Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping

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News

(Photo: Rolex Grand Slam) (Photo: Rolex Grand Slam)

 

The Rolex Grand Slam ‘Second Screen’ – designed exclusively for the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping – allows fans to follow their favourite horse and rider combinations using second screen technology. Launched ahead of The Dutch Masters 2021, the first equestrian Major of the year, the Rolex Grand Slam Second Screen technology has been supplying equestrian enthusiasts with the most up-to-date statistics for over a year. Viewers from over 50 countries have enjoyed the experience and are now utilising the technology before, during and after the Majors to gain a better understanding of the performances of their favourite equestrian pairings.

The Rolex Grand Slam Second Screen technology was developed by a team of specialist experts at the Swiss company, Alogo. The company is known for its creation of analytical tools for the equine industry, including a range of cutting-edge products that quantify athletes’ performances.

Through the web app, passionate equestrian supporters from around the world are able to see a host of real-time data, including live timings, faults acquired, as well as the order of go. This service runs seamlessly alongside the Rolex Grand Slam online streaming platform. In addition, the Rolex Grand Slam Second Screen retains all of the statistics created for each Major, which allows users to look back at each of these iconic shows in more detail than ever before.

The Rolex Grand Slam Second Screen also gives fans access to additional stats, such as which obstacles were knocked down the most, the number of riders outside of the permitted time and live timings during the jump-off, as well as information about the Rolex Grand Slam Live Contender. The Rolex Grand Slam Second Screen is the perfect addition to the live stream for equestrian fans wanting to know more about the four Majors that comprise the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping: The Dutch Masters, CHIO Aachen, CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’, and CHI Geneva.

The Rolex Grand Slam Second Screen is free and available to use by clicking on the following link: https://rolexgrandslam.alogo.io/

(Photo: Dirk Caremans / Hippofoto) (Photo: Dirk Caremans / Hippofoto)

 

What is your earliest equestrian memory?

Over 30 years ago, an equestrian centre opened in our local area near to Lier, which, at the time, was actually the biggest equestrian centre to be built in Belgium. I took my daughter, Elke, to it and she loved it. After that day, I saw how much she loved horses, so I bought her a little mare called So Brave. They won numerous classes together, and from there we got in contact with Eric Wauters, and that is where it all began. In those days, show jumping was not really televised, but when it was, only an occasional five or ten minutes was shown. But I remember in 1992, the show jumping at the Barcelona Olympic Games was shown in full and that was really exciting for the sport in Belgium.

How did you become a top-level owner in the sport?

There were two main reasons that I became a top-level owner in the sport; the first was meeting Eric Wauters and the second was that I was always looking for better horses for my daughter. Back then, it was easier to find nice horses, as there were fewer good ones. Yards these days have over one hundred horses aged between six and eight that could all be great horses, so it takes a bit of luck to find a top one. At first, I owned horses that competed at national level but that then progressed to the international levels. My ambition of buying better horses has never been to sell them, but to keep them and train them to be better – I get so much enjoyment out of this and that has ultimately always been my plan.

As an owner, what is the proudest moment of your career so far?

There are two moments that stand out to me. The first is Olivier Philippaerts’ successes with Carlito C. I bred the horse myself and it made it even more special. He won the Derby classes at the Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ and at CHIO Aachen, both of which were incredibly proud moments for me.

Secondly would be all of the successes that Nicola has had; he has won 5* Grands Prix and the Belgium Championships. Now, he is having so much success with Katanga v/h Dingeshof, she was incredible in the Rolex Grand Prix at this year’s CHIO Aachen, as well as at the FEI European Championships. Now, the combination heads to the FEI World Championships in Herning, and I think they have a chance not only in the Individual competition, but also as part of the team – so I am very hopeful. It is a true championship and there will be a lot of competition.

What qualities are you looking for when purchasing a 5* (or potential 5*) show jumping horse?

Nowadays, they have to be the total package – they have to have everything; speed, cleverness, scope, sharpness, blood and so on. When I first started, 30 years ago, the riders were more important, because in a class of 40 riders, maybe only five of them could win. Now, 38 out of the 40 riders in a class can potentially win, so the horse must have everything in order to be successful.

In Belgium we have a lot of good horses, and that makes it difficult to pick the best ones. Ludo Philippaerts now has around 12 to 15 extremely talented eight-year-olds. Ludo is great at spotting potential in a horse, and usually when he tells me that a horse is good it turns out to be very good.

How important is it for you to get the horse/rider pairing correct? How do you know a horse will be a good fit for the rider, and vice versa?

The first thing is the rider needs to see the talent and potential in the horse. The rider then has to like the horse; if they don’t then I won’t buy it. If they did not have a good feeling, then it is over for me. For me, riding the horse at least once or twice is extremely important; however, Ludo never rode Katanga v/h Dingeshof before he bought her! I don’t think anyone can really predict which eight-year-old will turn into a 5* Grand Prix winner – you can have a good feeling, but they still have a long way to go before they become a top horse.

Tell us a bit about your relationship with the Philippaerts family? Can you share some behind the scenes insights into an owner/rider partnership?

