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.
The Turkish Airlines-Prize of Europe at the CHIO Aachen 2014, which starts at 2.15 p.m. later today, is the first opportunity for the participating show-jumpers to qualify for the Rolex Grand Prix, Grand Prix of Aachen. A great deal of concentration is required to master the demanding course consisting of obstacles measuring up to 1.55 m. The jumping competition with one round and a jump-off is endowed with 76,000 Euros of prize-money and is one of the most traditional competitions at the World Equestrian Festival. It was staged for the first time in the year 1957. Back then, Hans Günter Winkler won the competition with his top horse Halla. Who is going follow in his footsteps more than 55 years later? There is a very high-class line-up of riders on the starter list.
The reigning Olympic gold medallist Steve Guerdat will be saddling his 13-year-old grey mare, "Nasa" for this competition. And the Belgian show-jumper, Pieter Devos, who like Guerdat, is also on course for success in the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping, will be competing with his top horse "Dream of India Greenfield". However, he still has to qualify for the grand finale on Sunday, an obstacle that Guerdat doesn't have to overcome, because as the reigning Olympic gold medallist he automatically qualifies for the Rolex Grand Prix. However, Guerdat and Devos face strong competition, because the field of 54 competitors includes world-class show-jumpers and horses such as Pénélope Leprevost (FRA) with Nayana, Marcus Ehning (GER) with Cornado NRW, Ludger Beerbaum (GER) with Chaman, Ben Maher (GBR) with Wings Sublieme and Kevin Staut (FRA) with Oh D’eole.
Which show-jumpers ultimately qualify for the Rolex Grand Prix on Sunday afternoon and thus also have a chance of starting their own personal Rolex Grand Slam, won't be decided until Friday, July 18th. Since, in addition to the Turkish Airlines Prize of Europe, the floodlit Mercedes-Benz Nations' Cup on Thursday evening and the Prize of North Rhine-Westphalia on Friday are also qualifiers for the Grand Prix. A total point system then decides which 40 riders are able to compete in the Rolex Grand Prix, one of the most demanding jumping competitions in the world.
Just yesterday, Steve Guerdat announced on the market square in Aachen during the reception of the CHIO partner country Switzerland: "I can't wait for the Rolex Grand Prix on Sunday". He will be in action on the "Holy Grass" in the jumping stadium of the Aachener Soers later today. The reigning Olympic gold medallist will be competing with "Qui Vive De La Tour" in the STAWAG Prize, the opening jumping competition, which starts at 11.45 a.m., before entering the main stadium with his eight-year-old stallion "Kavalier" in the Sparkasse Youngsters Cup that begins at 2.15 p.m. "I want Kavalier to see this arena, so that he can gain experience, because I intend to ride him in Grand Prix in a few years' time."
The Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping returns to where it all began a year ago. Here, on the renowned show grounds in Aachen’s Soers, the world’s best equestrian athletes will try to write their very own chapter in the history books of horse sport. In front of 40,000 spectators in the main stadium, the temple of international equestrian sport.
Steve Guerdat and Pieter Devos will especially be in the focus of the audience’s attention. The experienced Swiss rider and the Belgian newcomer could be the first competitors ever to win the coveted bonus. And with a victory in Aachen, Steve Guerdat could even have a chance to win the Grand Slam. One year ago, Nick Skelton was the first winner. The old hand Briton won the Rolex Grand Prix in front of Swiss Janika Sprunger. With that, he not only entered his name on the famous winners’ board, but his win also made him the first rider who could have been successful in the overall Rolex Grand Slam. As he was not able to compete in the Spruce Meadows “Masters” later in the year, he gave up this chance, because the prerequisite for winning the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping is to consecutively start at three major events. No matter in which order, if a show jumper wins any one of the major events, he embarks on his personal Rolex Grand Slam. So at the CHIO Aachen 2014, Pieter Devos and Steve Guerdat have the chance to win a bonus on top of the normal prize money. If Devos wins the Rolex Grand Prix, he will receive an extra 250,000 Euros, according to the Rolex Grand Slam “two out of three” classification. By winning the Rolex Grand Prix, Steve Guerdat on the other hand can even hope for a total bonus of a million Euros – provided he wins the Spruce Meadows “Masters” in September as well. If he only wins in Aachen but not in Canada, he will take home an additional 500,000 Euros. It is crucial for the riders to compete in three events in a row, though they may participate with different horses.
