An interview with Scott Brash, who has the chance to be the first equestrian athlete in history to win the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping.
Question: Your victory in the Rolex Grand Prix at the CHI Geneva means that your personal Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping has begun. What do you think about the initiative?
Scott Brash: This initiative by Rolex is incredible for our sport. We are athletes – we need goals. The Rolex Grand Slam gives us a clear goal and we give our very best for the bonus. We, the athletes, have top conditions, which means in turn the spectators can of course experience top sport, because naturally every rider wants to win these three shows. Rolex has been an excellent partner in the field of show jumping for many years. It is fantastic to experience how this commitment and with it also the sport further develop – we are all extremely grateful for this.
Question: Nobody has been able to win the Rolex Grand Slam yet. You may able to write history…
Scott Brash: Yes, that's right, but it is going to be very, very difficult. Winning one of these shows is hard enough, but to win all three… I think Eric Lamaze succeeded in doing so once, but not in succesion. And Eric Lamaze had an incredible horse…
Question: You also have an incredible horse, "Hello Sanctos".
Scott Brash: That's true. He is the horse of my life, I enjoy every second with him. But, I am also lucky enough to have other top horses too.
Question: Do you already know which horse you will ride at the next Major Show, the World Equestrian Festival in Aachen on the last weekend in May?
Scott Brash: I'll have to wait and see. "Hello Sanctos" usually feels at home in any ring anywhere in the world – but I had the feeling that he didn't feel totally comfortable in Aachen. Which is why I could imagine opting to ride "Ursula" in Aachen.
Question: What are your plans for 2015?
Scott Brash: Of course, the focus clearly lies on Aachen: The Rolex Grand Prix in May and the FEI European Championships in August.
See the video on facebook.com/rolexgrandslam
Scott Brash's personal Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping has begun. The British show-jumper rode Hello Sanctos to victory in the Rolex Grand Prix on Sunday afternoon at the third Major Show of the year, the CHI Geneva. The current number one in the world ranking list triumphed over twelve of the best riders in the world in the jump-off. He will now take on the ultimate challenge on the international equestrian sport circuit: The Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping.
8,500 spectators euphorically celebrated Brash in the sold-out "Palexpo", the impressive arena near Lake Geneva. In a top-class jump-off, he crossed the finish line clear in the fastest time, narrowly beating Roger-Yves Bost (France) and Rolf-Göran Bengtsson (Sweden).
"It is fantastic now also being a part of the Rolex Grand Slam. I am extremely looking forward to the next leg in Aachen," commented Brash. He is particularly grateful to Rolex: "It is unbelievable what Rolex has been doing for our sport for such a long time." At the World Equestrian Festival on the last weekend in May, Scott Brash will attempt to become the first rider in history to win two Major Shows in succession – and be the first rider to claim a bonus in the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping.
After riding to victory in the Rolex Grand Prix at the CHIO Aachen in the summer, Christian Ahlmann from Germany also did his very best to win the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping. After picking up four faults in the first round of the "CP International presented by Rolex" at the Major Show in Canada, the Spruce Meadows "Masters" exactly three months ago today, he jumped clear in the first round in Geneva and thus qualified for the jump-off. However, after knocking the penultimate obstacle, he ultimately finished eleventh in the competition.
The Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping has been the beginning of a new era in the field of equestrian sport. The quest to win the most difficult-to-obtain trophies in the world of equestrian sport unites the top riders from all over the globe.
The Major tournaments Aachen, Spruce Meadows and Geneva – all prestigious names on the international equestrian sport circuit, which are now connected by a spectacular bonus system: Turning the Rolex Grand Slam into a truly infinite story, into one of the most exciting concepts in the history of international sport.
The best show-jumpers in the world have qualified for the Rolex Grand Prix on Sunday at the Major Show CHI Geneva. There is going to be an exciting showdown in the Palexpo, this magnificent arena, which is the biggest indoor hall in the world. Moreover, the decision will fall as to whether Christian Ahlmann manages to go down in sport history as the first show-jumper ever to win a bonus in the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping. He immediately succeeded in qualifying for the Grand Prix on Thursday already: "That took a lot of the pressure off already and now I can really focus my attention on the Rolex Grand Prix on Sunday." He will be competing against the best and most successful show-jumpers in the world, because the best of the best have already qualified themselves for the competition. Including Pieter Devos, who is also a familiar face in the running for the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping. After taking the victory at the Major Show Spruce Meadows "Masters" last year, the Belgian rider already had the chance to be successful in the Rolex Grand Slam. He succeeded in reaching the jump-off in the Rolex Grand Prix of Geneva within the set twelve months, but ultimately didn't quite manage to win. As last year's winner, Steve Guerdat from Switzerland will also do his best to win his home game. In addition to the current number one in the world rankings and new champion in the Rolex Top Ten Finals, Scott Brash from Great Britain, the top French stars Kevin Staut and Penelope Leprevost will also be striving to claim the victory in the Major competition tomorrow, together with Ludger Beerbaum, Daniel Deußer, Marcus Ehning and Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum from Germany.
The Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping
This alliance between the three Major Shows in Aachen, Geneva and the Spruce Meadows in Canada is the most prestigious and the most difficult trophy to win on the international equestrian sport circuit. The rider, who manages to claim the victory at all three shows in succession, wins the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping – as well as one million Euros in prize-money. It is no longer possible for Christian Ahlmann to do that, because although he came first in Aachen, he didn't win in Canada. Nevertheless, if he rides to victory in Geneva, he will be the first rider in history to claim a bonus. Because the rider, who wins two out of three shows – albeit not in succession – receives a bonus of a quarter of a million Euros in addition to the prize-money.
Christian Ahlmann put in a strong first appearance. The German show-jumper succeeded in qualifying for the Rolex Grand Prix on Sunday straight away at the CHI Geneva. After jumping clear, he finished in eighth place with "Codex One" in the "Credit Suisse Grand Prix". In the summer, he also competed in the Rolex Grand Prix at the CHIO Aachen with his top horse – where his personal "Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping" began. This alliance between the shows in Aachen, Geneva and the Spruce Meadows in Canada is the most prestigious and the most difficult trophy to win on the international equestrian sport circuit. The rider, who manages to claim the victory at all three shows in succession, wins the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping – as well as one million Euros in prize-money. It is no longer possible for Christian Ahlmann to do that, because although he came first in Aachen, he didn't win in Canada. Nevertheless, if he rides to victory in Geneva, he will be the first rider in history to claim a bonus. Because the rider, who wins two out of three shows – albeit not in succession – receives a bonus of a quarter of a million Euros in addition to the prize-money. Which doesn't exactly ease the pressure on the rider: "The Rolex Grand Slam is the icing on the cake," said Christian Ahlmann. Of course, the pressure is high, but "I am very satisfied with our first performance. Codex is in good shape and I have a very good feeling about the Rolex Grand Prix on Sunday."
The CHI Geneva starts today. In the concluding Rolex Grand Prix on Sunday, the decision will fall as to whether Christian Ahlmann succeeds in becoming the first rider in history to win a bonus in the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping. However, prior to this we will be taking a look back at the beginnings of the show and its long tradition.