I have been in partnership with the Philippaerts family for around 10 or 12 years now and our relationship is great. I first met Ludo before his children were born, around 30 years ago. Ludo now has a lot of very nice eight year olds that are ready to make the step up to the next level. We work very well together, and we always have; I trust him. He is amazing at sourcing the best horses for me; and now he has four sons in the business he has to find top horses for them as well, which he keeps doing. He has a talent and a great eye for a horse!

How many horses do you currently own? Which of your young horses do you believe has the potential to be the most successful?

I currently own six horses, and I have always owned between six and eight horses at one time. I like to have a smaller number of horses because then you are able to get to know each one better and learn their different personality traits and quirks. I do not breed anymore so the youngest of the horses I own at the moment are seven and eight years old. Nowadays, it is very difficult to know if an eight-year-old will one day become a top 5* horse. You need to be patient and hopeful that the horse and rider combination will be perfect.

What is your main ambition as a top-level owner?

To enjoy the sport, but also to try to win and be successful. Together with my team, we have won numerous 5* Grands Prix and Belgian Championships. The aim now is to win a Rolex Grand Prix or the Olympic Games. We have missed out on going to the Olympic Games twice now due to injuries. They are big dreams, but you have to have big dreams, and sometimes they come true.

The feeling that you get as an owner when your horse is successful is incredible. The feeling when Olivier won the Derby classes at CHIO Aachen and at the Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ was unbelievable. I was so nervous before CHIO Aachen this year, so for Nicola to come third was incredible. CHIO Aachen and the Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ are like the Tour de France in cycling – everyone wants to compete in them and do well.

Which horse(s) (past or present) of yours are you most proud of, and why?

That is so difficult because I have been so fortunate to have had so many amazing horses. I have had eight horses compete in Nations Cup teams. In Belgium there are so many good horses, so to have that many horses compete for our country is incredible and has been a great honour for me.

H&M Chilli Willi was a phenomenal horse and now Katanga v/h Dingeshof is so talented. She has achieved so much in her career including Team bronze and Individual fifth at the FEI European Championships last year; fourth in the Rolex Grand Prix at CSIO Roma Piazza di Siena; and third in the Rolex Grand Prix at CHIO Aachen. Those are just a few of her highlights from the past year. She is a horse of lifetime, but Ludo always tells me he can keeping finding them for me.

How positive do you believe the Rolex Grand Slam is for the sport of show jumping?

It is incredible, the Rolex Grand Slam is the biggest thing to have happened to show jumping. Every rider wants to compete at the Majors. I was offered Hello Sanctos, the horse Scott Brash won the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping on, so to watch him be so successful was magical. There is nothing in the sport that compares to the Rolex Grand Slam.

Out of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping's four Majors, which is your favourite, and why?

It would have to be CHIO Aachen and the Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’. We have had a lot of successes at these two shows, which adds to how special they are. The joy that I have got out of these shows is unbelievable, and the crowds are phenomenal. Nicola wants to go to the Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ this year, but we have to be so careful with Katanga v/h Dingeshof. She has had an extremely busy time with CHIO Aachen and other competitions earlier in the season, and now she has been selected for Belgium’s World Championships team, so I think it might be too much for her. But it is his dream, so we will base our decision off her World Championships’ performance. Olivier may go to the Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’, but that has not been confirmed yet.

Who has inspired you the most throughout your career?

I have met so many great riders and people that it is difficult for me to name just one, but Eric Wauters inspired me greatly. He was a great friend and taught me so much. Nowadays, Ludo is such an inspiration. But I would have to say that they both are masters, and they know so much about horses and the industry.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

The late Eric Wauters used to say to me: “Do not look too hard for a horse, one day the right one will just walk into your stables”. I think that that statement is so true.

Ludo always says to me: “I will find you another top horse”, and he always does. It is an incredible talent that he has; finding a top 5* horse is so hard and he just keeps finding them.

 

(Photo: Rolex Grand Slam) (Photo: Rolex Grand Slam)

 

With European summertime drawing to a close, so too does the Rolex Grands Prix summer season, which begins in May and ends on the final weekend in August. Over the course of this four-month period, Rolex is the title partner of six prestigious shows’ Grands Prix, each one sitting outside of the revered Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping.

CSIO Jumping International de la Baule hosted the first Rolex Grand Prix of the summer season, also marking the first time Rolex has sponsored the show, a firm favourite with riders. Delighted crowds witnessed 59-year-old Canadian Beth Underhill and Dieu Merci Van T&L lift the inaugural trophy. The stallion was previously ridden by legendary Rolex Testimonee Eric Lamaze, who has now retired from the sport due to health issues. Lamaze is now providing his expert knowledge to the Canadian team in his new role as Chef d’Equipe and was with Underhill at the show. Second place went to Yuri Mansur of Brazil with his gelding Vitiki, with Frenchman Pierre Marie Friant claiming third with Urdy d’Astrée.

