Professional rider with a back up plan – Elaine Pen – 30 Under 30

Vira and Elaine Pen

A bronze team medal at the 2014 World Equestrian Games at the age of 24, is just one of Elaine Pen’s (NED) long list of impressive results. In her short career, she has 112 FEI event completions and she has won 12 of them. She is hoping to make a living as a professional rider but has a back up plan and is working on her Masters Degree in Law at the University of Leiden. She hopes to complete it by 2016 to coincide with her plans to represent the Netherlands at her second Olympics. Ambitious, and with consistent top finishes, Elaine is one of the world’s Top 30 Under 30.

Riding into the history books
Finishing in thirteenth individually, she was the highest placing member of the Dutch team at the 2014 World Equestrian Games. The entire experience was beyond her expectations. Elaine shares, “Our first team rider did not get over the finish line. By the end of the course, all the horses were coming off very tired and my horse is not a thoroughbred at all. I went to the starting box with Vira and my coach said, ‘it doesn’t matter how you place but you have to cross the finish line because we need this’. I got the information from Andrew Hofferman that you had to be slower and had to get your horse in a good canter from the beginning to finish. And I did. I took the straight route everywhere including the last water. We had a good strategy and focused on what we wanted.”

She started the competition off strong with a 42.3 dressage test in a tie for seventh place. She delivered on the team strategy for cross-country and rode across the finish line with no jumping faults, 30 penalty points in time and a sound horse. The next day, in a fan packed and challenging show jumping venue, she and Vira had a double clear round riding into the history books as a member of the first eventing team to ever win a medal for the Netherlands at the World Equestrian Games. (Note: She show jumped clear with an unconventional pony tail flowing in the wind and we are wondering if this helps one’s performance. Sandra Auffarth did the same thing and won the gold medal.)

Love at first cross-country course
Horses have always been part of her life as her mom was a dressage rider and her dad was a Pentathalon athlete who was an Olympic reserve. She has loved horses as long as she can remember. When she was showing such an avid interest, her parents made sure she had a solid foundation in dressage, jumping and cross-country. Elaine says, “As soon as I did cross-country training and did a cross-country course I was sold.”

Her mom has always helped her with dressage. Her dad used to help her with jumping before he passed away. She says, “I must say my mom is always there for me and helps me with everything. My dad was always a big supporter and I think he still is from upstairs…in heaven.”

Home sweet home and 15 hour days
She is based in her home country with no plans of relocating. She trains at her family built stable. It is fully equipped with big indoor and outdoor arenas. There is also a cross-country course under construction.

Her days are full, beginning at 7:00 am and she rides five horses until around 1:00 pm. Then she gives lessons and works on her studies. She attends classes in the evenings from 7:00 to 10:00 pm. She says, “Basically it is wake up, ride, some studying, some lessons, classes and then hanging out with my friends if there is time.”

She is gearing up for a career as a professional rider but in case it is not feasible, she is studying law. She says, “I like my studies but I love the horses more. If I can work it out financially, I would love to just ride. It is difficult to get everything organized and get the right owners. I also coach juniors and pony riders as well as some recreational riders. So far I am very lucky to do everything I do and I hope I can continue like this.”

She is optimistic about Eventing in Holland as it is starting to expand. She says, “Finding owners is quite difficult. Some riders in Holland have owners but compared to England, Eventing is quite small here. People are not so familiar with Eventing in Holland and there are not many eventers. I think it will turn around in a bit, the sport is growing and we are getting better. Breeders are trying to breed proper Eventing horses now as well.”

Elain Pen-3

It takes a village
In addition to training with her parents, she has worked with some notable riders and coaches. “In my junior years I had lessons with other people. For instance, I trained with Anky van Grunsven. For two years I have been training with Wim Ernes, the coach from the dressage team.”

“For jumping I used to train with my father. But after he passed away, and a little before that because he was really sick, I started working with Martin Lips, our coach, and I still do that. I get extra training with Rob Ehrens, the Dutch team show jumping coach.”

She is incredibly grateful for her support team and acknowledges that it takes a village to become a top eventer, “When people ask how many people are helping I ask, ‘Do you have a moment?’. It is my farrier, physiotherapist, my family, my friends, everybody tries to give me the opportunity to perform the best I can. The assistance of everyone is very special.”

No time to waste
Like most eventers, she finds that there is little time for other activities. She explains, “Outside of horses, I do not really have time for much else to be honest. The horses are my life. I have my studies, I teach lessons and I find time to socialize with my friends, but that is about it.”

Elaine and her friend Floor Dubbeling

Elaine and her friend Floor Dubbeling

Interestingly, she used to play field hockey but gave it up because it was too risky. Elaine says, “I used to play field hockey but everyone thought it was a bit dangerous and said you better stop with that. We were real amateurs and we did some competitions as well but it really was just for fun and with friends. It was not that serious but sometimes it was a rough sport. A hook stick to your knee or face every once in a while would give you bruises and you would feel sore for a couple of days. Before the Olympics, my coach and my mom and everyone said it was not very wise for me to continue doing it, which was true. Now I would not have the time to be doing that as well.”

Bringing up babies
Currently, she is riding five horses at the FEI level. She owns all of her three-star horses. Her Aunt owns Aristocraat and she rides horses for her vet. She likes to bring horses up from a young age and produce them herself. She says, “All of my horses I got when they were really young. For instance, we bought Vira as foal and Dostowjeski was at my yard when he was a two-year-old. Undercover was a little bit older but before he was at our yard he had never done cross-country. I prefer to raise them myself.”

Meet the team

Vira (owned by H. Aubert , W.G.E. Pen and M.W.W.Pen): 4*

  • 13th – 2014 World Equestrian Games
  • 5th – 2014 Luhmuhlen
  • 1st – 2014 Fontainebleau CIC3*

Undercover (owned by H.L.H.J.M.Aubert): 3*

  • 6th – 2014 Strzegom CIC3*
  • 9th – 2014 Fontainebleau CIC3*

Dostowjeski (owned by E.Pen & L.M.M. Cancian v.d. Wild): 3*

  • 1st – 2014 Barroca d’Alva CIC3*
  • 7th – 2014 Luhmuhlen CIC3*

Aristocraat (owned by B.P.J. Berk & I. Berk & B. Berk): 2*

  • 10th – 2014 Strzegom CIC2*
  • 1st – 2014 Maarsbergen CIC1*

2015 – year of the four-stars
Elaine is excited about her string of horses and their futures. She says,”Undercover is on his way, I am planning to do a four-star with him next year and also with Dostowjeski. My youngsters are pretty good and I am looking forward to seeing them grow in the sport. I think I have very good horses and I hope eventually I will be doing four-stars on all of them but we will see. I am thinking about next season already. I hope I can do Badminton with Vira, Pau with Undercover, and maybe Dostowjeski can do Luhmuhlen because it is a wonderful competition. I still have to make a program to see how everything fits and works out. Badminton, Pau and of course the Europeans are my big goals for next year.”

With promising mounts and her unwavering focus, we are predicting Elaine Pen will continue to represent her nation for years to come.

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