Amid the landscape of today’s relentless, week-in, week-out show jumping circuit, Judy Ann Melchior proves that there’s more than one way to do things. The Belgian rider may be one of the busiest professionals in Europe, but she’s found great success in not doing what other riders feel they must – competing a string of horses nearly every weekend of the year.
Since giving birth to her first child with husband Christian Ahlmann, two years ago, and assisting her family in managing their world famous Zangersheide stud, Melchior has trimmed her competition schedule down to just one weekend per month on average. With a planned schedule of carefully selected shows and strong results, Melchior put herself in contention for Belgian teams, and timed her year perfectly to culminate with double clear rounds at the recent Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup Final in Barcelona, Spain. It was those clear rounds that helped Belgium win the 2015 Final.
Melchior’s connection with her horse, the 13-year-old Zangersheide mare As Cold As Ice Z (Artos Z x Carthago Z) has everything to do with her success in the ring. As Cold As Ice was born at the Zangersheide stud, and Melchior has been a part of every stage of the mare’s life. When they enter an arena, they share a close connection, and with a one week on, three weeks off routine, Melchior has found a way to remain at the top of the sport, while balancing family and work in the best of ways.
Q: Having known your horse for her entire life, can you describe her way of going and what she is like?
A: She was born at our place, we bred her and started her, so yes, I know her very well. In terms of her show career, she’s only had ups. She had two small injuries in her lifetime, once when she was nine and once when she was 11, where she wasn’t able to compete, but whenever she’s been going she’s been amazing.
She’s extremely light in the hand, you never need a hard contact. She has a little rubber, soft simple bit that she goes in. It’s the same bit she has had since I started her when she was six!
I never need to pull to stop, it’s enough to move my body a bit, with very minimal movements, in just sitting up, or giving her a slight pressure with the hand or the leg I can change the stride enormously. Actually in our dressage work we try to build that I have some kind of connection in the mouth.
Q: Can you explain your overall program with Cold As Ice Z, including the somewhat unusual aspect that you are not at a show every weekend?
A: Yes, it is unusual and today it’s impossible to be on top of the world rankings when you do it like this, but it’s something that works well with me.
It’s been like this for me for quite some time, I’m not riding in so many shows because I have a lot of work with my job, and I have my son. I really cut down on my showing during the last couple of years. So I go to a show every three or four weeks, and I have a good rhythm with my horse, but riding is not my main job in life at the moment. My job with the Zangersheide stud, and management of the whole championship is a lot of work, and let’s not forget that having a son is also a lot of work! I don’t want my son every week to be at a show, and since Christian is often every week at a show, we have to find some sort of balance.
I really only want to do a couple of the good shows and have one or two good placings. This was how we did it during the winter season, so it was logical in the summer season that we would continue in the same way. With just one horse, it makes no sense to do more.
Q: As far as being chosen to represent Belgium at the Nations Cup Final in Barcelona, how did that come about?
A: Well, we have quite a good management with Dirk Demeersman, our team coach. He made the plan, and I must say he’s been quite good with the plan It was also important for me to not have so many shows to go to, and he understood that. It was part of his plan that I would be on the team at Barcelona.
Q: If you could go back in time, would you have liked to have been chosen to be on the Belgium team for the Europeans?
A: It was for sure a dream of mine, and something that I was aiming for. Dirk, he personally thought that Barcelona would be more of my arena. And he wasn’t 100% sure about some things, like how I would be feeling in Aachen. I hadn’t jumped there the past two years and the other horses [on the team] had. There were different little things like that that made Dirk feel better about me going to Barcelona instead of Aachen. I personally had a great season with the team, and I accepted the decision.
It’s easy to say afterwards how it could have been, but it’s impossible to know if I would have jumped well in Aachen. Nobody can say if I would have jumped so well there or not. Dirk’s decision was very hard, and he made the best one for me.
Q: How did your horse feel during the week at Barcelona?
A: In Barcelona she felt really really good. The weekend before we had the FEI World Breeding Championships for Young Horses at our place, and so things were very hectic and busy. I would end up riding her very early in the morning or late in the evening, so I didn’t have the best preparation for Barcelona!
But at Barcelona, we jumped the warmup. she came really fresh, and from on that moment she was just amazing. Saturday in the warm up already she was amazing. She likes the arena there, she likes the space, and she likes jumping under the lights.
Q: To jump double clear at the Final is a huge result. What did you think when you saw the course?
A: It was a very technical course, and I prefer that. The more technical it gets, the more I prefer them because then I can make a very good plan. I was extremely focused and concentrated; at this level, these kinds of course are tricky, but I try not to think about what could go wrong, or not even to focus too much on the difficulties. I was just really focused on how I was going to take the course, how to get from fence to fence. The job is clear in Nations Cups – you need clear rounds.
Q: And that’s exactly what you did – deliver clear rounds. You were visibly thrilled with your horse coming out of the ring; what were you feeling in that moment?
A: Partly I was very happy with the team result, and partly I was happy with my horse. She is the best partner. It’s just amazing because in every single moment of the course she’s just trying to do her best. She’ll just do everything to help me, she’s always working with me, and she’s just the best partner you can ever imagine having with you. It makes me so happy, because it’s just such an amazing feeling having a horse with you like that.
Q: Lastly, what’s it like riding against your partner, German rider Christian Ahlmann?
A: For us it means you have the double the chance to win. We look at it that it just doubles our chances. I was really happy with his result at Barcelona, his horses jumped super, and while I was a bit disappointed for him for his team, on the other hand, he was very, very happy for me, so he won it in this kind of way. He was part of the victory team!