Not only the riders are excited about this new initiative. The Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping is also highly regarded among media representatives and spectators. Now that equestrian sport returns home to Aachen’s Soers, the next chapter in this innovative success story begins. After the first year, Arnaud Boetsch, Rolex’ Director Communication & Image, draws a very positive conclusion about the new concept: “The Rolex Grand Slam has been overwhelmingly successful so far and has considerably raised the bar for this sport. We are very happy to be part of such an important initiative which enables horses and riders to prove their skills in this top show jumping series.” So who will be the best of the best in Aachen’s impressive stadium on the afternoon of July 20, 2014? Which horse/rider pair will shine with strong nerves and mastery, while remaining calm and relaxed despite the intense atmosphere in the biggest arena of equestrian sport? The Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping has returned to where it all began. Welcome to Germany, welcome to the CHIO Aachen 2014.
Steve Guerdat will be competing at the CHIO Aachen 2014 with his Olympic gold horse Nino des Buissonnets. After his victory at the CHI in Geneva at the end of last year, the Swiss rider's personal Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping has begun. If he wins the Rolex Grand Prix in Aachen on July 20th, he will collect a bonus of 500,000 Euros.
In September he rode to victory at the Spruce Meadows Masters in Canada, and now he has repeated his success in China: Belgium's Pieter Devos won the most important jumping competition in Shanghai. Devos already reached the jump-off at the CHI in Geneva and thus demonstrated that he is certainly not to be underestimated in the future. Hence, at the CHIO Aachen in just over a month's time he will also be a serious candidate – if he were to win at the Soers after his victory in Canada, he would be 250,000 Euros richer, because he is still in the running to win the "2 out of 3 mode bonus“ of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping. Another impressive factor is that Devos has two irons the fire, the successful mare "Candy" with whom he won the Masters and "Dream of India", whom he had saddled in Shanghai when he outrated his fellow competitors.
The Concours Hippique International de Genève decided this spring to change the logo of their event. After some 15 years of loyal services from the previous graphic design, it was thought essential to uplift the event with a more modern image.
The artist behind this new logo, Emilie Lacroix who was already the creator of the beautiful visuals for the CHI in 2013, took a more contemporary and energetic approach to the previous graphics of the horse jumping an obstacle. An implied reference has been introduced in the logo with the lake of Palexpo. The lake is trebled to underline the intensity of the event, bringing together competitions, attractions and expositions.
In regards to the colors chosen, they too are three; beige in reference to the indoor event on sand that is the CHI Geneva, green in allusion to the past logo and blue for the water in the lake.
Big Star, who Nick Skelton rode to victory in the Rolex Grand Prix at the CHIO Aachen 2013, will celebrate his sporting comeback at the Royal Windsor Horse Show after a prolonged period of injury. Big Star had to take a break from competing after sustaining an injury in August. Nick Skelton and Big Star did compete at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida, but only in the small classes. In Windsor, they will be facing tough competition from their own country: Scott Brash and Ben Maher, both from Great Britain, are currently under the top three in the show-jumping world ranking list.
After his victory at the CHI Geneva, the Swiss show jumper, Steve Guerdat, is the first equestrian athlete in history, who will have the chance to win the Rolex Grand Slam – the ultimate equestrian sport challenge. In the following interview, he explained why he nevertheless doesn't believe that this will put increased pressure on him.
Question: The jump-off lasted another quarter of an hour after your ride…
Steve Guerdat: Those 15 minutes felt like an eternity, longer than the whole weekend. Especially since I wasn't particularly fast, which is why I quite honestly didn't think I had a chance of winning. On the contrary: I would have bet a lot of money against me winning.
Question: The Rolex that you won is probably the perfect Christmas present.
Guerdat: (laughing) Definitely. But I am going to give it away; somebody is going to have a really special Christmas. And I would certainly like to take this opportunity to say that it is sensational what Rolex does for our sport. Everyone benefits from their commitment: The spectators, the athletes, the media and our sport.
Question: This victory means that your personal Rolex Grand Slam has begun.