They were courageous and had a great idea. 90 years ago, a delegation from the Geneva-based "L'Etrier" club visited an equestrian show in France – they returned home with the idea of organising an indoor show in Geneva too. On November 10th, 1926, two years later, on a Wednesday, the bold intention had become reality. The first show was organised at the "Palais des Expositions" parallel to the international automobile exhibition – the CHI Geneva was born. One could hardly suspect at the time that it was going to develop into one of the biggest success stories in the history of the international equestrian sport. The economic situation was poor; it was difficult to impress the people with a big international event. And yet the enthusiasm of the first organisers helped overcome the difficulties and turn the first event into one of the most traditional and most prestigious shows worldwide. 85 riders with 158 horses competed, Sandro Bettoni won the first Grand Prix with Scoiattolo. Between five and eight thousand visitors watched the individual competitions, the people stayed until late in the evening, the show was accepted. In the meantime, 40,000 people make their way into the arena on the days of the show – a fantastic success and a thoroughly solid basis for the famous and traditional history that followed that premiere event. The CHI has shown constant development, after an intermezzo in the Vernets Sports Centre, the event relocated to the huge Palexpo Arena at the beginning of the 1990s – which has remained the venue of the world's most famous indoor show ever since.
The "Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping" is returning to the foot of the Alps. As traditionally scheduled during the pre-Christmas period, the CHI Geneva is the third and last Major Show of the year. The most famous show-jumpers in the world meet up here at Palexpo, the legendary arena of huge dimensions, to see who will be crowned as the best of the best.
It was one of those magic moments that only happens in the world of sport, when the Swiss Olympic gold medallist Steve Guerdat won the "Rolex Grand Prix". He withstood the immense pressure here, in this tremendous arena in front of this unique, euphoric audience, his audience, and rode to victory with "Nino de Buissonnets". Wildly acclaimed by 8,500 fans in the sold-out arena.
The mission "Defending the Title" is going to be more difficult than ever this year, since the world elite is travelling to the famous Geneva Lake in an attempt to replace Guerdat as the titleholder. The World Champions from the Netherlands, both the Individual Champion Jeroen Dubbeldam and his equally successful team members, comprising of Jur Vrieling, Maikel van der Vleuten and Gerco Schröder, will be competing in Geneva. The "Oranjes" won the World Championships ahead of the team from France that comprised of the Vice World Champions Patrice Delaveau, Pénélope Leprevost, Kevin Staut, Simon Delestre and their reserve rider, Jérôme Hurel. The extremely strong French delegation will also be supported by the European Champion, Roger Yves Bost. Currently number one in the world rankings, Scott Brash from Great Britain, has also confirmed his participation, as well as the World Cup winner and "Rolex IJRC Top 10 Final" Champion, Daniel Deußer from Germany.
Steve Guerdat's victory last year marked the start of his personal "Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping". However, he made mistakes at the following CHIO Aachen and Spruce Meadows "Masters" Major Shows, which meant the dream of becoming the first rider to win the "Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping" was over. The same applies for Christian Ahlmann - he namely picked up four faults in the first round of the "CP International presented by Rolex" in Spruce Meadows. Nevertheless, when he travels to Geneva, Ahlmann still has the chance to pick up a bonus of a quarter of a million Euros – in addition to the prize money. Canada's Ian Millar won't be able to pursue his personal Rolex Grand Slam. After winning the "CP International presented by Rolex" in Spruce Meadows, Canada, his horse "Dixon" is currently in training to qualify for the Canadian Olympics – and Millar hasn't got another top horse at his stables, so he is reluctantly not going to be able to compete in Geneva.
Incidentally, the chances of a Swiss victory at the Palexpo are very good: Each of the last three Major Shows was won by a local hero - Steve Guerdat (CH) in Geneva, Christian Ahlmann (GER) in Aachen and Ian Millar (CAN) at Spruce Meadows. Whoever writes the next chapter in the traditional history of the CHI Geneva, which has been staged since 1926, whoever wins the "Rolex Grand Prix" at the CHI 2014 – will also go down in history as the next rider, who has the opportunity to win the "Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping", this ultimate equestrian sport challenge.
Prestigious riders and horses’ names are recorded on the prize list of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping, created almost two years ago. The prize-winner of the Grand Prix of the Grand Slam in the CHI Geneva last year with Nino des Buissonnets, the Olympic champion Steve Guerdat, tells us about the competitors who won the classes of the Rolex Grand Slam until now.
"Nick Skelton is a rider who has won his fair share of classes and he deserves a huge respect. He has crossed generations; he always won and has succeeded in adapting himself to various types of horses all through his career. He proved it in Aachen by winning the Grand Prix of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping with Big Star, a real phenomenon. He’s able to do everything and he demonstrated that people can still count on him. He already won on numerous occasions the Grand Prix over thirty years ago (in 1982, 1987, and 1988). That’s simply incredible! Nick is the perfect winner for the first event of the history of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping."
"Pieter Devos is maybe not the most famous rider for the public. But as riders, we have known him for a long time. He’s a real fighter and he has succeeded many times before his victory in Calgary. We could not really imagine him listed in the top 10 in the final ranking of this Grand Prix. But, when we think about it in hindsight, it isn’t such a surprise when we know everything he achieved before succeeding in the arena of Spruce Meadows. Candy does not have what we could consider as a “crack” style, but we only need to look back on her results to know that she’s definitely a crack. She feels at ease in the biggest classes in the world and so it’s not so surprising that the competition in Calgary suited her."
"Christian Ahlmann is someone that I really appreciate as a rider but also as a person. He’s a really good guy. He’s very kind and open-minded. He’s an exceptionally gifted rider, who has won so many classes and it’s fabulous that he won the Grand Prix in Aachen this year. It is an amply deserved victory, a great present for him. Christian has had a lot of Cracks in his career, but he’s missing a real phenomenon like Shutterfly, Hickstead or Nino. A few riders would not have has such a success with the horses he has had. Codex One is a great horse, complicated, with a lot of ability."
"Ian Millar is incredible. At the World Equestrian Games in Normandy already, he made an amazing run. What is surprising is that in comparison to other riders, who get older, Ian does not change at all with the years that pass by and he’s still winning classes. He is an example, an incredible competitor and a great sports lesson, but also a human one. I would like to say that Ian Millar is a rider who refreshes our sport, in spite of his age. I confess, I do not know his horse very well, because Ian does not come very often in Europe, but he has a lot of excellent results. It only takes a look at his recent performances at the World Equestrian Games and in Calgary to be conscious of the reality."
"This success will stay etched in my memory for the rest of my life. The CHI Geneva represents so much for me and to win the Grand Prix with Nino is extraordinary. Such a victory is exceptional and it is even more than that because it is a rare thing in a career. This victory is the success that has the biggest value for me after my Olympic victory. It is now two years that the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping exists and we can say that only exceptional couples achieve his name. It proves that the Grand Slam has a big value and that it is important. I always liked classics and history of our sport. I can only be motivated by this concept which brings a new dimension to Show Jumping. My season is based on these three events, they are my priority. To be able to participate at such important events and to be able to win one of them is a childhood dream. I do my best during the season to arrive in the best condition at the different events of the Grand Slam, no matter which classes there are before or after; the Rolex Grand Slam is the most important."
The Concours Hippique International de Genève (CHI Geneva) is offering an exciting show with high-end classes, outstanding competitors, and for the very first time, an Indoor cross country course to the public at Palexpo from December 11th to December 14th. Equestrian sports will never have been under such a strong spotlight in Geneva!
The very best riders will be reunited on the worldʼs biggest arena over four days, from 11th to 14th December, to compete in high-class competitions. And all the world champions have answered favourably to the invitation; the Swiss Steve Guerdat, Olympic champion, the recent team World champions, the Dutch riders Gerco Schröder, Maïkel van der Vleuten and Jur Vrieling, the European champion, the Frenchman Roger-Yves Bost, the individual World vice-champion 2014 Patrice Delaveau, as well as the current number one, Scott Brash and Daniel Deusser, winner of the World Cup and the IJRC Top 10 Rolex Final. The same final that will again be taking place in Geneva on Friday evening. The ten best riders on the planet will compete a two-phase class. Germany with Daniel Deusser, Ludger Beerbaum and Marcus Ehning, as well as France with Patrice Delaveau, Kevin Staut and Pénélope Leprévost, will be the nations the best represented. The American, Kent Farrignton who is very comfortable in Geneva, as well as Steve Guerdat, Scott Brash and Maïkel van der Vleuten will try and play mediator.
