Holger Hetzel, 59, is one of Germany’s best show jumpers. In addition to his sporting career, he built up the Hetzel Horses company in Goch on the Lower Rhine more than 30 years ago. He trains horses and riders for top international sport. He also deals with the lucrative animals through auctions and an investment company.
Mr. Hetzel, why are celebrities like Princess Haya from Dubai or Jennifer Gates, daughter of the Microsoft founder, making a pilgrimage to the tranquil Goch on the Lower Rhine?
HOLGER HETZEL: We have customers from all over the world because we offer a great overall package: we sell first-class horses, which we train perfectly and which we can bring to professional excellence together with the rider. This is rather unusual. In this industry, many are either trainers or horse dealers or tournament riders. We leverage the synergy effects from the entire spectrum.
You have won dozens of tournaments yourself. How did you get started building a business on the side?
I won my first tournaments at the age of nine, but I wasn’t a natural. I have worked hard to do what I can. I won 38 Nations’ Cups for Germany, it’s like international football matches. I participated in the European Championships and won the silver medal at the German Championships twice. It has always been important to me to perform athletically and to be financially successful. I had to because I had no sponsors.
Did your parents support that?
They didn’t want me to get stuck with the horses. Equestrian sports did not have a good reputation at the time. They had allowed me to ride for a year after I finished high school. But the condition was that I would do something sensible afterwards.
And what did you do?
I found a professional crystal in Mönchengladbach. I not only rode there, but also did an apprenticeship as a horse host. However, that took two years. After that I studied business administration. It was reasonable, it was fun and I laid the foundations for my company.
Did you need start-up capital?
My first horse cost 8500 Deutschmarks. I had 3500 Deutschmarks in my savings account, the rest came from my parents. I sold the horse at a profit. Then the next came and so on. I kept them on my grandparents’ farm, next to cows and pigs. I then slowly converted the farm into a horse farm and expanded it.
Did you have any role models for this?
I know almost every stable in Germany, have seen many facilities all over the world and trained with the best people. I’ve looked at a lot, picked the best one, but I’m not imitating anyone. I have the ability to recognize the abilities and talents of very young horses. And I know how to train and refine these basics as best as possible. This is the lever for sporting and financial success.
It has now become a luxurious stud. Why do you regularly hold auctions there that attract hundreds of bidders?
That was created 15 years ago at an “open house”. In the beginning it was tedious, sometimes even a losing deal. But now this appointment is my highlight at the end of November – also for business. We usually sell 20 of our best horses. For a couple of years now we have been making a considerable profit on every auction.
In 2018, 950,000 euros were paid for a horse. Can you do more?
So far this has been the top price. We will surely redeem a million sometimes. We are now at an average price of 200,000 euros and are experiencing continuous growth. Many see it as a good investment. They leave the horses with us until we resell them. They achieve top returns. If 10 to 30 percent is enough, you can invest in our horse investment company instead.
Sounds pretty lucrative. And what luxury do you treat yourself to?
I enjoy my life in my beautiful yard. I don’t need big cars, a boat, or a helicopter. I can’t impress my clientele with that either. I only get respect for them through solid business. The only thing: I love Miami. I fly there for two weeks every year. I really enjoy my vacation. Sometimes, however, I also associate this with customer appointments when they’re at tournaments in Florida.
You recently started online auctions. What else are you planning?
We want to build a small luxury hotel on our farm in Goch, so that our customers are well looked after by us. Some of us train for weeks, months to a year. They are used to a certain standard that you cannot find here in the country. We are planning with 28 rooms and an investment of around 5 million euros. Construction is expected to take around six months. It is therefore not out of the question that we will be ready for the next auction in November 2020.
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