Edwina Tops-Alexander has done what every little showjumping-fan dreams of doing; gone from pony club rider without horsey parents to becoming one of the world’s best riders with the stable full of fantastic horses – as well as being a much sought after sponsor object with huge global brands such as Gucci and Jaeger-LeCoultre behind her. Tops-Alexander has everything there is to dream of, but as WoSJ sits down to talk to the famous Australian rider we discover a hard-working girl who remembers exactly where she came from.
We steal Edwina in the lounge of the riders’ hotel where she sits with her husband Jan Tops – founder of the Global Champions Tour – whom she married in September. At first we feel a little intimidated by this showjumping star, but it quickly disappears as Edwina is easy to talk to and very grounded. How did it all start we ask her? “I started riding in Australia when I was about eight years old. I was always keen to ride and had a lot of passion for it! I was never afraid, even if I rode a lot of bad horses as a junior and young rider,” Edwina lets us know.
“When I was 21 I finished my University degree; I studied physicians and went to work as a fitness trainer. At that point in my life I had a very hectic lifestyle, and I decided that I needed to go in one direction. Apart from having a little contact with what was going on in Great Britain [she read Horse & Hound], I was not so updated on the showjumping scene in Europe and what it demanded. But I had trained with Albert Voorn together with the Australian team, and he was very positive when it came to my riding so in the end I decided to give it a go. So, when I was 24 I set off to Europe,” Edwina smiles about the decision that changed her life.
“I brought one horse over; Mr. Dundee,” Edwina laughs. ”After my arrival I stayed with some friends from New Zealand for about six months. At that time I didn’t know if I was good enough to make it, and I needed to find out if this was what I wanted to do. I went on to Belgium and stayed there for six months, before I went back to Australia for a few months to sort out my visa. When I came back to Europe I stayed with Ludo [Philippaerts] for three years and worked for him,” Edwina tells us.
After her time with Ludo, Edwina took a brave, giant leap and set up her own business. “I moved to Holland, and started to buy and sell horses. This was also how I met Jan; I brought some Australian clients of mine to see some horses that he had. After a while – and after experiencing some difficulties with a few of the horses that I had purchased on my own – Jan gave me an opportunity to invest in Pialotta,” Edwina’s explains. And that’s where the real adventure started; Pialotta gave Edwina her big breakthrough and together they went on to compete at the final at the World Equestrian Games in Aachen in 2006.
Wasn’t it tough, to move all alone from Australia to Europe and end up in such a male-dominated environment where the survival of the fittest theory really comes to its right, we ask Edwina? “Yes, sure it was – but I like a challenge! I had some hard times though. To become a top showjumper you need to be quite strong mentally. You need the ability to pull yourself out when things are not going so well; that’s how and when you become stronger.”
About her success Edwina says; “To bake a good cake you need all the best ingredients. It’s the same thing with showjumping – you need the right ingredients to make it; the horses, the owners, the management, the sponsors – and you really need to be dedicated to what you do!”
Gone are the days when Edwina worked day and night in the stables all by herself. Her horses stay at Jan and Edwina’s fantastic yard in Valkenswaard, the Netherlands. There are around 35 horses at the yard, twelve employees in addition to three riders. “I train with Jan, and also work quite a lot together with Daniel [Deusser]. Daniel and I work really well together,” she says. Edwina and Jan live in Monaco – “Which is really nice because I love cities,” she says enthusiastically adding; “I’m going to stay there now for two weeks as I’m riding the tour in Nice! I like travelling, going out eating and doing something different – in our world it can get a little closed” – and we all laugh knowing exactly what she means as one usually gets trapped at the arena with attached hotel and in-house restaurant from Thursday to Sunday whenever going to shows.
“I try to manage my time so I get to do other things as well; I ride between six to eight horses a day and try to be finished at around 3 PM to go to the office and get work done there. Three times a week I work out. And at the moment I’m doing a book – it’s on the same line as Kevin’s book I would say. It’s about my riding philosophy, important horses and moments in my career –and it also includes tips and exercises. It’s an all-round book for both people really in to the sport and for those that would like to learn more about it. So, at the moment I try to set time off for that as I really like working on it,” she says and we’re almost smitten by her energy.
We can’t talk to Edwina without talking about her equally famous and worldwide popular partner Itot du Chateau. The tiny chestnut gelding by Le Tot de Semilly has jumped his way into showjumping hearts around the globe, and has been Edwina’s faithful partner for many years. “Itot is amazing,” Edwina says emotionally. “We’ve done so much together and he knows me so well! And of course I know him as well. Itot has a huge character. During the time I’ve had him I’ve never ever been mad at him; he just gives me so much!”