Just a week later, the world’s best horse and rider combinations made the short journey across the English Channel to the spectacular CHI Royal Windsor Horse Show in the grounds of Windsor Castle, which this year hosted a spectacular equestrian and musical performance to celebrate Her Majesty The Queen’s 70-year reign. Equestrian royalty gathered to contest the Rolex Grand Prix, which, in typical English style, was held under grey clouds and rainy skies. Bernardo Costa Cabral’s course caused issues throughout, with only three combinations eventually progressing to the jump-off. First to go was Belgian Gregory Wathelet with his trusted partner Nevados S who laid down a gauntlet that neither Max Kühner of Austria nor Daniel Bluman from Israel could match. Wathelet and his stallion now target the FEI World Championships, both hoping to carry forward their winning form.

Next up was CSIO Roma Piazza di Siena, which is often referred to as the most picturesque show jumping event in the world. On the pristine oval arena where 49 of the world’s best partnerships competed, 13 proceeded to the jump-off. Much to his delight, Irishman Denis Lynch claimed his second Rolex Grand Prix in Roma, his first coming in 2008 with the great Lantinus. Lynch had only recently taken over the reins of his ride Brooklyn Heights, but the duo were in harmony and produced the quickest round to take the title. Germany’s Jana Wargers and her bay stallion Limbridge followed up in second place and home favourite Piergiorgio Bucci took third.

Knokke Hippique, was won by World No. 3 Peder Fredricson from Sweden, riding his long-standing partner H&M All In, who is now 16-years-old. With six combinations going clear in the first round, it was a hotly contested jump-off. Fredricson, who now heads to the FEI World Championships in Herning, Denmark with H&M All In, commented: “H&M All In may be 16 years old but he is still a winner. He got a break for a few weeks and participated in a small competition last week to warm up again. Today was our day. I am immensely happy”.

The Rolex Grand Prix, held last weekend at Jumping International de Dinard, saw current World No.1 Martin Fuchs claim back-to-back wins in the prestigious competition, following his victory with Conner Jei last year. This year, the Swiss was partnered by his striking grey gelding Leone Jei, with whom he won the Rolex Grand Prix at CHI Geneva last year. The duo have been selected to represent the Swiss team at next week’s World Championships and will be full of confidence heading into the competition. Home crowd favourite Julien Epaillard and Gracieux du Pachis produced the only other double clear but were just 0.52 seconds slower than the winning combination, while Fuchs’ fellow Rolex Testimonee Bertram Allen and Pacino Amiro took third in the esteemed class with a fast four faults in the jump-off.

Attention now turns to the Brussels Stephex Masters, which for the first time this year will be held in a grass arena and will host the final Rolex Grand Prix of the summer season. Following this is the third Major of the year hosted at the Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ where Gerrit Nieberg will look to continue his quest as Live Contender after his spectacular win in the Rolex Grand Prix at CHIO Aachen.

(Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Peggy Schröder) (Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Peggy Schröder)

 

What is your role at CHIO Aachen?

I am the president of the veterinary commission so I am responsible for all veterinary affairs. This requires us to carry out examinations on the horses on arrival to see if they’ve travelled well, that they’ve arrived without any infectious diseases, and that they have no fever. With every horse, we then have to perform a veterinary inspection, which consists of a trot-up to check if the horses are lame or not, to check that the tendons look good, and confirm that the horse’s general attitude is fine. For some disciplines, such as eventing, we sometimes have to do that twice, both before and after cross-country, for example. We also have to view horses’ medication.

It is my responsibility to ensure that there is a good veterinary service provided – a vet in each ring and a vet in the stable area. Here in Aachen, there is a whole team of vets, including specialists in diagnosis and specialists in internal medicine. We are very well equipped – we have ultrasound, endoscopy, we have a complete laboratory here on the showground so that we can deliver a first class service to the horses, especially in cases when a horse is injured or not well. It allows us to manage things on-site and find an early diagnosis. Only in the most severe case, where a surgical intervention is necessary, is a horse then referred to a hospital.

Have you worked on any other international equestrian events?

I have been the foreign veterinary delegate for European and World Championships, and also at the Olympic Games. My stand-out experience came when I was part of the veterinary commission at the London 2012 Olympic Games, which was a fantastic event. It was incredible public relations for all equine sports. I’ve had great times in La Baule, which is a good event. However, the one that I like most is CHIO Aachen. I was born in Aachen and I grew up in Aachen. I’ve work on the show for 40 years – I started as a student supporting the vets, then worked as a vet, then became a member of the veterinary commission, and since 1998 I have been the chef of the veterinary commission.

Over the last 20 years, CHIO Aachen has improved greatly. I believe it was the World Equestrian Games (WEG) in 2006 that really gave us a boost. For me, the event was a huge success, and as far as I’m concerned, there’s never been an equestrian event that has had more positive public attention. Since the WEG, this show has grown – we now have additional disciplines here. Before we just had jumping, dressage and driving – additionally we now have eventing and vaulting.

How important is nutrition for a horse’s wellbeing?

The horse requires nutrition that is adequate for the horse. It needs a large amount of roughage and fibre, which is very important for its gut. If horses are put on a diet with too much grain and not enough fibre then the risk of colic is much higher. You need to give a horse basic good food – there is no superfood. A horse also needs basic good training. From time to time you need to take blood samples to see what a horse might be lacking. In my opinion, supplements are both overrated and overused.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to become an equine vet?