The Grand Slam as main target
The Rolex Grand Prix, taking place on Sunday afternoon, will of course be the highlight of
this yearly equestrian rendezvous in Geneva. Being part of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping with Aachen and Calgary, Geneva and its Rolex Grand Prix have grown to a new dimension. The German rider, Christian Ahlmann, winner in Aachen last July, has well understood this. Victory in Geneva will allow him to pocket CHF 300ʼ000, awarded to the winner of the Grand Prix, as well as the substantial amount of EUROS 250ʼ000, which he could touch as the bonus for winning two sequential Grand Prixʼs.
Tailor made shows
Last but not least, various shows will punctuate the sportier side of the programme in Geneva. To ensure the spectacle, the Basel Top Secret Drums Corps, with their 20 crazy drums will provide a stunning show. In a more equestrian register, twelve riders from the Maison du Roy, dressed in Louis XV period costumes will ride accompanied by ten hunting horns. Six traditional carriages, drawn by horses from the Swiss National Stud Farm and two riders from Garde Républicaine française will also feature in the show.
After riding to victory in the Rolex Grand Prix at the CHIO Aachen 2014, Christian Ahlmann has the chance to be the first show-jumper in history to win a bonus in the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping.
4 months ago, you won the Rolex Grand Prix in Aachen…
Every rider in the world wants to compete in Aachen. It is something very special, particularly for the German riders. It is the best show in the world! I have been riding there for many, many years and I came close a few times. But winning there was the best thing ever!
The next Major Show was the Spruce Meadows "Masters" – where you had the chance to write history if you would have won. Were you very disappointed, when it didn't work out?
It wasn't so bad. Codex jumped well in Calgary, he was fit. But, unfortunately, we picked up four faults, which meant we didn't manage to pull off the sensation. Nevertheless, I wanted to give it my best shot.
How do you rate your chances in Geneva?
Of course, that depends very much on whether Codex is in good form. I hope we have taken the right path and that we have trained enough so that we are fit, but not too much so that we are tired.
What is special about Geneva?
The size! It is comparable with an outdoor show. The atmosphere is always fantastic, it is nearly always completely sold-out. Furthermore, the focus is very much on the jumping sport: Geneva offers many classic competitions with high prize money. It is one of the best indoor events in the world.
Measuring 5,200 square metres, the Palexpo is the biggest indoor arena in the world. What is it like riding in an indoor arena like Geneva?
The ring is bigger than at some outdoor shows, so it is very nice riding there. You have a much better rhythm than in a small ring. There are specialists, who regularly ride well there, better than anywhere else. Horses that feel at home there, always perform 20 percent better. For example, it was obvious as soon as Codex entered the main stadium in Aachen that he felt at home.
You could go down in history as the first show-jumper to claim a bonus in the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping. How important is this goal for you?
If it doesn't work, the world won't come to an end for me. But, of course, it is important to win prize money: One has expenses, one has to give money back to the owners. The chance of winning 250,000 Euros in Geneva is a great bonus and I will naturally do my bests to win.
What significance does the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping have for the equestrian sport in general?
It is great that it exists. The Rolex Grand Slam unites the best shows in the world at the moment. Next to the respective Championships, it is the biggest sporting achievement one can attain.
What is your personal assessment after the first year of the Rolex Grand Slam?
Very good. I was able to win the Rolex Grand Prix in Aachen and now have the opportunity to pick up a bonus. A rider doesn't have the chance to win what the Rolex Grand Slam offers anywhere else. I am realistic: It is only a small chance, all of the good riders will be competing with their horses in Geneva and everyone wants to win! Nevertheless, I will certainly do my best.
What shape is Codex One in at the moment?
He is in very good shape! First of all, he had a break after Calgary, then he competed in Doha and now Geneva. He feels great at the moment.
How are you preparing for Geneva?
I don't implement any specific training methods. How we train depends on what has happened beforehand. His fitness has to be right at the first show, then we reassess the situation from show to show. If we notice problems with a certain jump, we practice that type of jump more intensely. But it is always important that the horses have time to recover properly between the shows.
If you had to name the biggest goal in your career, what would it be?
(Smiling) Definitely individual Olympic gold.
What are your strengths?
I would say that I am very flexible and that I can adapt to a new situation very quickly. But other people should perhaps be the judge of that!
And your weaknesses?
I admire people, who are very hard on themselves – I am not like that. But I do strive to realise my goals!
Is the CHI Geneva your last show this year?
I am competing in Mechelen between Christmas and New Year. It is a great show, but I participate there more for personal reasons: It is my partner's favourite show, she comes from Belgium.
In the meantime, you are the father of a small son. How easy is it to unite family life with the professional sport?
One can't compare our family life to normal family life. But we do try to make sure that we don't lose sight of each other. And it works very well, but one still has less time for each other compared to other people. But my partner and I knew that before: We both compete. One's partner has to be very familiar with the profession – otherwise it wouldn't work out over a longer period of time.
It is Christmas soon. How will you be spending the festive days?
With the whole family – and in the meantime we are quite a large group! First of all, we eat together, then we exchange presents – quite classic. We are not often all together, so it is always very nice. Since the staff are always off over Christmas, we then have to tend to the stables ourselves! So, we don't have much time off... (he says, laughing).
Just a month to go until the Concours Hippique International de Genève (CHI) kicks off and the participation is looking top notch with all the current champions responding present: Olympic champions, individual and team World champions, the European champion as well as the previous winner of the Rolex IJRC Top 10 Final and the actual leader of the World ranking. Geneva is an essential date in the agenda at this year’s end.
The public in Geneva will be spoilt rotten from December 11th through December 14th 2014! All the title holders have planned to attend. With the Olympic champion, Steve Guerdat, also a participant in the 14th edition of the Rolex IJRC Top 10 Final. Facing him, a strong Dutch delegation comprised of the World Champion 2014, Jeroen Dubbeldam, surrounded by his three World champion compatriots, Jur Vrieling, Maikel van der Vleuten and Gerco Schröder, all silver medallists at the Olympic Games in London.
Patrice Delaveau Patrice Delaveau France, vice World champion in Normandy last August, will also be present in Geneva with the identical team comprised of Patrice Delaveau, also the individual world vice-champion, Pénélope Leprevost, Kevin Staut, Simon Delestre and their reservist, Jérôme Hurel. The tri-coloured delegation will be reinforced with the presence of Roger-Yves Bost, European champion and recent winner of the World Cup Grand Prix in Lyon.
To top off this exceptional tableau, the German rider, Daniel Deusser, winner of last year’s Rolex IJRC Top 10 Final as well as the World Cup champion in 2014, and the British, n°1 in the world, Scott Brash will ride the Palexpo arena, an arena that shines the brightest stars in the world.
From the 11th to 14th of December, the best riders and drivers in the world will again competing in the CHI in Palexpo on the biggest indoor arena in the world.
In all, 21 classes are on the program and there will be something for everyone. The Grand Prix of Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping will be the highlight on Sunday, 14th of December, at 2.15 pm. Other prestigious classes are planned for the public and the competitors: 14th finale of the Top 10 Rolex IJRC on Friday, the Credit Suisse Grand Prix on Thursday, the Credit Suisse Geneva Classic and the first and unique Cross Indoor in Switzerland on Saturday, the World cup of Driving on Sunday, the horse-pony relay, the Six-Bar, Speed and Handiness, Swiss horses, the attractions and more.
