Laura Klaphake might just be the amateur rider’s hero. The 24-year-old German show jumper skyrocketed to the heights of show jumping in 2018, highlighted by a team bronze medal at the FEI World Equestrian Games™. She calls show jumping her “passion”, but not her business, as she’s pursuing a master’s degree in real estate development.
Laura’s name became synonymous with Paul Schockemöhle’s 10-year-old Oldenburg mare Catch Me If You Can OLD (Catoki x Agentin), whom Laura brought up from her six-year-old year alongside her parents, Joseph and Gaby Klaphake. Before earning their spot at WEG, the duo jumped at the European Championships and was part of the winning Nations Cup team at Aachen and placed second at Rotterdam.
Paul, a respected horse dealer, reportedly turned down several lucrative offers for “Catch Me” prior to show jumping’s World Championships, but earlier this month, an agreement was officially made for the mare to change hands; Catch Me is now owned by 22-year-old Czech rider Anna Kellnerová.
“I’m unbelievably sad,” Laura says. “I loved the horse so much, and I really miss her, but that’s life. There are worse things in life, but there are also better things.”
Boldly juggling her university studies with bringing up a young string of horses, Laura is charging forward with a greater confidence in the ability to achieve her wildest dreams.
Laura was a veteran of eight European Championships with ponies, juniors, and young riders before Catch Me came along, but she had never before reached the level as a senior.
It was an accomplishment that she didn’t necessarily anticipate when she was first paired with Catch Me in the mare’s six-year-old year. Her father, Joseph, scouted the bay, and Paul purchased her; Joseph has worked for the Schockemöhle operation for the better part of the last three decades.
I thought she was a very good horse, but I didn’t expect her to be that good, to be honest
“She was always a really nice horse,” Laura says. “She was very good to ride, but she was a bit special when she was young. She was super fresh. Actually, until she was eight, I thought she was a very good horse, but I didn’t expect her to be that good, to be honest – not for the things I did with her. But step-by-step, she was getting better.”
Developing Catch Me was unquestionably a team effort. While Laura was completing her bachelor’s degree in international management with marketing and commuting 45 minutes between campus and the farm, Gaby Klaphake spent a lot of time riding the mare.
“My mom was doing a lot with her. She was riding and teaching her a lot,” Laura says. “We, as a family, are a very good team. My mom and dad are training me, and my mom is training the horses.”
After graduating from the young horse ranks, Catch Me debuted at the 1.60m grand prix level as an eight-year-old. Together, she and Laura faced their “firsts” together, and the accolades piled up at an astronomical rate.
Sometimes it’s hard, but I finally could live my dream. I never expected that and I’m really grateful. Without my family, I would not be where I am now.
In their first CSI5* grand prix last year at Hamburg, Laura and Catch Me were fifth. They jumped a clear first round in their Nations Cup debut at Rotterdam as well as in the Rolex Grand Prix at Aachen, and the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ Final followed their coming out party at the European Championships. In 2018, they proved their prowess was no fluke when they were double clear in Nations Cup competition at both Rotterdam and Aachen, which earned them their spot on the World Equestrian Games (WEG) team alongside the legendary Marcus Ehning, Maurice Tebbel, and eventual individual gold medalist Simone Blum. Unable to pinpoint a single highlight, Laura looks toward the bigger picture to identify her proudest moment.
“I would say, in general, [I’m most proud of] bringing up a horse from six years of age, from doing the super small classes, to jumping the Nations Cup, Aachen, the World Championships, and winning a medal,” Laura says. “It was so nice, for me, and for us, my family. There was so much more behind everything – the whole story, how everything started. It was not like I got a horse directly ready for big classes. There were a lot of ups and downs, as there always are with young horses. Sometimes it’s hard, but I finally could live my dream. I never expected that and I’m really grateful. Without my family, I would not be where I am now.”
With a year left in her Master’s studies, Laura hasn’t shirked away from the demands of her education or pursuing the absolute highest levels of show jumping. She balances both, now with “distance learning” studies.
“I go to university about four to six times a year, for two to three days in a row, and I go for exams, and I have online lessons. It’s very hard; you have to be very ambitious,” Laura details. “Sometimes an exam is coming and I’ll think, ‘Where should I start?’ But I’m very ambitious, and I can make my own plan. With shows, it’s perfect; I can focus purely on riding. Then, when I go home, maybe I’ll ride a bit less and study more.”
Showing a great deal of self-awareness and perspective, Laura has recognized that she wants riding to remain her passion and not her livelihood. While some might argue an elite athlete can have no other outside interests, Laura has already proven otherwise. Amateur riders, rejoice!
“It’s a very hard [decision] for me,” she says. “I love how it is now. I have my studies, and horses are my passion. To have to earn money with horses is not what I want. I want to keep horses and riding as my passion. It’s not easy to combine them, but my dream is to have a normal job for maybe half the day and spend the rest of the day riding.”
Of course, at the top levels of show jumping, essentially no one is exempt from the business side of the sport, and losing a top horse is never easy.
“It’s very hard to get another Catch Me,” Laura says. “She was Catch Me, and I had never experienced something like that in my life before. With other professionals, you often see the same ones on top with different horses, but other times, they’ll have one good horse get injured or sold. Sometimes it’s hard, especially when you put so much passion, effort, and time into it.”
Patience and Promise
Laura is now focused on bringing along the younger horses in her string, including Bantou Balou (Balou du Rouet x Jessika L), who has stepped up to the role of Laura’s top horse. The nine-year-old Oldenburg gelding, whom Laura acquired last year, made his 1.60m debut in 2018 and cracked the top 10 with a single time fault in a 1.50m ranking class at CSI4* Maastricht.
“He is a very ambitious horse. He’s very special, I have to say. Most of the Balou horses are,” Laura says. “For me, [I see] a lot of talent. He just doesn’t have so much experience, and as a team, we do not have so much experience in the bigger classes.”
I hope the future going to be bright! We just have to be patient.
Camalita is another nine-year-old (Cracker Jack 5 x Viva Shakyra), whom Laura has, similarly to Catch Me, brought up from her six-year-old year. The duo made the podium in the Prize Coca-Cola class at CSIO5* Samorin this year.
“She’s a super horse,” Laura says. “I got her when she was six, and we started quite small. Now, she’s jumped 1.55m and 1.60m.”
Then there’s the seven-year-old, Carmina 51 (Casall x Caecila), who made the Sparkassen Youngsters Cup at Aachen and whom Laura describes as “green for seven”, but not without ability.
“I hope the future going to be bright!” she says. “We just have to be patient.”
The overall theme is patience, and while Laura might not get another Catch Me, she’s now fully equipped with the tools to prepare her next star to make a name of his or her own.
“The horses I have right now are very talented; they just have no experience in the bigger classes,” she says. “It’s hard, but this is always how it is. You have to start from the beginning. We’ll try our best and see. Now, they just need time.”
Photos by Sportfot.
Written by Catie Staszak
Catie Staszak can typically be found doing one of three things: talking about horses, writing about horses, or riding horses. A broadcast analyst and journalist at FEI competitions, she spends her time traveling to shows and getting behind the microphone to break down courses and get people excited about equestrian sport. Normally spotted with her dog Omaha nearby, she's grateful to be able to combine her greatest passions into a career she loves.