You must have a connection to the horse, have empathy for it, and be eager to learn. If you are only concerned about money, there are other far better opportunities than being an equine vet that you should choose. Our profession has a problem motivating young vets. A lot of aspiring vets have found their way into this profession through their love of the horse, but during their studies they also realise that it’s hard work with long hours, including night and weekend duties. Some then decide that they would like a more comfortable life with more normal hours, with no night duties or weekend working, which is a problem for our industry all across Europe. Maybe it’s just a generation problem.

What is a typical day for you like?

I get up at 7am and I will be at the show at 8.30am, where I will spend the whole day. I’m usually not home before 9pm and sometimes not before 11pm or midnight. And that’s not just for me, that’s for most of the veterinary team. I alone cannot do this job. For example, today there are about 20 vets working here. We start with four vets and as the CHIO progresses the number of vets increase, as the final three days of the Festival are the most intense.

Tell us a little bit about your team…

The WEG in 2006 highlighted that we needed a larger veterinary team, and then we additionally had endurance and reining. In 2002 when we won the bid for the WEG, Frank Kemperman came back from Jerez and said that we had to sit down and make plans. The first plan was to enlarge our facilities in the stables and the veterinary centre, while the second plan was to expand the veterinary team. We then had three years to build the team, so I asked some vets that I knew if they were interested and some others joined spontaneously. The eventual team in 2006 was very well welded together, and the nucleus of that team still exists here today, which I’m very happy about. The team is very supportive of each other, closing their own practices, coming from far and wide across Europe, not just from the local area, but from Belgium, The Netherlands, Austria and all over Germany. Every day I look forward to the show and being here, but it’s always hard work.

When you retire, what legacy would you like to leave in equestrianism?

What I’ve tried to achieve, which has been partially successful, was when the relationship between the official vets and the treating vets improved. The official vets don’t just see themselves as policemen any longer, but also as advisors, and the treating vets are taking this advice. The cooperation of both groups has brought not just a better relationship but also better understanding of the sport, and ultimately a better situation for the horse.

In your opinion, what more can be, and should be, done to improve the welfare of the horse?

There are multiple things that can be done. But for me, the main thing is for the main decisionmakers to ensure that their horses have proper phases of rest, of reduced training and, for certain events, must be specially trained. A horse cannot go through the year on the same level of performance – no horse can sustain that. Most of the good riders that you see here at CHIO Aachen understand that. There must be better controls, whether that’s by improved vet inspections and doping controls, more consistent judging. I still believe that it is still possible to bring the sport on to an even higher level, which is achieved by good horsemanship and ensuring that everything is done for the good of the horse.

(Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Ashley Neuhof) (Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Ashley Neuhof)

Gerrit Nieberg wins the Rolex Grand Prix of Aachen and becomes the Rolex Grand Slam Live Contender

 

Bathed in glorious July sunshine, CHIO Aachen’s 40,000 capacity Hauptstadion looked resplendent, as it was once again the venue for the 2022 edition of the Rolex Grand Prix, part of the inimitable Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping. Comprising 40 starters from 14 nations, including 20 of the world’s top 30-ranked riders, the World Equestrian Festival’s knowledgeable crowd was full of anticipation, ahead of being treated to unparalleled levels of skill and precision from the horse and rider combinations that had qualified for this pinnacle class.

With just the top 18 progressing to the second round, there was little room for error, as the Frank Rothenberger-designed course – consisting of 14 obstacles and 17 efforts – demanded that each pairing was on the very top of their game. Thirteen riders eventually went clear, including on-form McLain Ward, who had his sights firmly set on a hat-trick of victories, having claimed both Wednesday’s and Friday’s showpiece classes. British trio, Harry Charles, Scott Brash and Ben Maher joined the American in round two, alongside five Germans – Gerrit Nieberg, Christian Ahlmann, Daniel Deusser, Mario Stevens and Philipp Weishaupt – much to the delight of the rapturous home crowd. Five advancing riders picked up penalties in the first round and had it all to do, including three-time Major winner, Steve Guerdat, and Harrie Smolders from The Netherlands.

After a short break, while the 12-obstacle second round course was built, two-time Major winner, Philipp Weishaupt got the contest back underway, although an early refusal by his mount Asathir meant there would be no third Major triumph for the German. Eighth to go, America’s McLain Ward and his mount HH Azur was the first combination to go double clear, much to the delight of his team watching on from Aachen’s ‘kiss and cry’ area. Next to go, the current Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Live Contender, Daniel Deusser, and his super mare, Killer Queen Vdm, demonstrated their unwavering talent and ability, recording the contest’s second double clear, thereby triggering a jump-off. The only rider to ever win the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping, Scott Brash soon made it three in the jump-off, after he and Hello Jefferson navigated the 17-effort test fault free. It wasn’t to be for Irish duo Conor Swail and Darragh Kenny, Nayal Nasser of Egypt, Rolex Testimonee Kevin Staut and Great Britain’s Ben Maher, after they all accrued penalties. Penultimate rider to go, Nicola Philippaerts, would become the fourth to contest the jump-off, while last to go, Germany’s Gerrit Nieberg also booked his place in the final showdown.