The Swiss team manager Andy Kistler has announced the official Swiss selection to take part in the Concours Hippique International de Genève taking place from 11th to 14th December 2014. In total , 24 Swiss riders will be on site.
Headed by the Olympic champion Steve Guerdat, the Swiss delegation cuts a fine figure. In addition to the rider from the Jura region, Pius Schwizer, the Swiss champion Martin Fuchs, as well as Paul Estermann and Romain Duguet, both in the Swiss team at the past World Equestrian Games, have been listed as team members. Alain Jufer, who acquired a wild card this season has been upgraded to the official selection thanks to his impressive results. This consequently allows for Christina Liebherr, up next in line, to be allocated a wild card.
The concept that came about in 2001 at the Concours Hippique International de Genève, the world’s Rolex IJRC Top 10 final is back again in December at Palexpo.
The first seven editions took place in Geneva then migrated to Brussels in 2008, to Paris in 2009 and 2011 and to Stockholm in 2013. For the fourteenth edition, the celebrated class in back in Geneva for the tenth time.
Last year in Stockholm (SWE), Daniel Deusser was victorious with Evita van de Veldbalie. The German rider stole the show from Patrice Delaveau and Lacrimoso HDC, who were also to satisfy themselves with second place in the Champions Challenge, presented by Rolex a few weeks later in Geneva. The third place was awarded to the British rider Ben Maher on Triple X III, currently the number two worldwide.
Canada's equestrian sport legend, Ian Millar, won the Spruce Meadows `Masters´. His personal Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping has now begun after the victory in the "CP International presented by Rolex". In an interview, Millar told us what he is particularly looking forward to and how one can become the hero of all heroes in the field of equestrian sport.
Question: Your Rolex Grand Slam has now begun, how do you assess your chances at the coming Majors in Geneva and Aachen?
Millar: Of course, we all know how difficult it is to win the Rolex Grand Slam. But we all believe that we can succeed in climbing the highest mountain. So why shouldn't it be possible to master this challenge too? Anyone, who has the opportunity, will endeavour to pull it off. And one thing is sure: The first rider to succeed will become a legend, he will be the hero of all heroes.
Question: What is your opinion of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping?
Ian Millar: The Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping is a fantastic initiative. Such ideas are simply incredibly important for our sport. Not only for us athletes, but also for the promotion of the show jumping sport. We are extremely grateful to such a prestigious brand as Rolex for their commitment.
Question: It is going to be the first time you compete at the CHI Geneva…
Millar: Yes, that's right, I have never competed in the Palexpo. I have often took part in the show in Aachen, which I loved every time, but the CHI in Geneva never really fitted into my schedule, so I am really looking forward to it.
Question: What do you think will await you there?
Millar: I have been following the show from a distance for a long time. And after everything I have seen and heard, the indoor hall in Geneva is like an open-air show, like Aachen or Calgary – purely with the difference that it's got a roof on top. They even have a pond there, incredible. It is going to be a great pleasure competing in Geneva in December.
The Canadian rider Ian Millar's personal Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping has begun. In a first-class and dramatic finale, he took the victory in the "CP International presented by Rolex" at his home game in Spruce Meadows, Canada, ahead of Reed Kessler (USA) .
In the end, it turned out to be a battle of the generations at the Spruce Meadows `Masters´. On the one hand, the 67-year-old Millar, on the other hand the just 20-year-old Kessler. Ultimately, experience prevailed in the jump-off: The show-jumper from the USA, who had saddled Cylana, did indeed manage to clock up a clear round, but the experienced Millar stayed calm with Dixson, also jumped clear beating her time by over two seconds.
Christian Ahlmann and Steve Guerdat, who had had the opportunity to go down in history as the first riders to win a bonus in the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping, were left disappointed. After his triumph in the Rolex Grand Prix at the CHIO Aachen 2014, Ahlmann had travelled to Canada with high hopes. However, in the first round he picked up four penalty faults after lightly knocking a fence with his top horse Codex One, which meant he didn't qualify for the second round. Things went slightly better for Steve Guerdat, however after collecting nine penalty points in the second round, his hopes at taking the victory at the Spruce Meadows `Masters´ 2014 were dashed.
We will now have to wait and see if Ian Millar manages to win the CHI Geneva and thus continue on course for claiming the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping. Christian Ahlmann also has the opportunity to pick up a bonus in Geneva.
After achieving average results, the Olympic gold medallist Steve Guerdat from Switzerland and Christian Ahlmann (Germany) are looking ahead to competing in Sunday's "CP International presented by Rolex" at the Spruce Meadows `Masters´. A victory in the Grand Prix will give both riders the opportunity to write sporting history: as the first rider to win a bonus in the "Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping". After two rounds in the difficult Nations' Cup on Saturday, in total Steve Guerdat picked up 14 penalty points with "Concetto Son". For Christian Ahlmann the afternoon was over earlier than planned. After only reaching seventh place after the first round, the German team didn't qualify to take part in the second round of the Nations' Cup. Ahlmann and Cornado II collected eight faults in the first round. With just one time fault in the most important competition on Friday, the prospects are looking good for the pair with a view to the "CP International presented by Rolex", where Ahlmann will be battling it out to attain his second victory in success in the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping. In July, Ahlmann won the Rolex Grand Prix at the CHIO Aachen. Steve Guerdat will enter the concluding competition at the Spruce Meadows `Masters´ as the winner of last December's "CHI Geneva". The Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping comprises of the three above-mentioned Major Shows.
The Swiss show-jumper Steve Guerdat and his German colleague Christian Ahlmann are the focus of attention at the Spruce Meadows `Masters´. Because at the Major Show at the foot of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, the two riders have the chance to win a bonus in the "Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping". This initiative comprising of the three Major Shows - the CHI Geneva, CHIO Aachen and the Spruce Meadows `Masters´ - is the ultimate challenge in the field of equestrian sport.
Guerdat, who rode to victory in Geneva and Ahlmann, who was able to win the Rolex Grand Prix at the CHIO Aachen 2014, kicked off the show with good results in Canada. Guerdat and Ahlmann didn't actually reach the jump-off on Friday in the "Tourmaline Oil Cup" - Guerdat collected five faults in the first round with "Nasa" and Ahlmann picked up one penalty point "Cornado II" for exceeding the allowed time, however both riders presented themselves in top form for Sunday. When they will both endeavour to win the "CP International presented by Rolex" and go down in history as the first rider to claim a bonus in the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping.
What does winning the Rolex Grand Prix in Aachen mean to you?
Christian Ahlmann: It means an awful lot to me. My victory in the Rolex Grand Prix is definitely my best achievement so far. I came very close several times, and now I eventually succeeded! This victory is worth more than a World Cup victory and worth more than a team victory. It is one of the best and most important jumping competitions – especially for a German show-jumper. The whole world travels to Aachen for this competition! Riding in front of such an audience, amid such a fantastic atmosphere: All of that makes it very special.
What was the best moment for you?
Ahlmann: In terms of the sport, the whole day! Codex One gave me a super feeling in all of the rounds. That already got me hoping that it was going to be a very special day. Then, when I realised I had won and the whole pressure disappeared, joy took its place! The prize-giving ceremony in front of the fantastic Aachen crowd was the absolute highlight and simply a goose bump experience. The icing on top of the cake!
What did your family say about the brilliant victory in Aachen?
