Located in the idyllic area at the foot of the Teutoburg Forest in Hagen a. T.W., Germany, the founder of one of the greatest horse auction houses in the world. Hof Kasselmann is a focal point and melting pot for international dressage sport.
Photography ANNE MIE DREVES Text MARIA GRAAE / The Horse Rider’s Journal No.6
Hof Kasselmann is the home of Ullrich and Bianca Kasselmann, their son François and his wife Diana, as well as Bianca’s sister and Ullrich’s brother and sister-in-law, all of whom are extensively involved in the family’s successful business. It was Ullrich, or Ulli to his friends, who first spotted the growing interest in horse-riding and who gradually, horse by horse, sale by sale and stable by stable, transformed the farm that he inherited from his parents in 1972 into the modern equestrian centre it is today. Training and selling dressage horses has been a family passion for 40 years. Now more than 60 employees work on the 40-hectares estate, and 200 dressage and showjumping horses are ridden here every day.
The Kasselmann family home sits in the centre of the estate, which is surrounded by white, traditional style half-timbered buildings with red tiled roofs. These house apartments, and there is even a small original bakery, creating the feeling of a small village. More than anything, it is a place of team spirit, and a positive and welcoming atmosphere makes the setting very homey. Every morning and lunchtime, the Kasselmann family meet their riders and clients in the dining room of the office building to enjoy their meals at a long, dark wooden table. A massive fireplace is the heart of the large, open room, where the warm yellow walls hung with paintings depicting horses, terracotta floor tiles, chandeliers and candles all create a cosy atmosphere. In the corner a well-stocked bar surrounded by red leather armchairs provides the perfect space for social gatherings and a sense of togetherness.
Sixty-five-year-old Ullrich Kasselmann still rides between three and five horses a day, and has already completed this morning’s training when we meet in one of the three indoor arenas. Still in his dark brown leather riding boots, his attire is absolutely immaculate. At the moment clients from Russia, China, America, Spain, Dubai, Bulgaria, Hungary and France are training at the yard to further develop their riding skills. One of them is Chinese equestrian champion Lina Liu, who has been training at Hof Kasselmann since 2006. Born into an ethnic Russian family in Urumqi, near Tibet, Lina was the first Chinese dressage rider to qualify for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. A year later at the National Games, she won the individual gold medal. The 33-year-old rider is a part of the Chinese national team, and like her teammates she travels to Germany regularly to buy horses and to train here.
Today Ullrich himself is instructing Lina on her elegant chestnut Weltroon, owned by the Chinese Ministry of Sport and brought recently to Hof Kasselmann along with three other horses. Lina returned from China a month ago and is here to prepare for the Chinese National Games in August next year. Hof Kasselmann and P.S.I. offers long-term professional management and training programmes for riders and teams who want to participate in international tournaments and championships. And for Lina this includes a carefully assembled schedule of German horse shows, riding five horses a day, German language lessons and a fitness programme with a personal trainer.
“Experience is what makes a good rider,” Ullrich explains, “but a good balance is the key to success. That goes for all athletes, football players as well as dressage riders. That’s why a personal fitness trainer is essential. At the age of 13 I was working all day at the farm. I’m lucky to be healthy and still have a healthy back. The same is true for both horses and riders: they need to be healthy and have a good sense of balance.”
Besides the sale and breeding of horses, Ullrich and his business partner Paul Schockemöhle, the former triple European showjumping champion, have established an excellent international reputation as the organisers of tournaments. Once a year the idyllic scenery of Hof Kasselmann is transformed into a unique showground for Horses & Dreams, a four-day event of high-end equestrian sport, culture, show and entertainment that attracts 70,000 visitors. They also organise the P.S.I. (Performance Sale International) auctions, now an internationally recognised acronym in the equestrian world.
When asked how to describe his long-time business partner and friend, Ullrich answers, “Mr Schockemöhle is one thousand per cent a businessman, and has been incredibly successful at what he does, creating a remarkable equestrian empire like no one else in the world. At his Stud Lewitz in the northeast of Germany, he has more than 3,000 horses, and 650 foals are born there each year. He always tells me that he’s the son of a poor farmer and I’m his rich friend. And I always tell him it’s the other way around: I am the poor farmer’s son and he is the rich friend.”
Paul and Ullrich and have known each other since their youth, starting out as competitors in various showjumping arenas. Their business partnership started in 1979 when Paul was planning to buy over 500 showjumping horses in one go from the Zangersheide stud farm in Belgium, and asked Ullrich if he would help with selling them afterwards. The two riders got talking and did a lot of planning, but to their disappointment the horses from Zangersheide were sold to a higher bidder. So they decided to try their luck in the US instead. In 1981 they flew 60 horses across the Atlantic and held two auctions in the US that year, before deciding to continue this unique sales event in Germany instead, at the Ankum Auction Centre. Now the annual P.S.I. auctions have been running for more than 30 years, during the second weekend of December. Here they put up for auction carefully selected three- to six-year-old highly gifted and tested dressage horses of international quality, and four-to seven-year-old jumpers with show success. A huge number of national and international Grand Prix and championship horses have been bought and sold here. Knowing the horses, their potential and character, is key to the success of the business. All of the P.S.I. horses are either home-bred or have been raised and carefully selected and trained in the Schockemöhle and Kasselmann stables before being brought into the sport. Individual horses have fetched more than €1 million on several occasions.
Ullrich jumps behind the wheel of a silver Volkswagen, and we pass green fields and trees in their autumn colours until a huge gate before a long alley announces that we’ve arrived at Gut Osthoff. The 160-hectare estate was bought in 2011. Its historic manor house has been empty for 15 years but is now being restored. “I was very lucky to get this place when it was put on the market,” Ullrich says. “A number of buyers where interested, but since I would continue to use the place for horse breeding I was chosen to take it over.”
About a 100 breeding mares and foals, youngsters up to three years old and retired horses live on the property. A number of apartments and seminar rooms are being built in the former stables. The equine sales database Ehorses.de and the newly founded Horse Competence Center Germany, focusing on research and study of equestrian sport, also operates from the property.
Back at Hof Kasselmann, we meet 30-year-old François Kasselmann, the spitting image of his father Ullrich, and still a little jet-lagged from his latest journey. “When I was young, I wanted to be a chef,” he explains. “Then I found out about the long hours, getting to the market early and working late. But now of course I realise that with horses it’s the same! An important part of my job is travelling around the world, meeting clients and doing follow-up customer consultations. We work closely with our clients after a sale and have a thorough after-sales service, because we’re not selling a piece of merchandise, we’re selling a lifetime partner. What I love most about my job and this place is meeting different people and how the whole world comes together here; so many different cultures, Arabs, Chinese and Americans, all sharing the same passion. My parents took some really big steps and I’m going to follow in their footprints; it’s an honour. They taught me important values: respect for the animals and respect for our goal, to breed, make and sell the very best horses.” •