McLain Ward kicked off proceedings in the jump-off, but was unlucky to put the final fence down. Next up, Daniel Deusser made no mistake, crossing the finishing line without a fault in 41.60 seconds, thereby setting a tough target for the final three riders to try and beat. If anyone could emulate Deusser’s time, Scott Brash could – the 36-year-old Briton going over two seconds faster than his fellow Rolex Testimonee. Despite going clear, Nicola Philippaerts’ slightly slower time saw him slot into third spot. Last to go, current world number 106, Gerrit Nieberg, produced the ride of his life abord his 11-year-old bay gelding, Ben 431, crossing the line over half a second quicker than Brash, thereby winning the 2022 edition of CHIO Aachen’s Rolex Grand Prix and in doing so becoming the new Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Live Contender.

On his victory, winning rider, Gerrit Nieberg, commented: “Everything is still unreal – I really didn’t expect this. Dreams definitely came true today – it was an amazing feeling.

On the winner, second placed Scott Brash, said: “Gerrit did a fantastic round. I knew that there was an inside turn to the double and looked to it when I went in, but I didn’t fancy it and no one else had done it. He [Gerrit] had to do it to win and he did it very well, so all credit to him, and fair play. He rode very, very well and his horse jumped great today.”

On his horse, Hello Jefferson, Scott Brash, said: “I’m extremely proud of Jefferson today, he did an amazing job. I couldn’t have asked any more from him. We were beaten by Gerrit who did an unbelievable round.”

On his mare, Katanga V/H Dingeshof, third placed Nicola Philippaerts, commented: “I’m so proud, you can’t imagine – she’s a very special mare. She gave everything and jumped unbelievably well.”

(Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Ashley Neuhof) (Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Ashley Neuhof)

Rider interview:

Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum

 

You have had some incredible moments here at CHIO Aachen; do you still get a buzz when you arrive here?

Yes, I must say that when I arrived at the show Thusrday, I got a little teary eyed because I have so many great memories here, and there’s so much emotion. The highest point in my riding career occurred at this venue. There were also some low points in between, where I had to be motivated to come back from disappointment and defeat – there was just so much emotion. It’s a wonderful place and it still makes my heart go pitter-patter.

You’ve achieved some phenomenal successes in the sport; do you now feel a responsibility to give something back and help nurture the next generation of show jumping talent?

Yes. I’m at a different point in my life now, showing less and training more, and I’m very happy to do that because I feel as though I can give something back to the sport, particularly young riders, and particularly women. I think I’ve paved the way for women in this sport, showing them that anything is possible, including being number one in the world, as a woman. And to also make the German team, as a woman, which was dominated by males before I came along. It’s very rewarding for me to be at a different point in my life now and to give something back.

We hear a lot that the Aachen crowd supports riders, whether they win or not. What makes the crowd here so special?

It’s a very special feeling when you walk into the arena and there are 40,000 people clapping for you, all crossing their fingers and wishing you the best. This motivates every rider. It’s an incredible experience to ride here, but to win here in this atmosphere in front of this spectator field is indescribable, it gives you the goosebumps.

Away from show jumping, which other sports are you passionate about? Have you experienced any other major championships?

I’m a great spectator of tennis, but not a great player! Not a great golfer, either, but I’m better at it than I am at tennis. I enjoy watching both of those sports at the top level, and I even had the pleasure of going to Wimbledon, as a Rolex Testimonee, and had the opportunity to meet other Rolex Testimonees. But on the side, I try to improve my golf game.

Do you believe any of your young horses have the potential to become future Grand Prix stars?

We have a few really nice, young horses at the moment. I currently have a horse, who I’m riding, who I’ve been bringing along called I’m Blue, and I think he’s definitely going to make it to Grand Prix level.

How about your students – do any have the potential to be future superstars?

Oh yes – I have some great students at the moment. I have a couple of American students, who are very motivated, just like I was. I have a couple of Chinese students, as well. But my best student is, of course, my daughter, who is motivated and has big dreams, although she’s only 12-years-old, but it’s fun for me to watch her aspire to do great things in the sport.

As you’ve just said, your daughter, Brianne, is a very talented show jumper. Do you believe the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping is inspiring other young talent to pursue careers in the sport?

I think the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping has been a major turning point for the equestrian world. All of a sudden we had Rolex come in, which put a new aspiration, even a pinnacle, on the sport, which other sports, such as tennis and golf have. We finally got to a point where we’re on a similar level with some great sports. It’s been a major achievement, and it’s inspired a lot of people to try and achieve the Rolex dream.

(Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Peggy Schröder) (Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Peggy Schröder)

The Vet-Check

Dr. Wilfried Hanbücken

 

What is your role at CHIO Aachen?

