GrandPrix Interview: Theo Ploegmakers

25. Apr 2022 / Category: News

Re-publication and translation of the interview first published in Grand Prix, 14/04/2022 by Giulia Rezoagli and available in french here

Theo Ploegmakers, President of the European Equestrian Federation (EEF) since November 2018, went to the Longines International Horse Center in Deauville last Friday for the presentation of the new CSIO 3*, semi-final of the Longines EEF Series, which will be organized by GRANDPRIX Events from June 23 to 26 in Normandy. The opportunity for the Dutchman to promote this new European series of Nations Cups, born in 2020 and launched last year, to highlight the involvement of France, the first equestrian nation in the world, but also to express himself on the situation in Ukraine.

What does the Longines EEF Series, of which you are the creator, and which succeeded the former European Division 2 of the FEI Longines circuit in 2020, represent for you?

The Longines EEF Series means almost everything to me. When I became president of the European Equestrian Federation (in November 2018 after having presided over the Dutch Federation, editor's note), I had in mind that the European Division 2 of the Longines series created by the International Equestrian Federation was not a good concept and that we have to do something better for our European nations, whatever their level. From then on, my main objective was to set up a series bringing together exceptional competitions, where all the nations of our continent could compete. The Longines EEF Series remains linked to the FEI Longines circuit, since the nation that wins our final is promoted to the latter's European Division. We made this project a reality last year, but with the Covid-19 pandemic, the season was not complete. This year should be normal, which I am very happy about.

What are the development prospects for this circuit?

We have signed a ten-year contract with our partner, Longines, which allows us to consider it in the long term. In addition, we are currently working on a new CSIO 1* and 2* circuit, in parallel with the existing series, so that the countries which cannot yet compete there can strengthen their teams with the objective of participating in the years to come.

Why was it important for you that France host a stage, which will also be the semi-final of the circuit?

According to the rules of the Longines EEF Series, Europe is divided into four main regions. For each, there are two qualifying stages allowing the five best teams to qualify for the semi-finals, played here in Deauville and Budapest, before the final in Warsaw, scheduled for September 8-11. Regarding France, which remains the leading equestrian federation in the world, it seemed obvious to us that it would host a major stage. And we are delighted that it is taking place in Deauville, Normandy.


What role does the European Equestrian Federation play in Ukraine, where horses are among the collateral victims of Russia's war?

It's really terrible. It is very difficult to describe the difficulty of the situation because we do not even know exactly what is going on there. Some owners have moved their horses, and food is running out, but no one knows for how long. At the beginning, many European solidarity stakeholders sent straw and food, but a more sustainable organization must be put in place because this situation can still exist for months. We hope for a clear discussion next week (interview carried out last Friday, editor's note) and hope that a structure can be put in place to better manage logistics. This project requires a lot of money. If only for food, the cost could quickly climb to several hundred thousand euros. Several sites in Western Europe have offered to accommodate equines in safer places, but how to manage this initiative in the long term? What if hosts need their land back? Do these helping stables have to take care of everything financially or do we also have to pay them? The situation is really very complicated. Everyone is involved, including emotionally, but nothing is fully organized yet so we are studying the solutions that could be envisaged.

What does the Ukrainian horse industry need? How can the rest of the European equestrian community help him?

A week ago I received a list of their needs: straw, feed, specialist feed for older horses, eg veterinary equipment, fire extinguishers, etc. On site, the migration of the country's horses from east to west requires removable boxes, because there is no infrastructure to accommodate them. This represents a significant cost. There is a real need for material.

The FEI Sports Forum will be held on April 24 and 25 in Lausanne. There will be discussed important points concerning the regulations and conditions of participation of athletes in the Olympic and Paralympic Games. As such, do you think that the EEF will be able to obtain progress, such as the return, even partial, of the drop score, the fact of not counting the lowest score of a team in the calculation of its total points ?

No, the people who want this return of the drop score have already lost. The rest of the world has decided so (during the votes organized within the framework of the previous general assemblies of the FEI, editor's note)...

The presidency of the International Equestrian Federation will be available for vote at the next general assembly of the organization, in November in Cape Town. Will you be applying for the position?

(Laughs) Yes, I will be a candidate, but for the presidency of the EEF (which will also be up for grabs at the end of the year, editor's note), not for that of the FEI.