Stepping Up in America: A Conversation With Sweden’s Daniel Zetterman

Daniel Zetterman competing at the 2017 Winter Equestrian Festival.

At 32-years-old, Swedish rider Daniel Zetterman has already experienced the resounding success of a rider many years his senior. Born and raised in a family of horsemen, Zetterman and his brother Alexander came up through the Swedish pony, junior and young rider ranks before turning professional, and both brothers have successfully competed in the United States.

But it’s Daniel who is taking the step forward of basing himself full time in the USA as he comes back into the profession with new goals after four years training privately for Swedish young rider Viggo Björklund.

Zetterman, who was not yet out of his 20s when he rose to international fame with the Swedish warmblood gelding Glory Days (Cardento 993 x Diamond Serpent), guided Björklund to young rider success through his junior years, and with Björklund now transitioning to university, Zetterman sees the chance to establish himself as an independent trainer and rider.

With plans to spend his first summer season in the States under the new shingle of his own Zetterman Equestrian LLC, he is excited about what the future holds:

Noelle Floyd: The international show jumping community knows you best from your record with Glory Days, but you have in no way been resting on your laurels since that partnership. Can you catch us up on your current situation?
Daniel Zetterman: After training privately for a Swedish family for four years, I started my own business last fall together with my American girlfriend Aly Rodriguez. With Zetterman Equestrian LLC, I’m riding for horse owners, training clients—and using my experience with everything from educating young horses all the way up to five star grand prix classes. I have the whole package really with all my experience. I’m really excited now to spread my wings here in America.

NF: And what’s your plan for the coming season?
DZ: This will be my first summer here in America. The last two years I’ve been in Kentucky for the spring with my Swedish clients, and then Europe. But now I’m very excited to stay in America and be based here. I’m really looking forward to going to New York, I’ve heard a lot of good things about it—Old Salem, and also Saugerties, Lake Placid and perhaps The Hamptons. In my East Coast summer tour will also include Upperville, Virginia and Tryon, North Carolina. I’m looking forward to connecting people with very nice horses that we can find in Europe and bringing them over to good clients. I do a lot of sales and want to continue with that as well.

NF: For someone whose home circuit is on the European continent, what appeal do you find in being based in the USA?
DZ: Bringing up young horses and doing the shows in Europe is cheaper than in America, but over here in the USA, you’re right in the business. It’s a better setup, I think, also with the competitions. When I’m in Sweden, or a national show in Holland or Belgium, you’ve got a mix of classes with juniors and young riders, with amateurs and professionals. I really love the system here in America because when you’re training people and bringing them up, they are in their own division. They have their own courses that are accustomed to their skills and their knowledge and will have a chance of being successful without having to race against all the top professionals.

NF: And what does your own string of horses look like right now?
DZ: For the moment right now, I sold all my horses when I came over to America so I have no horses of my own at the moment. I’ve formed good partnerships with other horse owners and investors and also built good relationships with clients. Right now, I have two seven year olds with clients that I’m educating. I’m just really getting started, not a lot of people know my position and what I can offer, and I hope to change that.

NF: So your take on the American system is that it does a good job to set amateurs up for success.
DZ: Yes, what I’m really impressed with in America, is that in general the American amateur is very good over here, very very good. Americans have a great start with their system; they focus very much on the trainers teaching the riders very good position and feeling and rhythm, and that’s something that’s different than in Europe. Our advantage in Europe is that we are probably better at developing flatwork and taking care of young horses—we focus more on the horse.

Over here, the students get more focus on themselves and the horse is bought to do the job, so you don’t have to teach the horse as much. There’s good and bad on both sides, really.

But if you combine that, I think that’s going to be my advantage being European, to have the whole art of how to do everything from scratch and being very good at training—that’s why I think I’ve been very popular in my country and also it’s coming along here in America, people are starting to see that.

NF: That’s right! You and your brother Alexander have experienced widespread recognition and we have to say­—fame—in your home country. Can you talk a little about that?
DZ: Well already, as a young kid, my father was very well known in Sweden and Europe for being a top rider and having a big sales barn where we sold a lot of horses to America in the 80s and 90s and early 2000s. Our family name in Sweden and in Europe became bigger because both my brother and I were on all the Swedish teams for ponies, juniors, young riders, and all the way up. That really expanded our business because it wasn’t only our father anymore, now it was the two boys taking up the sport.

We got very successful—in Sweden, there are nine million people and riding is the second largest sport in the country—so we got very well known. We really took off when we were on a TV show–we got one million views on the TV show, so it was a really good thing for us, plus it was a big kick. I think me and my brother, we still have a huge fan base of young people in Sweden.

Zetterman and Glory Days at the 2012 Royal Dublin Horse Show, Dublin, Ireland.

NF: Glory Days was such a pivotal horse for your career. What did you learn from him?
DZ: I was relatively young when I started riding him because we had bred him ourselves. I broke him in when he was a young horse, and I did everything with him all the way up.

He was a fantastic horse. I was very successful with him in all the National Championships for young horses all the way up. We were finalists over two years in the 6 and 7 Year Old World Championship, and I won my first ranking class with him, and we won the Swedish Championships together. He taught me everything. We went to all the big shows—Aachen, Dublin, Hickstead, Barcelona, you name it. I was the standing reserve for the Olympics in London. He’s the kind of horse that made my name internationally, but also I learned so much from educating and bringing him up. He led me to develop my riding on making other horses better.

NF: And coming back to where you are now, what do you think your biggest challenge will be for this upcoming year?
DZ: Probably to get everything set up the way I would like to have it. I know I have the time and potential to take care of more clients at the very high level for training and riding and also the biggest challenge for me as a rider, is to really get back into the sport with some good partnerships with horse owners and sponsors.

It’s a challenge to get introduced to that kind of market and for people to get to know me and see my work because, like I said, I would have a greater value just staying in Europe and Sweden. Over here, people kind of know me, but they don’t really know exactly what I’ve done and how I work. I’m really looking forward to showing that and working hard and try to establish what I’ve done in Europe, over here in America.

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