I am the president of the veterinary commission so I am responsible for all veterinary affairs. This requires us to carry out examinations on the horses on arrival to see if they’ve travelled well, that they’ve arrived without any infectious diseases, and that they have no fever. With every horse, we then have to perform a veterinary inspection, which consists of a trot-up to check if the horses are lame or not, to check that the tendons look good, and confirm that the horse’s general attitude is fine. For some disciplines, such as eventing, we sometimes have to do that twice, both before and after cross-country, for example. We also have to view horses’ medication.

It is my responsibility to ensure that there is a good veterinary service provided – a vet in each ring and a vet in the stable area. Here in Aachen, there is a whole team of vets, including specialists in diagnosis and specialists in internal medicine. We are very well equipped – we have ultrasound, endoscopy, we have a complete laboratory here on the showground so that we can deliver a first class service to the horses, especially in cases when a horse is injured or not well. It allows us to manage things on-site and find an early diagnosis. Only in the most severe case, where a surgical intervention is necessary, is a horse then referred to a hospital.

Have you worked on any other international equestrian events?

I have been the foreign veterinary delegate for European and World Championships, and also at the Olympic Games. My stand-out experience came when I was part of the veterinary commission at the London 2012 Olympic Games, which was a fantastic event. It was incredible public relations for all equine sports. I’ve had great times in La Baule, which is a good event. However, the one that I like most is CHIO Aachen. I was born in Aachen and I grew up in Aachen. I’ve work on the show for 40 years – I started as a student supporting the vets, then worked as a vet, then became a member of the veterinary commission, and since 1998 I have been the chef of the veterinary commission.

Over the last 20 years, CHIO Aachen has improved greatly. I believe it was the World Equestrian Games (WEG) in 2006 that really gave us a boost. For me, the event was a huge success, and as far as I’m concerned, there’s never been an equestrian event that has had more positive public attention. Since the WEG, this show has grown – we now have additional disciplines here. Before we just had jumping, dressage and driving – additionally we now have eventing and vaulting.

How important is nutrition for a horse’s wellbeing?

The horse requires nutrition that is adequate for the horse. It needs a large amount of roughage and fibre, which is very important for its gut. If horses are put on a diet with too much grain and not enough fibre then the risk of colic is much higher. You need to give a horse basic good food – there is no superfood. A horse also needs basic good training. From time to time you need to take blood samples to see what a horse might be lacking. In my opinion, supplements are both overrated and overused.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to become an equine vet?

You must have a connection to the horse, have empathy for it, and be eager to learn. If you are only concerned about money, there are other far better opportunities than being an equine vet that you should choose. Our profession has a problem motivating young vets. A lot of aspiring vets have found their way into this profession through their love of the horse, but during their studies they also realise that it’s hard work with long hours, including night and weekend duties. Some then decide that they would like a more comfortable life with more normal hours, with no night duties or weekend working, which is a problem for our industry all across Europe. Maybe it’s just a generation problem.

What is a typical day for you like?

I get up at 7am and I will be at the show at 8.30am, where I will spend the whole day. I’m usually not home before 9pm and sometimes not before 11pm or midnight. And that’s not just for me, that’s for most of the veterinary team. I alone cannot do this job. For example, today there are about 20 vets working here. We start with four vets and as the CHIO progresses the number of vets increase, as the final three days of the Festival are the most intense.

Tell us a little bit about your team…

The WEG in 2006 highlighted that we needed a larger veterinary team, and then we additionally had endurance and reining. In 2002 when we won the bid for the WEG, Frank Kemperman came back from Jerez and said that we had to sit down and make plans. The first plan was to enlarge our facilities in the stables and the veterinary centre, while the second plan was to expand the veterinary team. We then had three years to build the team, so I asked some vets that I knew if they were interested and some others joined spontaneously. The eventual team in 2006 was very well welded together, and the nucleus of that team still exists here today, which I’m very happy about. The team is very supportive of each other, closing their own practices, coming from far and wide across Europe, not just from the local area, but from Belgium, The Netherlands, Austria and all over Germany. Every day I look forward to the show and being here, but it’s always hard work.

When you retire, what legacy would you like to leave in equestrianism?

What I’ve tried to achieve, which has been partially successful, was when the relationship between the official vets and the treating vets improved. The official vets don’t just see themselves as policemen any longer, but also as advisors, and the treating vets are taking this advice. The cooperation of both groups has brought not just a better relationship but also better understanding of the sport, and ultimately a better situation for the horse.

In your opinion, what more can be, and should be, done to improve the welfare of the horse?

There are multiple things that can be done. But for me, the main thing is for the main decisionmakers to ensure that their horses have proper phases of rest, of reduced training and, for certain events, must be specially trained. A horse cannot go through the year on the same level of performance – no horse can sustain that. Most of the good riders that you see here at CHIO Aachen understand that. There must be better controls, whether that’s by improved vet inspections and doping controls, more consistent judging. I still believe that it is still possible to bring the sport on to an even higher level, which is achieved by good horsemanship and ensuring that everything is done for the good of the horse.

(Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Ashley Neuhof) (Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Ashley Neuhof)

Mclain Ward wins the RWE Prize Of North Rhine-Westphalia

 

Fifty of the world’s best show jumpers and their equine partners contested Friday’s feature jumping class – the RWE Prize of North Rhine-Westphalia – in front of an excited and enthusiastic crowd, which would serve as the final opportunity for riders to qualify for Sunday’s Rolex Grand Prix, one of the four Majors which comprises the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping.

