On Sunday, January 17th, a young German rider’s life changed. Among the riders of the Western European World Cup Qualifying League, a high-pressure, absolutely top level circuit that draws the heavyweights of the sport, the audience at the Leipzig, Germany stop on the tour expected one of the heavyweights to reign over Sunday’s grand prix.
Instead, a baby-faced, blond-haired rider, unknown at the top level with barely three five-star starts to his record outrode them all, winning the €160,000 Longines FEI World Cup™ Grand Prix of Leipzig, presented by Sparkasse Cup. It was the kind of breathtaking moment in sport that attracts the attention of journalists like a moth to a flame, so there was no question who we would be talking to on Monday morning as the dust began to settle.
Twenty-two-year old Niklas Krieg is not unlike many of his peers in the up-and-coming elite show jumping ranks. So many of Germany’s next generation of riding stars grow up under the wing of their parents’ business; Niklas’ father Andreas Krieg is a well-known former rider with an international record of his own. Now, the elder Krieg coaches his son and trains show jumpers from the family’s base in Southern Germany to be sold at the upper levels of the sport.
“We came together, and now she is fighting for me, never wanting to make a fault.”
Niklas, who won European Young Rider Championship Gold in 2014 and Silver in 2015, just stepped up to the five star grand prix level with his horse Carella. The Krieg family obtained the Holsteiner mare (Clearway x Concerto II) as a two-year-old, and Niklas and his father have brought her along throughout the entirety of her career.
“I was riding her in the small classes as a five and six year old, and then my father rode her one or two years,” Krieg said of his 12-year-old partner. “Then I needed a second good horse, and my father gave her to me. For the first two years, we were not good friends, she was very difficult with her head. But then we came together, and now she is fighting for me, never wanting to make a fault.”
Krieg talked to the beat of hooves on concrete – his victory at Leipzig was barely 12 hours behind him, but he was already back at home, riding horses on Monday morning. Of course, this is normal, he explains. Every day he is not at a show, he is at home, riding the horses.
But there was no doubt he was replaying the events of the day prior over and over in his mind. He entered Leipzig under the guidance of his father and German chef d’equipe Otto Becker, who initially told him he could enter the grand prix qualifier, but not the grand prix itself.
But then Friday came and went, and Krieg and Carella finished in a strong 7th place in the grand prix qualifier on a quick time and zero faults. Becker gave his blessing for Krieg to enter Sunday’s grand prix, no doubt assuming it would be a good learning experience for the rookie pair.
Krieg had never jumped a World Cup Qualifier grand prix before, and neither had his horse.
“The horse was really good jumping all weekend, and [in the grand prix], she was jumping so good, and was clean with a really good round,” Krieg explained. “Before the jumpoff, I thought, ‘ok I go for a good prize, maybe 3rd or 4th. But then, after the second fence I thought ok, maybe I can try a bit for more.”
That’s a modest way of putting it, and as the video of the jumpoff plainly shows, Krieg and Carella dusted the jumpoff track with a daring, masterful ride all the way to the last fence.
Andreas Krieg had tears in his eyes as his son came out of the arena. Niklas hadn’t won the class yet, but he had just given it the best ride of his young career. And while the likes of Gregory Wathelet, Olivier Philippaerts and Sergio Alvarez Moya all followed in Krieg’s footsteps with faster times, their luck didn’t hold and they all had rails down.
“It was just amazing to win,” Krieg added. “It was my best win, for sure.”
Even better is that Carella’s owner, Usula Fritzsching, has pledged to continue to support Niklas, and steadfastly refused to allow her horse to be sold. “For sure we will never ever sell her, we have a good owner and she promised me I can keep the horse,” Krieg said. “For sure no one can ever buy her. That’s really nice and special.”
Niklas can’t say where he’ll go from here, but he now has the full attention of the German chef to advise him on next steps. The Germans crowned a new star over the weekend at Leipzig, and marked the moment when Krieg become an unknown no more.