Guerdat: That's right, a fantastic affair. It begins today and I am really eager to find out how it will end. But one thing is for sure, Nino is definitely one of the few horses that has the potential to win the Rolex Grand Slam.
Question: You could now go down in history as the first rider to win the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping. Will this put increased pressure on you at the next event, the CHIO Aachen 2014?
Guerdat: No, I don't think so. Aachen is a top-level world-class show in its own right. And when you compete there you want to win, the same is true for the Spruce Meadows Masters and the CHI Geneva. In this respect, the Rolex Grand Slam is a fantastic additional factor, but the pressure is already extremely high. On the other hand: I'll just have to wait and see how things actually are during the event.
Question: How will you celebrate your victory in Geneva?
Guerdat: I am going skiing with a group of friends. Rodrigo Pessoa and Eric Lamaze are also joining us.
Triumph on home ground: It is one of the most prestigious victories on the circuit of the international equestrian sport: The Rolex Grand Prix at the CHI Geneva. Claiming the victory today means that Steve Guerdat from Switzerland not only joins the ranks of the renowned winners of the famous event, his personal Rolex Grand Slam of Showjumping has also begun.
CHI Geneva, CHIO Aachen and the Spruce Meadows `Masters´: Three victories at three of the most prestigious equestrian events in the world, that is the Rolex Grand Slam of Showjumping, the ultimate international equestrian sport challenge. Only the rider, who manages to claim the victory at three events within twelve months, can become a sporting legend. "It is sensational that my Rolex Grand Slam has begun," stated Guerdat after his victory in the Rolex Grand Prix at the CHI Geneva on Sunday afternoon. Riding Nino de Buissonnets, he displayed nerves of steel in the impressive Palexpo arena, the largest indoor stadium in the world. Top riders had reached the jump-off: Alvaro de Miranda from Brazil was among them, the French show-jumper Kevin Staut as well as Scott Brash from Great Britain. In the end, however, the Olympic gold medallist, Guerdat, crossed the finish line in the fastest time – amid the resounding applause of the 8,200 enthusiastic spectators in the sold-out arena. "It was fantastic how the crowd supported and cheered me on here," commented Guerdat, who had to wait a long time before his victory was confirmed, "those 15 minutes were like an eternity."
The dream of winning the Rolex Grand Slam is over for the Belgian rider, Pieter Devos, for now. After his victory at the Spruce Meadows `Masters´ in September, although he managed to qualify for the Rolex Grand Prix in Geneva, he wasn't able to claim the winning rosette. Devos ultimately finished ninth with his mare "Candy". Nevertheless, all is not lost yet for the Belgian rider, since in line with the "two out of three mode", if a rider wins the Grand Prix at any two of the events within twelve months, i.e. not in succession, he claims a bonus of 250,000 Euros.
In time for the Rolex Grand Slam of Showjumping the best equestrian athletes in the world are in top form. The top names of the international equestrian sport were all able to qualify for tomorrow’s Grand Prix. The Belgian rider, Pieter Devos, secured his chance of winning the Rolex Grand Slam too.
The winner of the Spruce Meadows `Masters´ 2013 turned it into an exciting race. Riding to victory in today’s “Coupe de Geneve“ meant that he took advantage of his last chance to qualify for the Grand Prix. That was exactly what he did in Spruce Meadows too. Whether it is a good sign? "It would be super, if it ended the same way as it did in Canada,“ laughed Devos. For the moment he is just relieved that he managed to qualify. This means he has secured the chance of going down in history as the first rider to win the Rolex Grand Slam of Showjumping.
He is the first rider, who has the chance to write equestrian sport history: After his victory at the Spruce Meadows `Masters´, the Belgian rider, Pieter Devos, has the opportunity to become the first show jumper to win the Rolex Grand Slam of Showjumping when the CHI Geneva begins tomorrow. If he rides to victory in the Rolex Grand Prix he will secure himself 500,000 Euros in addition to the regular prize-money, a further victory in the Rolex Grand Prix at the CHIO Aachen next year would mean he would pick up one million in total. But even more important than that, he would become a sporting legend. We talked to him about Calgary, Geneva and his current state of mind.