Ahlmann: I come from an extremely equestrian sport loving family. So, naturally, everyone was delighted about my result in Aachen! My father actually competed in Aachen years ago himself. Aachen has a very special standing for all of us.
What significance does the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping have?
Ahlmann: I am very grateful that Rolex has been supporting the equestrian sport for so many years already. And it is great that there is now also a initiative comprising of individual shows that already have a very high standing in their own right. This has now been topped with the Rolex Grand Slam! Of course, it is very difficult to win the series. The competition has become very tough, much tougher than in the past. There are a lot more top riders and of course, luck also plays a role in it. But there is no doubt about it, every rider would like to pull it off once! It is something special and is held in high esteem within the equestrian sport scene.
What is your major goal for the future?
Ahlmann: I always had three major goals: To top the world rankings. Win the Rolex Grand Prix in Aachen and to win a Championship title. I have now achieved one of these aims! So, I still have two goals to work at.
When the traditional and prestigious Spruce Meadows "Masters" begins today, it is also the countdown for the biggest international equestrian sport challenge, the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping. This initiative of the three Major Shows, the Spruce Meadows "Masters", CHI Geneva and CHIO Aachen, marks the start of a new era of equestrian sport. In order to succeed here, both the horse and rider have to achieve exceptional performances.
In the "CP International presented by Rolex" this Sunday, which is endowed with prize-money to the value of one million Euros, two riders have the opportunity to go down in the history of the equestrian sport. Christian Ahlmann from Germany won the "Rolex Grand Prix" at the CHIO Aachen in July. The experienced show-jumper from Marl, Westphalia finds it extraordinary that he now has the chance to win the Rolex Grand Slam: "It is something very special and has an extremely high standing in the sports world.“ He definitely thinks he has a chance of riding to victory in the "Masters", even if he knows that it is "without doubt very hard to win the Rolex Grand Slam. The competition has become very tough, there are a lot more top riders today and of course, luck also has to be on your side. But every rider would love to succeed just once!"
The same also applies for the Swiss Olympic gold medallist, Steve Guerdat. After coming a close second in Canada last year, he succeeded in claiming the victory in the "Rolex Grand Prix" at his home match in Geneva at the end of 2013. After things didn't go well for him in Aachen in the summer, he still has the opportunity to win a bonus totalling 250,000 Euros in Spruce Meadows. However, the fact that he could be the first bonus winner in the yet short history of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping, only plays a secondary role for Guerdat, because: "It is a traditional show that enjoys a high level of significance, the best riders have already won here." For him the sporting success is of utmost priority, not the prize money.
In addition to the above two riders, the Canadian organisers are looking forward to the participation of top riders such as Beezie Madden (USA), Kevin Staut (FRA), Daniel Deußer (GER), Eric Lamaze (CAN) and last year's winner Pieter Devos from Belgium. “It is fantastic to be able to greet these top riders at this year's 'Masters'," commented Spruce Meadows President Linda Southern-Heathcott.
$1.5 Million CP International Presented by Rolex, Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping, and 300,000 BMO Nations’ Cup Highlight Schedule that Offers More Than $2.8 Million in Prize Money
The Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament is set for an exciting CSIO 5* competition on September 10-14, 2014. The feature competition of the week is the $1.5 Million CP International, presented by Rolex, one of the most prestigious grand prix events in the world and part of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping. There will be $2.8 million CAD on the line over the five days, an increase of more than half a million dollars from 2013. The top riders in the world, many having just competed at the FEI World Equestrian Games, will be on hand to thrill crowds as they compete for top prizes. Spruce Meadows welcomes team silver medalists Kevin Staut and Penelope Leprevost of France and team bronze medalists of the United States, McLain Ward, Kent Farrington, and individual bronze medalist Beezie Madden.
The $1.5 Million CP International, presented by Rolex offers the biggest prize money for a single-day event in show jumping and sets a new benchmark in the sport. A founding sponsor at Spruce Meadows, Canadian Pacific has helped make the Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament the richest event in the world. The two round event starts at 12 p.m. on Sunday, September 14. It will be televised live by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and be seen in more than 100 countries around the world.
“We are excited to welcome these top riders to this year’s edition of the ‘Masters’ Tournament,” said Spruce Meadows President Linda Southern-Heathcott. “The $1.5 Million CP International, presented by Rolex will be a thrilling event with some of the biggest names in the sport, and we all eagerly await to see if someone can take home a prize as part of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping. We strive to improve the Spruce Meadows experience every year for our exhibitors, sponsors, and spectators, and we believe that the 2014 ‘Masters’ will be truly memorable.”
Eight national federation teams will take part in BMO Nations’ Cup, including:
Canada – Olympic gold medalist Eric Lamaze, 10-time Olympian Ian Millar, Olympian Tiffany Foster, and 20-year-old rising star, Ben Asselin.
USA – Olympic gold medalists Beezie Madden, McLain Ward, Leslie Howard, and Olympian Lauren Hough
Belgium – last year’s CP International winner Pieter Devos, 2012 CP International winner Olivier Philippaerts, Nicola Philippaerts, and Niels Bruynseels
France – Kevin Staut, Penelope Leprevost, Cedric Angot, Marie Hecart,
Germany – FEI World Cup Finals Champion Daniel Deusser, 2014 Rolex Grand Prix of Aachen winner Christian Ahlmann, Marco Kutscher, Philipp Weishaupt, and Andre Thieme
Great Britain – European Championship gold medalist Michael Whitaker, Robert Whitaker, William Whitaker, and Guy Williams
Ireland – Conor Swail, Shane Breen, Dermott Lennon, and Billy Twomey
Switzerland – Olympic gold medalist Steve Guerdat, Marie Etter, Alain Jufer, and Nadja Peter Steiner
Additional top individual riders will compete during the week of the ‘Masters,’ including the five all-time Spruce Meadows money winners. The roster includes riders such as U.S. Number One rider Kent Farrington, FEI World Cup Finals winner Rich Fellers (USA), Olympian Reed Kessler (USA), Richard Spooner (USA), Quentin Judge (USA), Kyle King (USA), Jonathon Millar (CAN), Christian Sorensen (CAN), Frank Shuttert (NED), Marc Houtzager (NED), Jaime Azcarraga (MEX), Luis Alejandro Placensia (MEX), Lucia Vizzini (ITA), Sameh El Dahan (EGY), Paulo Santana (BRA), and Mark Lindh (AUS).
Steve Guerdat places high demands on himself, which he will strive to satisfy with his mare Nasa in Calgary.
By Peter Jegen.
Of course, he always wants to win, said Steve Guerdat. His ambition and his success-oriented way of thinking are what allow him to achieve his aims. Even if he is aware that constant success is simply not possible. Because not everything runs as perfectly as in the summer of 2012. Steve Guerdat rode to victory with Nino des Buissonnets in London and claimed the Olympic gold medal. However, the Swiss show-jumper, who is in the meantime 32 years old, hasn‘t let this go to his head. „There is still room for some improvement,“ he revealed, „because I ride at approx. 50 shows a year and I certainly don‘t win every time.“
In the interplay between the rider and horse, every detail has to be right to lead to success. „It is a balancing act,“ said Guerdat, especially where Nino des Buissonnets is concerned. The 13-year-old French gelding owned by the financier from Zurich, Urs E. Schwarzenbach, walks a fine line between genius and insanity, raved Guerdat. His impressive talent, enormous jumping ability and carefulness are what make Nino des Buissonnets one of the best jumping horses in the world. However, these attributes also shape the horses own will, which got the upper hand again at the CHIO Aachen in July. Nino des Buissonnets refused the first jump of the double combination in the second round of the Rolex Grand Prix.
