Janne Friederike Meyer-Zimmermann was born in the German region of Schleswig-Holstein and has always felt most comfortable on the back of a horse. Even as a little girl she knew she wanted to ride, but she couldn’t have imagined that one day she would grow up to be one of the most successful showjump riders in Germany. After all Janne and her pony Mücke were often eliminated from their jumping rounds.
“Mücke was up for pretty much anything, but he didn’t like shows. Yet he still started my passion for the sport,” she muses over coffee at her stables in Pinneberg, Germany. Horses have always been part of her life, Janne’s parents Friedrich and Ursula Meyer have been successfully breeding Holsteiner horses for many decades.
The 38-year-old professional experienced her first success in the saddle on a pony called Jack in the Box, with whom she won the national junior rider championship at the age of 12. When it was time to upgrade from ponies to horses it seemed only natural to choose amongst her family’s Holsteiners. Callistro by Calato-Calypso I was bred by Friedrich Meyer and trained by Janne. She competed on him up to Grand Prix level and even represented Germany at Nations Cups.
Janne says, “I have started all my horses, or at least rode them at youngster tour level. Training young horses really is my thing, I like to get to know them before I introduce them into the big sport.” The Team World Champion was responsible for launching the career of several horses, for example Büttners Minimax and Goja, whom she still competes successfully today. Janne has been riding Mini since he was five, Goja joined the stable when she was seven. Cellagon Lambrasco by Achill-Libero H-Coriolan, Janne’s winning mount in the CHIO Aachen Grand Prix, has been with her for his entire competition career. Today he enjoys his retirement in the field at her parent’s stud, alongside the 26-year-old Callistro.
Not an Easy Road
Janne had already been riding horses for other breeders while she was still at school and upon graduation, she soon started her own business. After training from some of the larger barns around the Hamburg region for a while, she and husband Christoph Zimmermann eventually fulfilled their dream of running their own stable in Pinneberg. Janne explains, “We took on a great responsibility, you can’t make a living from riding and competing alone. We strongly rely on training, producing and selling top sport horses. But that also means that I can’t keep every horse or have ten 1.60 m horses for myself. Even though I have some amazing and supportive sponsors, that’s just part of the job.”
Janne’s team consists of ten employees, including three riders. She is very passionate about teaching, “Of course I am happy when my students enjoy great success, take Margrethe Hartmann from Denmark for example, she was able to represent her country in Nations Cups. But I am just as happy when they place in the amateur tour, progress to the next level or just continue to work hard and keep practicing.”
Continuous development is very important in the daily training of her horses as well, it’s also what keeps her motivated. “To see a young horse becoming more and more confident in the arena and starting to love jumping as much as I do is the best feeling,” she admits.
Janne never stops, she’s always up and about — running the stable, planning the future competition schedule, riding, teaching, looking for talented youngsters… “We want to get better at everything,” she says about herself and husband Christoph. While we visit the five-hectare property and learn about her life with horses, Janne often stops to discuss an individual horse’s training regime and upcoming competitions with one of her team members, ever so efficient and focused on what needs to be done.
She concedes, “Unfortunately riding no longer takes up the majority of my day, but it’s still the most important part.” When Janne rides, nothing else matters and her mobile phone is switched off.
“The last fence was not so good, she lost her front leg,” Christoph points out as he joins his wife and Cellagon Flipper during a training session. Janne repeats the line, her quest for perfection is as evident in her riding style as everywhere else around the well-kept property.
“Day-to-day life as a professional rider is not always easy, I can get annoyed too but mainly with myself. Nonetheless I also feel privileged that I still enjoy riding after so many years in the sport.”
Between Respect, Ambition and Success
Keeping the job fun can be challenging in equestrian, where the highs and lows are so dependent on the equine partner. Janne knows this like no other, “Horses are not talking to us, they only communicate silently. To be competitive at the very top you have to establish an enormous amount of trust between horse and rider first.”
And even the best partnerships are not immune to setbacks. At the Hamburg Jumping Derby Janne and her favorite horse Callistro had a bad fall at the rails after the famous bank that sent her to hospital. She was reluctant to ever ride at Hamburg again, but her own ambitions and the feeling of competing in front of her home crowd at one of the biggest jumping competitions in the world eventually won her over.
Janne knows how much it takes to prepare a horse for the challenges of international competitions. “It takes years for horse and rider to form a bond so strong that you can compete as one, that it feels as if you are jumping the fences yourself — like flying. Yet I would be nothing without my horse. Once you experience this feeling you want to feel it again and again, that’s what makes equestrian sport unique in the world!”