A 1.60m competition featuring a jump-off, the Frank Rothenberger-designed course included 14 obstacles, providing a tough challenge to a line-up that included 1992 Individual Olympic champion, Germany’s Ludger Beerbaum, fellow compatriot and the current Rolex Grand Slam Live Contender, Daniel Deusser, and Swiss maestro and Rolex Testimonee, Steve Guerdat.

Sixteen combinations eventually navigated the first round fault-free, advancing to the jump-off, which would be contested over a shorter eight-obstacle, but no less demanding, course. The first five riders to go, including Ireland’s Conor Swail and Germany’s Jana Wargers, each picked up one fault; however, sixth to go, Frenchman Nicolas Delmotte, soon broke the trend going double clear in 42.95 seconds. Delmotte’s clear was shortly emulated by Germany’s Christian Kukuk and Jur Vrieling of The Netherlands, with the latter crossing the line in 42.79 seconds to temporarily take top spot. Vrieling’s lead however was short-lived, with current world number 29-ranked rider, Steve Guerdat knocking over four tenths off his time.

With two riders to go, including Dutchman Harrie Smolders and McLain Ward from the USA, Guerdat faced an anxious wait, hoping his time would be unbeatable. However, Wednesday’s winner of the Turkish Airlines-Prize of Europe, McLain Ward, and his consistent partner, Contagious, soon demonstrated their harmony and class, knocking Guerdat off top spot, crossing the line in 41.70 seconds to claim the honours.

Delighted with his second win in as many days aboard his 13-year-old chestnut gelding, Ward, commented: “I think he’s [Contagious] on really good form and we’re aiming him towards the World Championships, it’s one of the reasons we had this week planned for him, so we’ll stick to our plan and hopefully be able to be in the mix.”

On his partner for Sunday’s Rolex Grand Prix, Ward, said: “It’s always nice to have a good week, as it gives you confidence. It makes you take a breath and focus. Azur [HH Azur] is older now and I know her very well, she’s my old friend. We’ll just do what we do, I don’t think today or Wednesday has much to do with what’s going to happen on Sunday. We’ll just focus and do the best job we can on the day.”

(Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Peggy Schröder) (Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Peggy Schröder)

Walking the Course with:

Frank Rothenberger

 

What do you like to do away from show jumping?

I sail a lot, sometimes three or four times a year. Six weeks ago, I went to Croatia, and later this year I’ll go back to Croatia, and also visit Majorca, the Mediterranean, Thailand and the Caribbean. I go skiing with some of my friends, who are riders, including Lars Nieberg and Otto Becker – as junior riders we did the German Championships together when we were 16, 17, 18. We’re now planning to go to skiing in America, but two of the team are a bit older and a little bit sceptical, but I said to them, ‘if we don’t go now, we will never go’.

What does a typical day for you at a show look like?

I get up every morning at about 5.30am or 6am. I arrive at the showground at around 7am, depending on when the first class will start. Generally, we prepare for the following day, so if I come in on Wednesday morning, we will be preparing for Thursday. All the work for today is done – all the plans are organised and supplied. Measurements and distances and sponsors’ jumps – these are all the little things we have to organise. We supply the course plans the night before, so during the day everybody knows what to do. We have almost 50 people in five groups in the arena, mostly all course designers. It's a good atmosphere, and everybody works very hard. We have four nights where we must build during the night – last night the class finished at 10pm and then we worked until 1.30am this morning. We will do the same tomorrow night.

What advice would you give to a budding course designer?

Someone wanting to be a course designer should be a rider first, to know the feeling of how to ride a course. Then you need a lot of passion; you must love it. If you just go into course designing to make money, it will not work. My daughter is becoming a course designer at the moment – she's doing the FEI level two seminar this year, and she's doing some small international shows with me. She is also doing some big events; she assists with the European Championships. She was in Aachen last year and is doing a show next week on her own. My advice is that you must continue course designing permanently – not just once or twice a year.

How do you see the future of course designing?

Course designing is always developing – it runs parallel to our education around horses. As the riding improves, the strides are getting smaller, so we have to adjust the distance combinations between jumps. I’ve done this job for 40 years, and when I started, we had big bulky jumps, but this has almost gone. Now we have smaller, more open jumps with light poles. The length of the poles has reduced to 3.5m here in Aachen, when before it was always four metres. We changed this about six or seven years ago, so the jumps are much lighter now. It's very difficult nowadays to get the right number of clears. Years ago, out of 40 riders, 10 could win the class, but nowadays 30 are sometimes in contention.

What’s your favourite course designing memory?

I remember here at Aachen, we once had 25 horses in a class and the course we built had every jump down except one. Out of 25 horses! That was a really, really nice course and I always remember it. Another memory was when I was in Calgary, and they asked me to supply the course plans before the show. I said, ‘no, I haven't been here before, so I must see the ring, the arena, and the position of the cameras first’. And then they forced me to do the course plan. In the end we had to change everything because we had a lot of rain overnight so the plans no longer worked, so we had to prepare everything all over again.

