Kevin Kohmann had a Really Big Week to kick off his December: He started it by getting married to his longtime girlfriend and business partner, and ended it by winning his first CDI Grand Prix freestyle.
Kohmann and Diamante Farms’ Dünensee won the Grand Prix (70.89%) class Dec. 7 at the World Equestrian Center December Dressage CDI-W (Florida), then topped the Grand Prix freestyle (77.72%) Dec. 8—a personal best score that lifted them to their first international Grand Prix freestyle win. And just a few days earlier, he married his longtime partner, fellow Grand Prix rider Devon Kane.
“This was one of the best weeks of my life,” he said. “I got married, had an amazing party [at the farm] with all my friends, then I won both Grand Prix [classes] at the show. That was quite amazing.”
All the more impressive? He did it aboard a horse he’s known since age 4, but who he only started riding seriously earlier this year, after the horse languished on the sales market in the U.S. and Europe for nearly a decade.
Kohmann’s winning freestyle music was composed at the last minute by Nicole Pendzich in Germany and featured one of Kohmann’s favorite artists, the late DJ Avicii.
“The horse really likes it, and it just flows so nice,” he said. “He was so easy to ride the freestyle. He probably felt that I liked the music. It worked out better than expected. I started riding him in February, and we just built this relationship. It just happened so fast. I walk into the barn, he sees me, and he’s excited, and vice versa. I see him, and I’m happy. I think the horse feels that and just doesn’t ever let me hang. He’s on my side.”
Watch their winning freestyle, courtesy of USEF Network and ClipMyHorse.TV:
While Kohmann’s partnership with the 14-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Dancier—Doublette, Davignon I) in the ring is new this year, he’s known “Denzel” since he was 4.
Kohmann, who is German but started riding for the U.S. three years ago, has worked for the Kane family’s Diamante Farms in Wellington, Florida, for 12 years and started training Denzel when he was 5 to help sell him after it was determined the 18-plus hand gelding would be too big for Kane.
Kohmann, 35, didn’t have any luck selling Denzel, so he was sent to the barn of German Olympic gold medalist Hubertus Schmidt to try to sell. He stayed in Germany until he was trained to Grand Prix, and one of Schmidt’s riders, Ivan Nieto Sanchez, competed him in his first CDI Grand Prix in 2021, but they had no luck selling him either.
Denzel returned to the U.S. in 2022, and German rider Christoph Koschel competed him on the Adequan Global Dressage Festival circuit in Florida as well as in Europe, while also advertising him for sale.
Despite improving Denzel’s Grand Prix scores by a few points, Koschel also couldn’t find a suitable buyer.
After the gelding had been for sale for nearly a decade, Koschel convinced Kohmann that perhaps he might be the best match for Denzel.
“He’s not the easiest horse to ride, and if you don’t have a relationship with the horse—let’s just say if I were to come try this horse, I would also not want to buy him,” Kohmann said. “Now I really enjoy riding this horse. It’s one of those horses—you have to ride him more than three or four times, and then you realize how good he is. He’s tall and strong. When you pull, he goes faster. You have to let go. You take the curb rein, he curls. He’s a little tricky in that sense. You need to have a good feeling for that.”
Kohmann wasn’t quite sure in the beginning, but they had a trial by fire and went straight to the competition ring a few weeks after he started riding him and did well at a CDI3* in Wellington in March.
“In the beginning I couldn’t ride a line of flying changes to save my life,” he said with a laugh. “Then they told me, ‘Kevin, you’re showing the horse next week,’ and I said, ‘There’s no way I’m showing this horse.’ They said, ‘Oh, he’ll be better at the show Kevin, don’t worry.’ Yep, they were right. I went to the show, and I had my first real line of clean tempi changes in the show ring.
“That’s when I decided, I think we can become friends,” he continued. “You helped me out big time in the arena, thank you so much. When I said thank you to him, he just became my friend.”
The goal quickly became the Pan American Games (Chile) team this October, so Kohmann and Denzel went to Europe to compete on the U.S. Nations Cup team in Rotterdam (the Netherlands).
They were named alternates for Santiago, and while Kohmann was disappointed not to be going to Chile, he looks back on his summer as a learning experience.
“The experience of going through the whole thing was totally worth it,” he said. “All the people on the team are very nice people. I made some friends. We’re all more or less the same age, and we’re all going to stick around for a long time, so it was a great experience in so many ways.”
One of those was that it allowed Kohmann more one-on-one time with Denzel.
“This big horse is just the absolute sweetest,” he said. “He has such a nice character. You come in the barn; he yells for you. At this point he’s collecting fluffy animals in the stall. I just bought him a 4’ tall penguin at the last horse show.
“The trip to Europe with him was just me and him for two months alone,” he added. “I haven’t had time with a horse alone for that long in the last 20 years of my life. That was such a partnership-building situation. He’s just the nicest horse to take care of. He’s just so easy. Everybody loves him.”
A Strong Start
Kohmann’s journey to the top of the sport started in Germany where he grew up around horses. His mother, Irena Kohmann, bred horses, and Kevin started on a pony. He was North Germany pony champion at 14 and left school early to start working towards becoming a Bereiter, a certification in professional riding, teaching and horsemanship in Germany.
To become a Bereiter, riders must work under a Reitmeister, or riding master, for two years before they can take their test. Kevin trained under Dieter Bruhn and became the youngest professional in German history to earn his Bereiter when he was 18, he said.
Kevin had always wanted to see the United States and said he was “always the German who was freezing,” so he found a job with Cesar Parra in New Jersey, then he moved on to Oded Shimoni in Wellington. While there, he decided to go back to Germany for his masters test, or Pferdewirtschaftsmeister, in the Bereiter program, which requires two six-week courses in riding (including jumping), teaching, psychology and horsemanship.
Kevin had to know everything from barn management, like how big stalls should be and how to design and build a barn, to bookkeeping and business management.
At times, he questioned why he was putting himself through the rigorous program when it wasn’t recognized in the U.S.
“I moved back over here, and nobody even knows what that is and what it means. You’re like, ‘wow, why did I do that?’ ” he said. “Then you realize later in life that it’s because I learned so much stuff I use all the time, and people just don’t know it over here. It’s amazing. The most simple stuff that professional horse people over here have no knowledge about. It was totally worth doing it. I’m very happy I did that in the end.”
Kevin started his own business out of Diamante Farms soon after returning the U.S. He and Kane started their relationship eight years ago. Kevin started competing for the U.S. after becoming a citizen three years ago.
“I’m very proud to be an American,” he said.
With World Cup points under his belt now from both WEC-Ocala and the TerraNova CDI-W (Florida) in October, where he and Denzel won the Grand Prix and were second in the freestyle, Kohmann has his eye on the World Cup Final in Saudi Arabia in April.
If they don’t get enough points for the World Cup, Kohmann has a few other goals on his list, including entering a CDI5*, which he’s never done, or to trying to qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics.
He’s also keeping busy with a few other horses in the barn, including Equitas LLC’s 13-year-old Dutch Warmblood stallion Five Star, who has been competing on the small tour and is ready for Grand Prix.
“I have a lot of good horses this year,” he said. “I’m really happy I get to show pretty much only Grand Prix, which is awesome. It took a long time to get there.”