„Things didn‘t go as planned,“ said Guerdat laconically. He has learnt to cope with the difficult character of his horse, in the same way that he has learnt to curb his own impulsive character. Ambition and the hunger for success are to inspire him, not to tear him apart, which is why his trainer, Thomas Fuchs, always keeps telling him to relax a bit. This doesn‘t fall on deaf ears, „I was possibly too focused and thought about things too much,“ admits Guerdat. Especially since it is a well-known fact that success and defeat lie very close together in the world of sport – something which is also true for Steve Guerdat and Nino des Buissonnets. After the CHIO Aachen they went on to win the Grand Prix at the CSI**** in Munster.
The Swiss rider will compete at the WEG with Nino des Buissonnets and will ride Nasa, his current top horse, at the Spruce Meadows Masters, the next Major show, which takes place just after the World Championships. „She feels at home in Spruce Meadows,“ said Guerdat about the 13-year-old grey mare, which is also owned by Urs E. Schwarzenbach, whose stables are located above Herrliberg near Zurich, where Guerdat has been living for the past seven years. In 2013, he came second with Nasa in the Grand Prix in Canada, pipped at the post by the Belgian rider Pieter Devos, after picking up one time fault.
Should the pair manage to jump clear in all rounds and reach the finish line first, Steve Guerdat will be doubly rewarded on September 14th. On the one hand with a lion‘s share of the prize-money totalling 1.5 million dollars as well as collecting a bonus of 250,000 Euros. Because he won the Rolex Grand Prix at his home show in Geneva last December, which makes up the third leg of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping, after Aachen and Calgary. As such, Guerdat qualifies for the bonus programme, according to which prize-money to the value of one million Euros will be paid to the rider, who manages to win all three Grand Prix in succession within twelve months. In addition to this, should two GP be won in a row, a bonus of 500,000 Euros will be paid out, and for the „two out of three“ mode, which is possible in Guerdat‘s case, the bonus would be 250,000 Euros.
And yet neither the lucrative amounts of money, nor the fact that Guerdat could become the first rider to win a bonus in the Rolex Grand Slam, play a major role for the rider. „It is a traditional show that is held in high esteem, the best riders have already won here,“ was Guerdat‘s initial comment when questioned about the CSIO in Calgary. Guerdat namely didn‘t become a show-jumper because of the high prize-money. It was his fascination for horses that led to him becoming a professional rider.
In this way, Guerdat followed in his father‘s footsteps. Philippe Guerdat, who is now Chef d‘Equipe of the French team, was also a successful show-jumper. And Steve‘s grandfather, Serge Guerdat, who lived in Bassecourt in the Swiss Canton Jura, was a well-known horse dealer. However, his grandson Steve never really enjoyed the horse trade, which is why during the early years of his career he left Jan Tops‘ stables.
Because as soon as Guerdat was successful with a horse, it was sold. „I knew very early on that my aim was to achieve everything possible in my sporting career and not to win as much money as possible,“ said Guerdat. Steve Guerdat has already celebrated many great victories: Olympic gold, team gold at the European Championships, number one in the world rankings, numerous significant Grand Prix victories. Whether the 32-year-old show-jumper can possibly have any further goals? „Yes, I try to jump every course clear,“ said Guerdat. His aim is to achieve absolute harmony with his partner, the horse. Hence, Steve Guerdat is the perfectionist among the show-jumpers.
Far away on the horizon, the silhouette of the huge peak of the Canadian Rocky Mountains can be seen. The entire showgrounds are equally as impressive as the beautiful distant view: The Spruce Meadows „Masters“ is legendary. Here at the second Major of the year, the top show-jumpers in the world meet up to write history. And one of them, Christian Ahlmann, has the chance to become an equestrian sport legend. After his victory in the Rolex Grand Prix at the CHIO Aachen, the first Major of the year, he will now enter the „International Ring“ as one of the top favourites. If he manages to win the CP International presented by Rolex, he will have the opportunity to win the „Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping“ at the third Major of the year in Geneva. One of the riders, who will be trying his hardest to win again, was already very close to victory last year. Namely, Steve Guerdat from Switzerland came second behind the Belgian show-jumper, Pieter Devos. Guerdat then went on to take the victory in Geneva – which puts him in the comfortable position of being able to pick up a bonus of 250,000 Euros in prize-money, should he win in Calgary. Because a rider, who wins two of the three Major competitions not in succession, but instead following the „two out of three“ mode, automatically claims this bonus. Christian Ahlmann also came within grasp of the big triumph beyond the gates of Calgary. He finished fourth with „Taloubet Z“.
And yet it is not purely the big names and the top sport that turn the Spruce Meadows „Masters“ into one of the most impressive sporting events in the world. There are not many places in the world that are better suited to write sporting history. When the show was founded in 1971, from the very beginning the focus was placed on one aim: To create something unique, an event that combines top sport with a friendly atmosphere and an economic background. This dream of the Southern family, which still applies today for the Spruce Meadows „Masters“, is as vibrant as ever. For example, 234,785 enthusiastic spectators attended the event last year and provided a spectacular atmosphere. This special ambience is accompanied by extremely generous prize-money for the athletes, a perfect infrastructure and top organisation. And since the inception of the „Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping“, the Masters also offers the riders the opportunity to not „only“ win a lot of money, but also to become a sporting legend. According to the best understanding of the founding fathers, this is unique. Welcome to the Spruce Meadows „Masters 2014“, welcome to the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping.
The CHI Geneva is once again on an innovative streak! Next December, Switzerland’s first and only indoor cross country course will welcome some top notch eventing riders, a couple of Olympic champions and a selected few Swiss participants in the arena in Geneva. The class will be solely constructed of natural fences. A fabulous opportunity for the world’s largest interior arena to exploit its lake, its bank as well as its training paddock. For the past few years, the idea of an inside cross country class has been blooming in the minds of the Geneva organisers. With all the necessary infrastructures available, Geneva has the opportunity to extend its programme to englobe a cross country trial. And this will be the case this year!
Steve Guerdat won the Grand Prix in Münster. The London Olympics gold medallist and winner of the CHI in Geneva in 2013 jumped clear with Nino des Buissonnets in the fastest time of 44.76 seconds in the winning round, beating his 12 fellow competitors. The competition is endowed with prize-money totalling 100,000 Euros. In one month's time, in Spruce Meadows he will have the chance of picking up a 250,000 Euro bonus in the "two out of three mode" of the Rolex Grand Slam.
These pages will keep you informed about the major equestrian events CHIO Aachen (GER),
CSIO Spruce Meadows (CAN) and CHI Geneva (SUI), the most prestigious names in international equestrian sport.
Find out everything about the shows, the riders and much more!
One year after its premiere the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping returned to the place where it all began: In the impressive arena in Aachen, this cathedral of the equestrian sport. 40,000 enthusiastic spectators celebrated Christian Ahlmann. With this victory, his personal Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping has begun.
Of the five riders in the jump-off, Christian Ahlmann, who had saddled Codex One, was the only one to jump clear. "I have thought about this moment for 20 years," commented Ahlmann. Then he immediately looked to the future again: "Of course, I would like to take the next step in the Rolex Grand Slam and compete at the Spruce Meadows Masters – provided that I stay fit and healthy. The Rolex Grand Slam is an important challenge for us show-jumpers. It means a lot to me that Rolex has launched this initiative and is giving us show-jumpers the opportunity to win such prize-money and arouse such attention. Now, I will try to make the most out of my personal Rolex Grand Slam."
