The Gulliksens: What It's Really Like Running a Family Business
It is not uncommon for equestrian parents, especially professionals, to lament that they don’t really want their children to ride. Why? They understand the financial and physical hardships of making a career in the equestrian industry. But they also know how rewarding such a career can be and how much responsibility and maturity is gained through growing up in the stables. So parents compromise: “If they want to ride, great, but I’m not going to force them.”
That was Geir Gulliksen’s feelings about his children, Johan-Sebastian and Victoria; the four-time FEI World Equestrian Games competitor was never going to pressure them to ride and compete in the sport that he so passionately loved. And they did have other interests — Johan-Sebastian was a star alpine skier — but eventually they found their way into the show ring and never looked back. Today, the family runs their business together, where they focus on producing young horses through the ranks of show jumping and represent Norway on the international stage.
We caught up with the Gulliksens to learn what it’s really like working with your family members day in and day out.
Running a Family Business
Every Gulliksen plays an important role in the business. Geir possesses invaluable experience and knowledge of horses and the sport. Victoria keeps the stables in good running order and is adept at promoting sales horses, while Johan-Sebastian is a numbers whiz and manages the finances. “He’s always doing the bills at the shows, checking how much we need to win,” Victoria says. She adds with a grin, “I do more of the hard work.” Besides that, everyone does a bit of teaching and traveling for clinics.
Working Alongside Dad
Having Geir to educate them is a major boost for the younger Gulliksens. Yet he leads by example, showing them that one is never too good to learn more, adaptability is crucial, and a strong partnership with your horse is everything.
Geir Gulliksen. Photo by Leslie Threlkeld for NoelleFloyd.com.
“He’s very competitive and he’s also very focused and always is humble. He’ll always ask someone for advice and make them look at his rounds and always tries to be better every time he goes in the ring,” Victoria says. “He can ride any horse because he’s strong but also very soft in his way of riding. He rides all types of horses — very lazy, big ones, and very small, hot ones. So I mean he goes in and always tries to do well. And he always goes with the horse. He never goes against the horse.”
Sure, a little bit of sibling rivalry is to be expected, but the younger Gulliksens encourage one another and feed off of each other's strengths. Johan-Sebastian describes his sister as being very competitive and plans every ride carefully with the utmost focus. Victoria says he is similarly dedicated (“He watches rounds over and over again.”) though their riding styles differ.
Incredible things happen when your sister is your biggest fan.
“Johan is much stronger than me riding-wise. I’m also a bit softer. I do well with hot horses because I’m calm and I never stress them. That’s maybe the strongest thing for me. Johan is a much faster rider than me,” Victoria says.
Planning a Competition Schedule
Geir is a member of the Scandinavian Vikings team on the Global Champions League and the family targets a number of Nations Cups throughout the year. So depending on those shows, they work backwards to plan the progression of their season. Primarily, however, they listen to the horses’ needs.
“I’m not tempted by the money. I’m thinking about the progress of my horse,” Geir says. “You have to be selective and have a plan. Don’t get pushed by others — that’s the biggest thing. When I started competing many years back, there were hardly any indoors, so we rested from September to Christmas and then started the training again in April. Now it’s like some of the international riders go to 50 shows a year.”
Victoria Gulliksen. Photo by Sportfot.
Focusing on the progress of the horse and riding them within their ability is all part of establishing trust and building good relationships, qualities Geir is passing on to his children.
“Every horse you ride, it’s a partnership. And every time I hassle them, they don’t trust you. Most of the trust comes from the riding,” Geir says. “Okay, you need to listen, but you don’t need to kill them for them to listen. You have to be firm, but fair. You treat them like you’d treat the kids.”
Producing Horses for the Sport
The Gulliksens prefer to buy horses young and produce them themselves because they’ve found it is more affordable than purchasing older, more experienced horses. When it comes to scouting young horses, they’ll select horses as young as foals and yearlings. While some are trained up and sold, others will stay with the family to be campaigned through the levels.
“It’s hard to find older ones unless they cost a fortune,” Johan-Sebastian says. “I think producing them is the only solution nowadays.”
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Johan-Sebastian Gulliksen. Photo by Sportfot.
When it comes to training, the Gulliksens prefer not to confine their horses to the ring. Instead, they ride them out to experience more variety in life at their farm based outside of Oslo, Norway.
“At home we like to trot them in the hills, get them stronger, and really get them out of the ring and just go out for miles,” Johan-Sebastian says. “For the mindset it’s good to go somewhere else and not just be in the ring. I think it’s very important for them. It keeps them healthier in the mentality and the horses get to do something else other than going around in the ring.”
In short, he's not ready for that yet. “I’m not going on forever, but I’m quite fit for my age. … As long as I can compete with the best ones, then it’s alright. But if I feel like I’m sliding back with the horses then I wouldn’t do it.”
He adds with a laugh and a hard glance at Johan-Sebastian and Victoria, “They want me to stop riding so they can have my horses!”
Until the time comes to hang up his boots, Geir enjoys working alongside them and helping them reach their own career goals. “Hopefully for next year we’re able to bring the kids on to the [Global Champions League] team. That’s our aim, but we have to build the horses and the strength.”
Look out world, the Gulliksens are coming.
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Feature photo by Leslie Threlkeld for NoelleFloyd.com.
Written by Hossein Maleki
Having grown up on horseback, Leslie Threlkeld, Managing Editor at NOËLLE FLOYD, treasures her career in the equestrian industry as a writer, photographer, and eventing technical delegate. Leslie thrives on frequent travel but never tires of returning home to the serene mountains of North Carolina.