What was it like beating Steve Guerdat and Penelope Leprevost in one of the toughest jumping competitions in the world, the CN International Grand Prix presented by Rolex at the Spruce Meadows `Masters´?
Phenomenal. I still can’t really believe it, Steve is the Olympic gold medallist, one of the best riders in the world. It wasn’t until I saw Steve next to me during the prize-ceremony that I knew it was actually true. It was of course the best day in my sporting career so far.
How has the success changed your life?
Many doors have opened up, I have been invited to shows that I wasn’t able to compete at before. The press is showing increased interest in me, it really has promoted my career.
Did you have a party at home?
Yes, we did actually hold a small party for the first time ever after a victory in a Grand Prix. Normally you carry straight on to the next show, focus on the next competition, life simply continues. But this time I wanted to savour the moment and some of my friends said: It is time to celebrate. And they were right (laughs).
What was the atmosphere in Calgary like for you?
It was the first time I competed there, the first time I entered the stadium was incredible, absolutely indescribable. It is not a riding arena, it is a massive park. It was an unbelievable experience. During the Grand Prix the spectators were sensational they fired me on no end. Beforehand everyone had told me how unbelievable it was, and I just kept saying yeah, yeah (laughs). And now? I say to them: It is unbelievable (laughs). Incidentally, something else made it particularly special winning there for me: I brought on and trained my horse “Candy” myself and a lot of people didn’t think we’d manage to win a difficult Grand Prix. Well, we certainly showed them (laughs).
Tell me a bit about Candy.
She is not at all spooky and she has made fast progress. Within no time at all, we were able to move on from 1.20-metre jumps up to 1.40-metre jumps. And she is incredibly attentive and careful and she always fights hard for me – that is the most important thing.
Will you be riding her at the CHI in Geneva?
I think so. I am extremely fortunate to have a second horse, namely “Dream of India Greenfield” that I can ride in the top competitions, but I will be placing my bets on Candy for Geneva.
What goes in Candy’s favour?
The hall in Geneva is huge and the mare needs plenty of space, so that is ideal for her. That is why she is going to be my first choice for Geneva.
How do you judge your chances?
It is not going to be easy (laughs). No, seriously: The best riders in the world will be competing and they all want to win – whereas I am still pretty young and have little experience at such big indoor shows. But that was the case before Spruce Meadows too, so why shouldn’t it work out again? Why not be a bit optimistic.
You can write history…
…and be the first rider to win the Rolex Grand Slam. A wonderful piece of history, which however certainly doesn’t make things easier. I definitely won’t be completely relaxed in the saddle, because I know how many additional pairs of eyes will be fixed on me. On the other hand, it does also give you a portion of extra motivation.
Do you think about it often?
I try to blend it out a bit. It is one of the most exciting, perhaps indeed the most exciting pieces of history that is going to be written in the equestrian sport. The Rolex Grand Slam doesn’t just stand for the opportunity to win a huge amount of money. It also gives the riders a chance to go down in history. Obviously, it is fantastic to have this chance, but it goes without saying: it puts an enormous amount of pressure on too.
What do you think about the Rolex Grand Slam?
It very good for the sport. It gives us riders additional motivation, but the Rolex Grand Slam is much more than that, because it attracts a huge amount of attention. Among the fans, the media, among everyone involved in the sport.
You are a professional rider, but you are not dependent on the sport to make a living…
No, I still work at my parent’s company, we produce and export fruit on our farm in Beekkevoort, Belgium…
…where you also train?
Yes, we have just moved into a newly erected stable block. It is a totally new complex with a large outdoor arena, an indoor arena and 40 boxes. The conditions are top. Incidentally, another important point for me is that my girlfriend works there, she runs the stables. My brother and sister-in-law ride too, we are a real family team. And the company means we are a bit more independent and can keep some of the good horses.
Riding at top level, building a new yard, working at your parent’s company…
…the past few months and years definitely weren’t boring. But let’s be honest: I am young and have wonderful opportunities, which you have to grasp and take advantage of and that is exactly what I am doing at the moment.
How did you find your way into the equestrian sport?
My parents had horses, so it was a logical step. My first pony was called Moonjump, he wasn’t exactly very well behaved. I don’t know exactly how often, but I fell off that many times that my parents wanted to sell him, but I didn’t want them to. Ultimately, I learnt an awful lot from Moonjump.