His horse obviously also enjoyed the new "Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping" challenge – because Codex One pushed the trophy with his nose as if to say: "I'll see you again in September at the Spruce Meadows Masters…“. Because the rider who wins the three Major shows the CHIO Aachen, the Spruce Meadows "Masters" and the CHI in Geneva in succession, wins the Grand Slam and will become a sporting legend – as well as receiving an additional one million Euros in prize-money. A bonus also beckons to a rider, who wins two of the three shows. If the shows are won straight after each other, the bonus is 500,000 Euros. If the equestrian athlete succeeds in winning in the "two out of three mode", i.e. two shows but not in succession, the bonus is 250,000 Euros. It is possible to win the bonus riding different horses.
At the beginning of the Rolex Grand Prix at the CHIO Aachen 2014, the attention was focused on the Swiss Olympic gold medallist, Steve Guerdat, who won the last Major show in Geneva and also on Pieter Devos from Belgium, who rode to victory at the Major in Spruce Meadows in Canada last September. Both riders had good chances in the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping before the Rolex Grand Prix began. However, for Steve Guerdat the dream of winning the second Major in a row ended early with four faults at the water ditch. "My goal was to win here and everything felt great," said Guerdat, "perhaps I should have fought a bit harder at the water jump." Pieter Devos didn't have a good day either, he had a refusal at a water jump. The Belgian rider nevertheless enjoyed his stay in Aachen: "It was a nice Grand Prix, a great experience for my young horse."
(Published with the kind permission of the Aachener Zeitung. By Marlon Gego)
About luck and missing the chance of a lifetime
Wonder child, jobless, Olympic gold medallist: In spite of his exceptional talent, Steve Guerdat had to fight hard to fulfil his dream of winning the Olympic Games.
Aachen. One doesn't see the story behind Steve Guerdat by looking at him, it is not written all over his face, perhaps because he is still young, just 32. Some people know his story, but not everyone still remembers it. People prefer to recall the nice moments, for example, when Guerdat won the Olympic Games in 2012. On the riding scene, success counts for more than the road that led to success. It has been eight years since Steve Guerdat blew the chance of a lifetime and went from being a wonder child to jobless. And then to Olympic gold medallist.
Guerdat comes from Bassecourt in the North-West of Switzerland. He grew up with his family on the farm of his granddad, who was a horse dealer. His father, Philippe, was also a show-jumper. He was Vice-European Champion in 1985. A good rider, but not half as talented as Steve, his son. Steve's life progressed quite predictably; form a very early stage it was obvious that Steve would be very successful on the equestrian sport circuit. When he decided to leave school after the eleventh grade to become a professional rider, his father didn't mind at all, but his mother did. Philippe Guerdat relied on the fact that Steve's talent would enable him to make a living out of riding. He was so successful as a Junior rider that Jan Tops, one of the most famous horse dealers in Europe, signed him up in 2003.
Unlike some of his fellow competitors, Steve Guerdat does not come from a rich family. He relies on people placing horses at his disposal, which he can compete with. A top rider is nothing without a good horse and if you want to win gold at the Olympics, you need a horse that costs at least a six-digit figure, often even more.
The price for his idealism
While working for Jan Tops, Guerdat always had outstanding horses, but only until a buyer was found, who was prepared to pay the right amount for these horses. When the one horse was sold, Guerdat was given another one, which he had to start from scratch again with. Even the best horses and best riders need a while to get used to each other. But, in the meantime, Guerdat had made a name for himself. He wanted more, above all he wanted to be able to work consistently with his horses, without having to fear that they would be sold the next day. At the beginning of 2006, he handed in his notice.
Nearly everyone experiences major changes in the course of their lives, sometimes ill strokes of fate happen in one's private life or one is faced with unusual career decisions. Most ups and downs occur as a result of such upheavals and the same is true for Steve Guerdat.
After he had quit working for Tops, he was offered a job by the Ukrainian oil billionaire Oleksandr Onischtschenko, who was at the time putting a riding team together. Here, money didn't play a role, Onischtschenko paid Guerdat's wages for four years in advance, furthermore the entrepreneur agreed to buy the best horses for Guerdat. The only condition was that Guerdat, like the other team members, should become a Ukrainian citizen, by the 2012 Olympic Games at the latest.
Guerdat hesitantly consented and things took their course: A company flat in Liège, a company car, good wages, financial independence. For Guerdat, 23 years old, the opportunity of a lifetime.
In May 2006, the contract was supposed to be signed during the show in La Baule in France, on the Monday, Guerdat handed over his Swiss passport, the signing of the contract was scheduled for the Wednesday. As Guerdat sat down with the pen in his hand, he paused and said: "I can't sign it."
The situation back then is not Guerdat's favourite topic. He is the sort of person, who prefers to look ahead rather than dwelling on the past. But on Tuesday evening at the CHIO Aachen, he talked about it again. Guerdat explained that he is impulsive and he simply couldn't sign the contract, it "didn't feel right". Before the planned signing of the contract, the German Olympic gold medallist Ludger Beerbaum had rung him, said Guerdat, the contents of the conversation "is between him and me", but "I remain grateful to him until this very day."
Of course, the billionaire from the Ukraine was totally offended by his refusal to sign the contact. He took the company car and the company flat off him the same day, Guerdat had to transfer the salary he had been paid for the next four years - according to rumours a seven-digit figure - back to the billionaire immediately. He was stood on the showgrounds in La Baule with not much more than the clothes he was wearing and from one minute to the next, he didn't have any horses to ride. His brother came and picked him up in France.
Nothing happened for a few months, Guerdat missed the FEI World Equestrian Games Aachen 2006. Philippe Guerdat, his father said: "This is always a great story for the newspapers, because everything turned it out well. But believe me, it was really tough for Steve at the time.“ The price for his idealism?
One of the people, who has followed Guerdat's development over a longer period of time, is Rolf Grass. Grass was the national coach of Switzerland's jumping squad between 2002 and 2010. To underline who Steve Guerdat is and what motivates him, Grass recounted the following anecdote: In 2008, at the Olympic Games in Peking, the Swiss riders arrived early so that they could take part in the Opening Ceremony. Grass had good connections in Peking and organised a tour of the city for his team. The riders were to get an impression of where they were. Shortly before they set off, Grass had the following conversation with Guerdat:
Steve Guerdat: "Do I have to go on the tour of the city?"
Guerdat: "One notices that you haven't got a clue about riding."
Grass: "That may be true, but you haven't got a clue about anything except for riding."
Guerdat went to his room without saying a word and thought about it for a while. Then he got changed and joined the others on the tour.
"Steve occupies himself meticulously with riding, he thinks every step through, everything is planned, he is totally convinced about the course of action has has decided upon," said Grass. City tours hardly ever fall under Guerdat's plans. "He finds it difficult to jump over his own shadow, he never wants to change his plans." Which is both a weakness and a strength.
After the contract fell through, Guerdat was very lucky. Or to put it another way: Guerdat gave his fortune a good helping hand by refusing to sign the contract. His father Philippe introduced him to an old friend, Yves Piaget, a Swiss watchmaker. Piaget bought Jalisca Solier, whom Guerdat succeeded in qualifying for the 2008 Olympics with. The former polo player from Zurich, Urs Schwarzenbach, placed his yard in Herrliberg over the Zurich Lake at his disposal. Since 2007 Guerdat has been self-employed and has a small team of helpers. The Olympic victory didn't just happen, it was the result of meticulous planning, never-ending training and a strong will that even moves oil billionaires.
Rolf Grass said: "There are only a few riders that have the makings of an Olympic gold medallist, which requires talent, diligence and good horses."
It doesn't bother him anymore, does it?
