By Kathryn McMackin
Portraits by Kristie Nichols
For Christian Rogge, 2019 has been a year of new adventures. In January, Christian and his wife, grand prix rider Hailey Henderson-Rogge, welcomed their baby son, Hans, into the world.
“I’m pretty sure Hailey already has a pony for him,” Christian laughed. “Hopefully the kid likes horses.”
Science can’t quite back up a horse-loving gene, but one can guess it may be hard to keep the child of two professional horsemen out of the irons. And while he doesn’t hail from an equestrian family himself, Christian certainly understands the allure of the saddle. For 24 years, since moving to the U.S., Christian has been at the helm of Top Line Sporthorse International LLC (TSP), based out of Hidden Lane Farm in Spring, Texas. With the help of Hailey, he dabbles in riding, sales, training, showing, coaching and breeding, from short-stirrup through to FEI-level grand prix.
But even before making his home under the Texas sun, there wasn’t much that could keep Christian away from a horse.
The Wonder Pony
Ponies were hard to come by in Christian’s native Hamburg, Germany, but once or twice a year his family would venture into the German countryside where Christian and his sisters could ride Shetland ponies. It wasn’t until his family moved away from the city — when Christian was in elementary school — that Christian became a regular at his local Pony Club.
Soon he was taking lessons twice a week and spending all day at the stable on weekends. He was feeding, sweeping aisles, bathing and brushing the horses — all so he could take more lessons and ride more ponies.
“I just loved the horses and loved caring for them,” he said. “And I loved the atmosphere in the stable. I was always eager to learn more.”
Christian got his first show pony when he was 10 years old. The pony, named Page, carried the budding show jumper to numerous local and national championship tournaments, as well as the European championships.
“He was a medium pony that I rode in the jumpers,” Christian said of his 13.1-hand wonder pony. “When we went to the European Championships, we had to jump 1.35 meters — the pony was only about that size. He was a good pony, but I outgrew him within a few years.”
As Christian climbed the junior jumper ranks, he began to consider a professional career in horses.
“My dad wasn’t happy with that idea; he wanted me to have a college education,” he said. “I had to sell my junior jumper to pay for college.” Christian later used his savings to buy a young horse, and worked two or three jobs to support his pursuit of riding, as well as his pursuit of a business management degree from Hamburg’s Academy of Economic Science.
“I’m so glad my dad encouraged me to go to college,” Christian said. “It’s helped me so much over the course of my career and in running my own business.”
Welcome to America
After graduating from college, Christian continued to work with horses, supplementing his riding and training with business gigs. He first traveled to the U.S. in 1991, before making a permanent return in 1994.
“My goal was to open a farm and start a business,” he said. “I wanted to travel all over the U.S. with my horses, going to horse shows. That was my dream.” He established TSP in 1995 with his now-ex-wife and his two stepchildren.
But achieving this dream wasn’t without its challenges. Christian faced a steep learning curve when first establishing himself as a professional in America.
“There’s a huge industry here, but more than half of the competitors are showing in hunter and equitation classes,” he remarked. “There’s no competition in Germany, or any of the European countries, that’s comparable to the hunter sport in the U.S.
“The first time I went into a hunter class, I didn’t get judged because I didn’t have the correct equipment,” he added with a laugh. “I didn’t know you weren’t allowed a square saddle pad or protective boots. Eventually I noticed the judge wasn’t even looking at me — he was reading the newspaper.”
Christian quickly learned that adapting to the North American hunter sport would open a lot of business opportunities. He started at square one: refining his technique.
“I had to change my riding style, as well as the way I trained horses,” Christian said. “At that time, in the mid-90s, the classical German style was more physical, with an upright position, deeper seat and firmer aids. I began to ride with a lighter seat and not so collected. And I learned to look for horses that would suit this way of riding.”
Armed with his business acumen, Christian realized it was less risky for his budding business to diversify. With his home base located outside of Houston, Texas, TSP lived through the Enron scandal, stock market crashes and oil crises — the kind of economic problems where people wouldn’t buy high-dollar horses, Christian explained. Today, TSP offers a complete program that includes sales, training, lessons, competition and breeding.
It was Christian’s keen business sense, mixed with his horsemanship skills, that initially caught the attention of his wife, Hailey. They married in 2016.
“As a professional, Christian is totally unique,” Hailey said. “It’s something that I still respect him for and find intriguing. It’s beyond training and riding style; it’s his personality. He’s super tough, but he’s super fair. He has high expectations of people and wants them to live up to those expectations for themselves. And when they do, he’s so supportive.”
With a hand securely in several aspects of the hunter-jumper scene, Christian is most excited to delve deeper into international show jumping. Prior to her pregnancy, Hailey was a regular competitor in FEI classes, as was his good friend and colleague, Andy Kocher.
“I enjoy traveling to those events,” Christian said. “I love the atmosphere in the stabling area and the warm-up area. I love the professionalism of the riders and, of course, I admire all the horses that are competing. These are the creme de la creme of our sport.”
Andy took over the reins of the TSP-owned Kahlua in 2017 at the request of Christian, who had been competing the mare at the national level. Andy was in the irons for the mare’s FEI debut in September 2017, and rode her to many impressive performances internationally, including a five-fault finish in the challenging CSI5* ATCO Queen Elizabeth II Cup during the Spruce Meadows North American tournament in July 2018. The duo represented the U.S. at the 2018 FEI Longines Jumping Nations Cup Final in Barcelona. Kahlua was sold to Jan Tops in early November 2018.
“Kahlua is likely my greatest professional accomplishment,” Christian commented. “Within three months of owning Kahlua, she was already placing second and third in national grand prix. Unfortunately, I had to go back to Germany because my father was terminally ill and I didn’t have time to ride. I gave Kahlua to Andy to continue her development. I thought I would take her back. But Andy wasn’t giving that horse back to me.
“At that point, I just wanted to see how far the journey would take us. And she took us all the way to Barcelona for the Nations Cup Final.”
A Different Journey
Despite the sale, the journey with Kahlua has Christian setting his sights on more forays in the international show jumping scene. But with a newborn along for the ride, Christian isn’t certain of how his professional future will take shape.
“My goal is to achieve as much as I did last year, but with less effort,” he said.
With the arrival of Hans, the proud father is hoping to not work quite as much. “I’ll take some time to spend with my family,” Christian said. “Hopefully our son will love horses and we can introduce him to riding without putting any pressure on him. Luckily we have lots of friends from the industry who have gone through similar experiences and can help us.”
When he’s not in the stables or in the office, Christian surrounds himself with another sport: soccer. An avid fan, he subscribes to every soccer channel imaginable and indulges in it daily, preferring it to American football and baseball, although he admits he enjoys a Houston Rockets game from time to time.
But as with most entrepreneurs and professionals, Christian dedicates the majority of his time to his craft. And according to him, it’s been well worth the investment.
“I’m so proud I’ve been able to make a name for myself here in Texas over the last 20 years,” he said.
For more information, visit www.christianrogge.com
Photos by Kristie Nichols, moonfyrephotography.com