Did you already want to become a show jumper back then with Moonjump?
Oh yes, that is all I wanted to do from the very first second I sat in the saddle: jump. My parents are also show jumpers, so there was no question about it.
You have shown very constant development, improving steadily all the time. Have you got any specific plans or a major goal in your life?
Simply waiting to see what happens, is certainly not my strategy. When I enter the ring, my plan is quite simple: I want to win. If you don’t always try to win, you never will. My major goal? Taking part in the Olympic Games, that would be super.
What is your most outstanding characteristic?
I was never given horses that were ready to compete, that I just had to climb on and steer round the course. In car jargon, one would say: I have never driven an automatic. I have always schooled my horses myself. So, I would say my most outstanding characteristic is that I feel at home riding a wide range of different horses – because I adapt to suit the horse and not vice versa. I don’t have one set system that has to work come what may; instead, I recognise the quality of a horse and try to exploit it to the full. This has enabled me to reach top-level sport with several horses.
The past few months were without doubt the most intensive in the Belgian show-jumper Pieter Devos’s life. At the Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’, he celebrated a sensational victory, winning the CN International Grand Prix presented by Rolex ahead of the Olympic gold medallist Steve Guerdat and the French world-class rider, Pénélope Leprévost. “I didn’t actually believe it until I was stood in front of Steve during the prize-giving ceremony,” he recalled. The 27-year-old is modest, but also ambitious and confident. For example, he boldly stated prior to the CHI Geneva, “Who knows perhaps I will be able to repeat my surprise victory like at the Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’?”
The big arena in Palexpo is definitely ideal for his mare Candy. She loves long courses, big dimensions. According to her rider, the horse is not at all spooky, very careful and has amazing jumping potential. In the arena at Spruce Meadows, that massive park with its mighty obstacles, Candy was the only horse to jump clear and in doing so offered her rider the chance to become the first equestrian athlete to win the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping. Devos tries not to think about the Grand Slam too often: “Otherwise it would put even more pressure on me. The Rolex Grand Slam is not just about winning a lot of money; it is mainly about become an equestrian sport legend.” So, in Geneva, he will try and remain as cool as possible when riding, but one thing is also certain: “When I enter the ring, I’ll certainly do my best to win.
Palexpo. The name is always mentioned with an air of respect. The name of this mighty hall, the temple of the equestrian sport. An indoor arena that is unparalleled in the whole world. It is a place that impresses, which was built to make sport legends out of the riders. Since 1991, the CHI Geneva has been staged here on Lake Geneva, offering a view of the majestic Mont Blanc. Impressive dimensions and an enthusiastic atmosphere turn the Palexpo into one of the cult sites of equestrian sport. In December, the next chapter of one of the most exciting stories of the international sport will be written: The story of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping, which unites tradition, passion and world-class sport at the highest possible level. Who will be the first rider to claim the crown of the sport, who will be the first one in the history of the equestrian sport to win the Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’, the CHI Geneva and the CHIO Aachen in succession? All eyes will be on Pieter Devos during CHI Geneva 2013, the young Belgian rider, who left the entire equestrian elite trailing behind him at the ‘Masters’ in Calgary and rode his horse Candy to victory. In Geneva, Devos is placing his bets on the huge arena, because Candy loves big halls.
Since 1991, the CHI has been staged in this indoor arena, which is the largest in the world. At its premiere in 1926, the first international show-jumping competition in Geneva was held in the newly constructed Palais de Expositions. 50 years later the show relocated to the “Centre Sportif des Vernets”, before making its current location, Palexpo, its home since 1991. Where else but here, the biggest indoor stadium in the world, would be the perfect place to write history? It is certainly not going to be easy for Pieter Devos to repeat his Calgary victory. In particular, with the Olympic gold medallist and Swiss sports hero, Steve Guerdat, who will be doing his very best to win the home game: “I came fifth in Aachen in June and finished second in Calgary in September – now of course my aim is to come under the top rankings in Geneva in December.”
On Sunday, during the traditional Rolex Grand Prix, we will see if the successful rider Pieter Devos manages to become a legend, despite his young age. Welcome to the CHI Geneva 2013, welcome to the Rolex Grand Slam.