t do too much. I know she has the quality and that she wants to do it all. I just have to make sure she does it correctly and that she is fit for fight when entering a competition.”
Where do you get your Zen-like patience from? “From my mother, without question. My father had a stubbornness which I’ve inherited along with his competitive mentality. He and my mother made a good team. My mother also used to ride the horses that were more difficult than most.”
So you live by the motto “a winner never quits and a quitter never wins”?
“It’s a matter of not giving up when things don’t go as I plan or want them to. Of course, I get sad and feel low. But for me, the point is not to get stuck in the feeling of disappointment or inadequacy too long. Instead, take a step backward, analyse, and try again.”
Is there anything that you’re still trying to improve?
“I’m a softie. I’m told by my long-time Swedish trainer Pether Markne that I need to be more strict. So I should probably cut down on the horse treats and stop being so touchy-feely. But it’s hard! I really love my horses, and every day with them is a joy.”
Jennifer left Denmark in the summer of 2011 to work for the Italian rider Piergiorgio Bucci in the Netherlands, and later on she worked for Tal Milstein in Belgium, gaining experience and international network and business contacts. It was during this time that she met the British rider Christopher Frazer. Christopher had some spare stalls in Germany, which allowed Jennifer to start up on her own, even though it put competing at international Grand Prix level on hold. They two of them are now romantically involved and together they run Frazer Stalls, while Jennifer also runs her own business, Jennifer Fogh Sportpferde. Since 2012 her base has been in Klein Offenseth, near Hamburg, Germany, where together they run a training and sales stable. “We both ride at international level,” says Jennifer, “and we share the same passion for horses and equestrian sport.” “These days I spend most of my time working with younger horses, using my own system,” she continues, “with my mother on the side lines. A lot of time is spent with the business side of things and scouting for new horses for our long-time clients, but that’s more Chris’s department. I’m really happy in Germany and everyone has been very welcoming and sweet. It’s close to Denmark and my Danish clients. There are far more shows here, and the competition is much more intense. Here in Holstein, riders like Carsten Otto Nagel, Janne-Friederike Meyer and Jörg Naeve all live in a very small radius of our stable, which makes the show level quite high – it keeps me at my toes.”
While Jennifer is busy being shot by our photographer for this article, I ask Bettina Kirk how she would describe her daughter. The answer comes promptly: “Jennifer is very humble and kind – as a person, as well as with her horses. She fully understands the importance of keeping an open mind when it comes to training and takes things one at a time. She has very much inherited her father’s drive and talent. To watch her in the ring is like watching a fish in water: nothing can get to her. It’s like she enters a universe of her own”. •