‘I support the German team in the dressage, but for the football I’m an Orange fan'


Competing in the European championships is an honour for any rider, but for German dressage team member Sönke Rothenberger, this year’s edition in The Netherlands is extra special. Son of a Dutch mother, he feels very much at home in Rotterdam. The first time he rode his horse Cosmo, the former showjumping specialist knew he could achieve his dream of one day competing in the Olympics.

''After Aachen and Hagen I had somewhat anticipated that the coach would include me an Cosmo in the team for the European Championships, our form has been super for a while now’’, says Rothenberger. ''But you have to see it in front of you in black and white first, so when I heard that we were definitively in, I was very pleased. Even better for me, because I have a Dutch mother, is that the European Championships are being held in Rotterdam this year. Also very special is that I’ve been named Longines ambassador at the start of this year, and Longines in the title sponsor for this event.


My horse Cosmo is one of a kind. The stallion Van Gogh is his sire, and this horse was bought at auction by my grandfather and Hans Horn. Cosmo was bred by the veterinarian at my grandfather’s stud station, ‘The Iron Man’.

As a foal, Cosmo grew up under the care of Bert Rutten and when he was almost five years old he came to us. In the beginning, my father rode him, because I was still a show jumper at that time. When Cosmo was 6, we realised he was special but not really a horse for a woman rider, so I took up the challenge myself. The first long line I rode, I got chills, a feeling that - up until then - I had only ever experienced when jumping a high, wide oxer.

But soon it proved difficult to keep Cosmo for ourselves, as there was great interest in him. Since early 2017, we share ownership with Ralph Westhoff and his wife Marga and we are certain Cosmo will be able to stay with us always. They have the same passion for the sport we have.

It has always been my dream to compete in the Olympics. In Athens, I saw my father compete and I saw Anky van Grunsven riding Salinero. That’s when I realised that that was the dream for me too - as it is for any athlete. After the first time I rode Cosmo and experienced that incredible rush, I knew that dream would be achievable with him. I am still eligible to compete in the U25-category, but have made a conscious choice to take a year long break after the Young Riders and directly move on to the senior competition.

Cosmo is twelve years old now and in the prime of his life, so I think our chances during this European Championship are high. I also hope the Dutch audience will support me a bit, because my mother Gonnelien is Dutch and my father Sven - a German - competed under the Dutch flag.


My parents have both competed in Rotterdam, but Cosmo and I have also been here before. In 2015, we entered the U25-category and won both tests. Back then, I was still a student in Nijmegen and trained under Anky van Grunsven. Two years ago, I went to Rotterdam for a private visit and saw the Markthal, among other attractions.

I think Rotterdam is always a great competition, it’s well organised and the arena footing is of excellent quality. You can really tell it’s organised by real ‘horse people’, who have the required experience and passion for their event.’'

When asked if the fact that he’s part Dutch makes him support the Dutch team a little bit as well, he laughs. ‘'Do you mean in football or in dressage? For the dressage, I’m for Germany for sure. During my pony days, my time in the Juniors and the Young Riders, I have always competed for Germany and so it was a logical step to do so in the senior competition as well. But I do hope that, if our German team wins, The Netherlands will be second.

Snack bar

Still, there seems to be more of a Dutch influence in his genes than he is willing to admit. ,,Like I said, I hope the Dutch will support me as well in Rotterdam. I have a double passport and my horse is Dutch, he’s KWPN-bred. And for the football I’m definitely an Orange-supporter and also I love frikandellen speciaal, a typical Dutch snack. Whenever my grandmother comes to visit, she brings me a big box of them. I also a fan of Dutch worstenbroodjes (a traditional type of sausage roll).'' (laughing:) ''Whenever we’re in Holland, I always immediately want to visit a snack bar. Can I confess something? Back in 2015 when I competed in Rotterdam, I had a frikandel every day at that cute little snackbar near the grounds.

With his enthusiasm and upbeat nature, surely this German rider will manage to win over the Dutch home crowd!

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