It's easier to say something rather than actually doing it and nobody knows that better than Guerdat. There are only a few athletes who place such high demands on themselves as Guerdat. If he makes a mistake in an important jumping competition, "he sometimes doesn't come out of the stables for hours, he has to be on his own," said Thomas Fuchs, the former world-class rider and Guerdat's trainer since 2007. Fuchs doesn't think he can teach Guerdat much more, but he keeps on trying to remind him that "there is more to life than titles and medals." Fuchs said: "If there is one thing he still has to learn, it is to relax more." Working together with him on that "is my main job, isn't it", said Fuchs laughing. If anyone is relaxed, then definitely Fuchs.
Next to Roger Federer, Steve Guerdat is the most popular sportsman in Switzerland, as well as one of the most successful. And as is the case with most popular people, Guerdat doesn't just have friends. On the one hand, he is self-confident enough that it doesn't interest him whether other people agree with how he trains or where he rides. On the other hand, he sometimes falls out with journalists, if he thinks he has come off badly in an article. He doesn't care what the public think about him as a person, his achievements speak for themselves. Which is why he is not that keen on PR appointments. He prefers to be hardly visible in the public eye.
Guerdat is not a sunny boy, he is a rider and in this capacity, he is very well respected by his fellow competitors. After his Olympic victory on August 7, 2012 he was sat on his own on a wooden fence next to the arena battling against his emotions, when the US show-jumper Laura Kraut came up to Guerdat and said: "If anyone deserves to win Olympic gold, you do.“ It is important to know that Kraut is the partner of the English show-jumper Nick Skelton, whom Guerdat had narrowly beaten just a few minutes previously.
Peter Jegen, sports editor at the "Neuen Zürcher Zeitung", told another anecdote. It sounds corny, said Jegen, but Guerdat really is a horse lover. Nothing is more important to him than his horses, than riding and there is a lot of evidence for this besides Guerdat's own declarations. At the end of 2012, Jegen reported, Guerdat chose not to compete in the final of the Global Champions Tour in Abu Dabi that is endowed with high prize-money. Although Guerdat can hardly afford to waiver such high prize-money "the show that was launched with immense financial backing did not correspond with his understanding of the equestrian sport“. Guerdat simply doesn't want to compete at competitions that have no tradition or association to horses. Guerdat competes with Nino de Buissonnetts, his best horse at the moment, at ten or eleven competitions a year, he is not one of those riders who tries to earn as much money as possible within the shortest space of time with good horses.
"I only need the prize-money and the money from the sponsors to pay my employees and keep my business going," said Guerdat. Which is much more of a struggle than raking in the money from a Ukrainian oil billionaire for years would have been.
Looking at Steve Guerdat you don't notice it, it is not written all over his face, but if you take a closer look you asks yourself why such a young person looks so serious, than you begin to understand that even beautiful faces have tough stories to tell. You just have to look closely enough.
First of all congratulations to your victory with the team in the Mercedes-Benz Nations' Cup. Thanks to your outstanding performance on Thursday evening you too succeeded in qualifying for the Rolex Grand Prix. How has your week here at the show been so far?
I am very happy with my achievements so far. The victory in the Nations' Cup with the Belgian team was especially spectacular, of course. I hope I am able to take this drive with me into the Rolex Grand Prix and will endeavour to put in a good performance. "Greenfield of India", who I will be riding in the Rolex Grand Prix, has already shown here in Aachen that he is in great form.
What are you expectations for the Rolex Grand Prix? Do you think you could win?
I hope I win, of course, that goes without saying. However, this projection is very, very optimistic considering the line-up of top riders, who are competing and of course the demanding course. I rode "Candy" in Calgary and we won. She is simply born for big arenas like Aachen. Unfortunately, she is injured and can't take part here in Aachen. "Greenfield of India" still has to gain some experience. I am curious to see how he reacts tomorrow amid this impressive setting. I am going to place my whole trust in him.
What makes Aachen so exceptional for a show-jumper?
This is the second time I've competed in Aachen and what shall I say, I am just as impressed as I was during my first visit. If I had to choose which stadium I would like to ride in anywhere in the world, I wouldn't take long to decide: It would definitely be Aachen. The victory in the Nations' Cup on Thursday evening was the best victory in my entire sporting career so far. This magnificent setting and the crowd, who back us with all their emotions, are extremely impressive. So, I am really looking forward to the Rolex Grand Prix!
If you win the Rolex Grand Prix, you will be able to continue writing your own personal Rolex Grand Slam history. What does that mean for you?
The Rolex Grand Slam is a great initiative. It is a genuine enrichment for the show-jumping sport and it is great advertising as well. With this additional incentive, the riders are even more motivated when they compete in a Rolex Grand Prix. Because a challenge such as this doesn't leave anyone cold. Everyone wants to at least try and win the three shows in Aachen, Geneva and Calgary.
Steve, are you already looking forward to Sunday? If you win the Rolex Grand Prix in Aachen, you will reach the next stage of the Rolex Grand Slam…
Yes, of course, I can't wait until Sunday, I always immensely look forward to Aachen. After all, I have never won the Rolex Grand Prix here. So, I will give it my best shot!
What does the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping mean for you?
The Rolex Grand Slam is very good for our sport and of course for the media. It is a guarantee for attracting attention to the international jumping sport. These three major shows in Aachen, Geneva and Calgary are incredibly prestigious – every show-jumper wants to win them. I find it great and very important that Rolex are backing this initiative.
How do you rate your chances of winning the Rolex Grand Slam, of mastering this huge sporting challenge?
I will be competing with Nino Des Buissonnets, a horse with whom I can achieve a great deal in the Rolex Grand Slam. We are well prepared and will both give our very best. Nino is in excellent shape. We will endeavour to exploit this unique opportunity that we are being offered on Sunday. I wouldn't like to look back in a few years and have to blame myself for not trying my very hardest.
Obviously, Nino is the star. But you have also brought a lot of other talented horses to Aachen with you…
That is correct. For example, Nasa. I am probably going to ride her in the Mercedes-Benz Nations' Cup. She loves big shows, so Aachen is just right for her. Or Kavalier, an eight-year-old stallion, who I will compete with in the Sparkasse-Youngsters-Cup. I want him to gain some experience amid this amazing setting, because I hope to take part in Grand Prix with him in a few years' time.
How important is the horse for a rider?
Very important! A rider is only as good as his horse and vice versa – it is impossible to separate that, a few famous pairs spring to mind in this connection, such as Eric Lamaze and Hickstead or Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum and Shutterfly. Such pairs form a perfect, harmonious unity. The chemistry simply has to be right, trust has to be there too. One thing is certain: Without a top horse, I would never be able to win such a famous competition as the Rolex Grand Prix in Aachen – not to mention a Rolex Grand Slam.
What was it like for you to win the Grand Prix at the CHI in Geneva?
The show in Geneva is something very special for me, it is more or less a home game. Many riders dream of winning this show. The crowd and the atmosphere at the Palexpo are simply fantastic. Sometimes, so much success frightens me…
And what does the CHIO Aachen mean for you?
It is impossible to compare the shows in Geneva and Aachen with each other. Of course, the CHIO Aachen is the major show of the year. Because of the whole background history and the magnificent jumping stadium, it is simply THE number one show! Entering the Main Stadium in front of a crowd of 40,000 spectators, especially in the Rolex Grand Prix, makes a rider incredibly proud. And that is also what makes Aachen so unique: The spectators are experts on the equestrian sport scene. I am delighted to be here again.
Especially since Switzerland is the partner country of the World Equestrian Festival this year.
It was a good decision. The atmosphere at the reception of the Swiss delegation on the market square in Aachen was already very impressive. I am sure that my Swiss compatriots will enchant the CHIO crowd.