Eva-Maria “Evi” Pracht Inspires Top Dressage

Written by Betsy LaBelle - In Dressage - Saturday, October 25, 2014

Eva-Maria Pracht and Emirage Photo: Evi Pracht

The daughter of Dr. Josef Neckermann, Eva-Maria “Evi” (pronounced “EV-ee”) Pracht started riding as a young girl living and training horses on her families’ stable in Germany. Evi spent many years climbing to reach the international stage in Grand Prix through the German National Dressage Ranking System. In 1981, she moved to Canada with her husband and children to begin a whole new successful chapter and she qualified for the Canadian Equestrian Team for many more International competitions. Sharing her knowledge, Evi continues to help make Canadian Dressage a powerhouse through her presence at all the competitions during the Florida winter dressage season.

As a child with two brothers who preferred jumping over dressage, Pracht followed her siblings until a stallion from the race track showed up at their stable for training. Falling in love with the thoroughbred named Fasching, she knew dressage was her future, especially when the horse could not properly jump, or even trot over a pole on the ground. Her father was extremely pleased she had made the decision to cross over from jumping to dressage.

A test rider at the 1972 Olympics as well as on the Olympic Quadrille Team, she worked hard to be high on the German National Team Rider List. The Olympic planning committee chose only the top six men and the top six women from the German National Team for the Quadrille at the Olympics. She ended up with two horses in the Quadrille, as she lent one of her horses to Gabriella Grillo, because Grillo’s horse wasn’t right on the day of the games. 

“Showing in Germany was not easy, especially with a father like mine,” she said. “He was winning everything at each competition." Her father, Josef Neckerman won six Olympic medals at four different Olympic Games from 1960, 1964, 1968 and 1972. “My father was one of the best. If I beat him in a Grand Prix, a Grand Prix Freestyle (Kur), or on a German “S” Class [equivalent to the Canadian and USEF 4th Level] all the German riders would cheer. They knew how hard I had to work for this to happen.”

“It’s hard coming from such a family when you have to earn your place on any team. There were so many good riders," she said. Josef Neckerman placed second and Evi Pracht placed third at Aachen in 1969 Photo: Evi Pracht Collection

"For example at the 1972 Olympics for the Quadrille, where they picked only the top best six from the men and the top best six from the women, but we all knew there were 12 more just waiting for our spots.”

Pracht continued in competition, claiming the German National Championship, after winning all together six medals including Gold, Silver and Bronze between 1967 and until leaving for Canada in 1981. During that time, she competed almost every year in Aachen, Germany. “One year at Aachen the final results in Grand Prix came to be Lisellot Linsenhoff – first place, Josef Neckermann – second place, and I received third place. It was magical.”

She married, had two children and lived 100 kilometers north of Frankfurt (approx. 62 miles), where her husband ran a shipping company. He went on to build a worldwide company that allowed them to travel to Canada for the next phase of their lives.

In 1981, they moved just north of Toronto in Canada (Cedar Valley) to develop dressage in a newly built facility where they had roughly 30-40 horses. Pracht helped many riders by putting them on her Grand Prix horses, and it was here that they founded the Tournament of Champions, an International Competition.

“It was extra special in Ontario,” she remembered.  “The competition had both dressage and show jumping, the same as in Germany. The VIP tent lay in the middle of the two disciplines. On one side people could watch the dressage and on the other, jumping. Everybody loved it.”

Proud of the legacy she built with that competition, Pracht explained, “We made sure that we asked all the winners in jumping and dressage to come into the VIP area to talk to the sponsors, as a great thank you for their big outstanding support.”

“In 1986, my husband, Hans Pracht, brought the World Championships for Dressage to Canada – the first time an event of this magnitude was held outside of Europe. It took place at our facility in Cedar Valley, 40 minutes north of Toronto.  And it wasn’t until 2010 in Kentucky (World Equestrian Games) came back to North America. This event in 1986 inspired many Canadian’s to learn dressage and begin their international careers.”

Gina Smith, Cindy Ishoy, Ashley Holzer and Eva-Maria Pracht winning the Bronze Team Medal for Canada at the Seoul Olympics in 1988 Photo: Evi Pracht Collection

Pracht started making the trip to Wellington, Florida, in 1988 to plan out a good strategy and compete. “I needed to train my horses to prepare for the Seoul Olympics,” she said. “Canada is quite cold in the winter, so Florida really helped us. Ever since then, my daughter and I have made the trip.”

Always enjoying the more challenging horses, Pracht said, “My biggest strength was that I was fearless on a horse. If a horse spooked, I was fine. I always picked some difficult horses because in the long run they were fighting for me in the show ring.” Her daughter, Martina Pracht, was never a fan of the super-hot horses, so those horses were always Evi’s projects.

Evi’s grand-daughter, Sabrina von Buttlar, 13, continues to compete horses during the winter in Wellington, where Sabrina has chosen the hunter jumper discipline and not dressage. She is the fourth generation from Evi’s family to compete in the equestrian discipline. 

Throughout the years, Pracht had the help of some amazing coaches and mentors, including Josef Neckermann, Willi Schultheis, Walter Christensen, Hienz Lammers, Walter (Bubi) Günther and Harry Boldt.

But, she credits her husband with being her biggest fan and always a big help to her. “He was the biggest help to me,” she said. “My father always said it was never good enough. He was such a perfectionist, but my husband always helped me to achieve great confidence.”

Look for Evi Pracht in Florida this winter in Wellington at all the big competitions helping and cheering the Canadian riders.  

Eva-Maria Pracht and Emirage won the Bronze Team Medal at the Seoul Olympics in 1988 Photo: Evi Pracht Collection

Eva-Maria Pracht riding Emirage winning the Bronze Team Medal at the Seoul Olympics in 1988 Photo: Evi Pract Collection

Eva-Maria Pracht riding Emirage winning the Bronze Team Medal at the Seoul Olympics in 1988 Photo: Evi Pract Collection

Eva-Maria Pracht jumping Kura to prepare for the German National Championships in Jumping Photo: Evi Pracht Collection