SUNE HANSEN and his wife EMILY WARD HANSEN international riders respectively for Denmark and Antigua, have chosen to established their home and their five star Springhill Dressage facilities in East Sussex. They have brought their combined 40 years’ experience in professional dressage to the project — now nearing the end of the construction phase — and also bring it to the horse and rider training they offer.
THE HANSENS, Sune and Emily, who have ridden internationally respectively for Denmark and Antigua, have chosen to establish their five star Springhill Dressage training facility in England, near Heathfield, East Sussex. They have run their own yards together in Holland and Denmark and bring their combined 40 years’ experience in professional dressage training and competition to their Springhill Dressage project.
Sune won bronze medals at Danish Championships with Gredstedgaards Casmir in 2009 — and in 2010 and 2011, partnering Blue Hors Romanov, he won bronze then silver. He was on the Danish team with Gredstedgaards Casmir at the 2009 European Championships at Windsor and at the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky in 2010. In 2011 he rode Romanov at the Europeans in Rotterdam. He was also on the winning Nations Cup Team competition in 2015 at Hickstead, West Sussex, riding Charmeur.
With those credits to his name, he knows how the job should be done. Sune confirms: “I’m very much a strong believer in the classical way of training horses and the scales of training. There is no way you can jump any stage, and if you get your foundation work and your basics right you get a lot of the tricks for free and you don’t find yourself having so many problems. You have to ask you yourself all the time when a horse is progressing fast: ‘have I overlooked something?’ If you leave any training issue unresolved then when things get more difficult that problem will find you.
“It’s interesting and rewarding when you are able to produce horses from quite a young age because they’re all different. As individuals they will find parts of their training easier while others more difficult. You also have to keep them happy and willing to work and perform for you.”
Over the past 18 months Sune and Emily have changed a former thoroughbred stud into a yard and training complex that offers everything the dressage competition horse could require. As well as a beautiful bright, light, full-size indoor and adjacent outdoor arenas, there are two stable yards, winter turn-out pens, covered horse walker and 40-odd acres of paddocks and fields — a 500m surfaced gallop — and bluebell woods with hacking tracks.
One of the stable blocks has immediate access to a rubber-block floored central hub of tacking-up, washdown and solarium bays — with adjacent tackroom, luxurious client viewing gallery, kitchen and shower room on the one hand — while full-height double doors lead through to the indoor arena on the other. Doors from the indoor arena then provide access to the Olympic size outdoor. Everything is designed to make it an efficient and safe working environment for staff and horses.
The name Springhill — though highly appropriate to the quiet and secluded wooded valley hillside where it is all situated — originates from Antigua where Emily was born and where her family still lives. She said: “I started riding ponies in Antigua but moved back to England to go to school. Riding and later dressage became my passion and I wanted to do young riders but when the horse I had proved to have soundness issues I went to Holland to look for something else. I was 19 when I went and loved it, so ended up spending 12 years there.”
Meanwhile Sune, at 18, had moved from his home country of Denmark to Germany where he trained and gained the education to become Pferdewertschaftsmeister and graduated with honours. During his 15 years in Germany he worked at the stables of Palle Thomsen, Allan Gaihede, Alexander Moksel, and Helmut Freiherr von Fircks, whose daughter was riding internationally and who Sune was training.
Emily explained: “I met Sune at an international show in Achleiten, Austria, when I was trying to qualify for the World Games in 2006. For a while we commuted every two weeks: either Sune flew to see me in Holland or I flew to Germany. I then moved to Germany to be with Sune taking my then four horses and my dog. My horse, Vallon, had qualified to compete at the 2008 Hong Kong Olympics but during the critical lead-up period I was missing shows due the horse’s foot problems and so I returned to Holland to be near my farrier, my vet and my Dutch support team. Sadly we missed the Olympics and then the next year, aged 15, Vallon was put down.”
Sune joined Emily in Holland and together they set up their own yard at the De Ijzeren Man stallion station in Weert. Sune said: “While we were in Holland, the manager of Blue Hors called me and asked me to come for an interview. They wanted someone to ride their flagship competition stallions even though, then, I didn’t have much grand prix experience. Emily urged me to go as it was a big opportunity. I went to Blue Hors and met the stud manager Esben Møller and rode some of the stallions and they went really well. Before the trip, I hadn’t been 100 per cent sure whether I wanted the job or not, but when I went back to Emily it was ‘yes’, I really wanted it!” So in 2009 Sune and Emily moved to Denmark.
Sune rode the stud’s top stallions, Blue Hors Romanov, Rush Hour, Hotline, Zack and Laredo. It was not all about international stallion showcase performances, however, and Blue Hors offered other valuable experiences. Sune explained: “Around 30 horses join the Blue Hors Stud each year: they buy around 20 foals and breed another 10 themselves. Each year all the horses go through a process of evaluation. Each is watched loose and is graded according to whether they are stallion prospects, which ones should be sold or trained onto become riding horses. At the high end you saw some of the best there were.
“Now when I look at a horse I’m much more critical because I know how good they can be. Sometimes it’s not always the flashiest one that is the best choice. It might be a good sales horse until it is five or six, but Blue Hors was always looking towards the goal of grand prix. For that you need a strong horse that can sit and carry. It is always a difficult decision for breeders: do they want a quick sale of a young horse, and in which you don’t have to invest much training — or is their goal to breed grand prix horses? Saleroom movement often disappears as a horse gets older. The fact is a good horse is made: you need quality but temperament is always very important. They have to have the head for it.
“We moved on from Blue Hors and started running our own yard in Denmark. As I was high profile as a team rider it was easy to get started and Emily and I wanted our own business but we weren’t sure where we would end up putting down our roots. Emily had always wanted it to be in England, so we kept an eye out for what property might be available. We first saw the place we now call Springhill in 2013 on the internet and flew over to have a look. We landed at Stansted just in time to join the morning ‘rush’ hour at the Dartford Tunnel and become entangled with the school run in Tunbridge Wells. It had rained the whole way down but as soon as we arrived at the property, the sun came out. There was an atmosphere about the place when we got out of the car — it felt like home.”
Now, three years on, the Hansen family — Sune, Emily and their son James — have the roots they wanted, their splendid equestrian facilities are nearing completion and they have the foundations of the business they were looking for. Sune concluded: “And also what I like about England is that it is very positive environment around horses.”
© Out and About Dressage Ltd, July 2016