There’s also a lovely story connected to how Edwina and Itot ended up together. “Jan and I had watched Itot over some time with his then rider Michel Hecart. In 2007 I was in Australia with Jan, and he surprised me during New Year’s and told me that he and my owner Cees Van Opstal had bought Itot for me. All I wanted was to go back to the Netherlands immediately, but I couldn’t could I? I had just arrived,” she laughs as a fan turn up asking for an autograph and a photo. This is when you see the very professional side of Edwina Tops-Alexander; she is well-aware of her part as a big role-model – she takes her time, is very friendly and has no diva-factors attached to her behavior. When Edwina is done we return to the topic of Itot.
“When I first saw Itot I was really shocked how small he was! He’s only 1.57! But when I got on him I quickly forgot about that; it was like I’ve ridden him all my life. He doesn’t feel like he’s small as he holds himself high up in the front. A short time after I got him, Michel came over to help me with him. He brought a bit that Itot was used to and videos that I could watch; it was really nice of him,” Edwina smiles. “Itot is a tough little horse; he’s strong minded! Actually, he kind of does what he wants with me,” she laughs. “At home we call him Toti – Itot spelled the other way around.”
So, will we see Edwina and Toti at the Olympics we ask? “The Olympics is the plan for him, yes. I don’t think there will be any World Cup final for him; I’ll let Titus do that job. It wasn’t really a part of my plan to go there, but now I’m qualified. It’s not my priority this season; the Olympics and the Global Champions Tour is my focus with Itot in 2012. And the Olympics are coming soon! And as he feels really good at the moment, it’s could come rather sooner than later in my opinion!”
And how long will we see Edwina’s 16 year old partner in the sport? “He feels like his ten, so as long as he feels good he’ll get to jump,” Edwina explains. “Itot is a power ball and a natural athlete – full of muscle! I just have to try and not do too much with him; it’s all about finding the right balance and keep ticking him over.”
Edwina has more horses that Itot to choose from, and maybe one of the most exciting string of horses on the circuit right now. During the last year new additions have arrived, and we ask Edwina to tell us about them. “Vleut is one of them. He was previously ridden by Maikel van der Vleuten. Vleut will do some Grand Prix classes this year; he’s already proved to me that he has got what it takes. I consider him a future championship horse,” Edwina says of the 10 year old Quick Star-stallion. “But I need to take my time with him, and not rush him!”
“Then there’s Titus which I took over from Guy Williams. Titus kind of filled in the gap when we sold Ciske to Rodrigo. We’re just getting to know each other, and Gothenburg is my third show with him,” Edwina explains.
Erenice Horta – the lovely grey eight year old mare by Diamant de Semilly – that has made such an impression on us is described by Edwina as “my next top horse”. Edwina describes Erenice as a really special one that has impressed her in such a short time. “Then there’s Heidi [du Ruisseau Z]; she’s got a lot of scope and a fantastic mind – she recently won a Grand Prix in Belgium. And I have some nice younger once as well, like Ego [van Orti] and Risotto [de la Roque]. Ego is a big horse, and more of the championship type. He’s jumped a lot of clears, and I’m taking him to Nice,” Edwina tells us. “Risotto is seven, and a bit like Itot I would say. He’s also adorable, and could be a future star. I’m very positive about him!”
Many potential superstars can be found at Edwina and Jan’s yard in Valkenswaard. There’s a bit of a breeding adventure going on as well, Edwina lets us know. “We have some wonderful foals from Pialotta, Roofs, Pristanna, Fine Kiss and many more. A lot of the foals are by embryo. We have seven foals from Pialotta now, and will have seven more this year. Two of them are fillies, the rest are stallions. We have to slow down,” she laughs as if she suddenly realizes that there are a lot of tiny tots at home. “We’ve been using some nice stallion: Diamant de Semilly, Air Jordan Z, Indoctro, Vigo d’Arsouilles, Quidam de Revel, Verdi and of course Vleut,” she says. A list that could almost make one of the breeding-enthusiastic WoSJ-reporters pass out of excitement.
As a bit of fashion junkies, we can’t avoid asking Edwina how she ended up being so lucky as to wear Gucci – in the stable! “Charlotte Casiraghi is a good friend of mine, and we did a few team events together for Gucci. That’s how I got to know Frida Giannini [Creator Director at Gucci], and in the end of 2010 it was decided that I would represent their brand. The company has a strong equestrian heritage, and they used to make saddles. The equestrian bond is a strong part of the company,” Edwina explains. “I’m also lucky enough to be sponsored by the watch makers Jaeger-LeCoultre,” she closes off happily before heading for the stables to prepare for the Grand Prix.
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