No stressage, please: Kittel gives us his refreshing thoughts on the magical sport in an exclusive interview.
TEXT Anne Ulrikke Bak PHOTOGRAPHY Lyndal Oatley
Watching Patrik Kittel ride is nothing short of a tremendous treat. The abundance of ease and elegance we witness no matter what horse we see him working with is of course a result of hours and hours in the saddle. But Kittel’s great finesse also seems to stem from a sense of playfulness and a profound joy of riding – a joy he is not afraid to either show or share.
Currently ranked both 9th and 10th in the FEI World Rankings, Patrik Kittel is not only an absolute audience favourite but also one of the world’s best competing dressage riders. He moved us to tears with his 80.560% victory ride at London Olympia, not to mention his celebratory gallop where he high-fived spectators on his lap around the Grand Hall, quite unlike any dressage rider previously seen.
“I think most people have experienced, especially as a kid, watching a dressage test and as soon as you express the tiniest bit of excitement you are shushed from all sides. Afterwards you stay completely quiet but even then, people shush you. We have to change that. We have to make dressage fun to watch,” Kittel noted at his clinic during the recent show days last month in Herning, Denmark.
The Swedish rider has indeed made dressage fun to watch. Moreover he has also opened a discussion about the approach to dressage by proposing that spectators shouldn’t have to be dead quiet even before the judge at C has signalled with the bell. We got the chance to catch up with Patrik Kittel about his daily routines, his thoughts on dressage and his future hopes for the sport.
Can you tell us about your horses’ weekly schedules and their daily exercise?
All of our horses have their own routines. Some of them need to work a little more and some of them a little less. It’s very important to us that all of them are treated and exercised individually. Common for all of them are that they come out seven days a week and that we, very carefully, make schedules for them. These schemes take all their activities into account: exercising, farrier, physiotherapy, shows, you name it.
What do you do to stay in shape, both physically and mentally?
I have a small gym in my basement where I strength train, run and row. Moreover I have a great osteopath, Leon, who takes care of my body, and Kjell Enhager, an outstanding mental coach who cares for my head. It is crucial to eat and live in a healthy way. Last but not least it’s important to me to keep reminding myself that I am in a very lucky position, doing what I love every single day.
You have previously noted that dressage requires feelings. Can you explain what you mean by that?
I think we need to professionalise it more, not unlike in football where you have both champions tour, first and second division – a classifying system. We need shorter classes with good riders, bigger prizes and more media coverage. We don’t have to change much of the dressage itself, but we have to make it more exiting and increase the quality of it. Not to distort the classical fundament dressage is built on, but to preserve and develop our wonderful sport.
You have also argued that it is important that the audience is engaged. Can you elaborate on that a bit?
When people go to events they want to have a good time. They should be allowed to show their emotions, be happy or sad, to “ride with” us, feel that they are part of the family. We, as riders, do also have to give something of ourselves; laugh, wave, meet up with people, do interviews. Make people think that dressage is magical, just like it actually is!
How do you think dressage has changed over the course of the years you’ve been riding and where would you like to see it go in the future?
The riding and the horses have developed incredibly. You see very fine riding on harmonious, sensitive horses. I hope that the sport will continue this way and that new ideas will make it even better and evolve it into a bigger joy spreader than it already is.