When and where was the first course that you designed, as head course designer?

I believe it was a national show, and I built a course with 20 jumps, but that was maybe 40 years ago. I remember when I built my first Nations Cup course in 1992 in Poland. I wasn’t actually allowed to build it because my name wasn’t on the list, but a Polish course designer put his name on paper, but I built it. That was really funny. I’ve done 97 Nation Cups so far – and really hope to reach 100.

Which course designer has inspired you the most throughout your career?

I worked for 10 years with Olaf Petersen and at that time he was the most outstanding course designer in the world. Nowadays, we have lots of good course designers, which means we have very good courses all around the world. I’d say we currently have nine or 10 top course designers on the global circuit, so it's difficult to pick just one.

Tell us about this Sunday’s course and who you think will win the Rolex Grand Prix?

The riders are all really well prepared, and I expect to see some horses on Sunday, who haven't competed previously this week. I just hope we don’t get too many surprises, like too many clears or not enough clears! The Grand Prix course is really technical and enormous, but as ever it will be over two rounds, with eighteen pairs advancing to the second round. For me, a good result would be to end up with between 10 and 13 clears from the first round, and then three or four double clears. This is my wish. All this makes our sport so interesting – you just don't know the result beforehand, and it could work out very well. Sometimes you don’t have a jump-off, but the class can still be absolutely thrilling without it!

(Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Kit Houghton) (Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Kit Houghton)

Word from the Organiser:

Michael Mronz

 

 

You must be delighted that this year’s edition of the CHIO Aachen is going ahead with full capacity?

Yes – we are very happy. It is the first, full capacity CHIO Aachen to take place in the last three years [since 2019]. It is great to have all the best riders from around the world compete here, do the show and in particular, take part in the Rolex Grand Prix on Sunday.

Is there anything new this year that CHIO Aachen has introduced?

One of the major developments and focus areas has been the digital movement to improve the communication issues, which now means some classes that are not on television are available to watch. We have 109 hours of equestrian sport here across five disciplines and only about 30 hours are shown on television. So there has been a lot of content which is simply not being shown on television. Hence, we have been trying to see which target groups we could reach via new social media channels. One example is TikTok, which allows us to reach the younger audience effectively. On TikTok, viewers can now follow classes live on the app that are not shown on television. We really focused on what we could do with the amazing content that we have and how we could amplify it.

We are also evolving and have ventured into the metaverse and NFT space. In the CHIO Aachen Metaverse, the NFT is a “CHIO horse” and there are 1,000 horses available. Owners of such an NFT automatically become members of an exclusive community – the “CHIO Horse Club”. The first one was presented to McLain Ward yesterday evening [Wednesday 29 June]. As with all new innovations, it takes time to develop the metaverse offering but it is a really great opportunity and one that adds another element of fun to CHIO.

Are you taking any inspiration from other big shows or sports?

Absolutely. However, I am someone who recognises that lessons can be learned, and inspiration can be drawn, from not only the biggest shows but the smaller ones, too. It is important not to be arrogant and look to all events. There are numerous examples of small events with great ideas and it is often these events that are the most innovative, as they have to overcome a range of challenges due to their size and access, such as getting into the media. It is very interesting to see this constant innovation but it is not just in equestrian. We always look broader and into the wider sports world.

One big point for us in the future is going to be focusing more specifically on adding youth riders to the Aachen show. We can already see this year with the Youth Olympic Games taking part here in Aachen and we want to start developing a close relationship with the young riders at an earlier stage, rather than when they have reached the senior level. We want to involve the younger riders in the main events in some capacity. For example, when the farewells happen in the evening at the Aachen show, we will look to integrate the younger riders into the ceremony so they ride into a sold-out arena of 40,000 spectators after the Rolex Grand Slam. This experience will help ensure they really get a taste for and understand what is so special about Aachen. The aim is to inspire aspiring riders and get them dreaming about riding at Aachen. We also want to build a second stadium arena, an indoor arena. We are in discussions right now with the politicians to help accelerate the process.

What qualities do you look for in team members? And what makes a successful team?

To be a successful team you need to start from the point of view that you can be just as successful as a team. There needs to be the understanding that each member has an important role to play in achieving collective success. It is also important to be constantly looking to improve and to analyse the team’s strengths and weaknesses. Being reflective like this allows you to strengthen the team in core areas. If you have strong team members working together, it will be beneficial for the whole team. It is important to not be afraid of bringing in the best possible individuals to work in your team.

You’re very involved in the development of the North Rhine-Westphalia region in terms of sport and entertainment. Can you tell us a little bit about your hopes and aspirations?

In terms of aspirations, we would love to apply for the next Olympic and Paralympic Games. The IOC has a new regulation that looks at the level of infrastructure a particular city or region has. Regions are now able to apply for the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Take the Rhine-Ruhr region for example, it has 90% of the infrastructure already in place and can present sport disciplines like show jumping, riding, dressage, eventing, swimming, hockey, basketball, handball and volleyball with large spectator crowds – 40-50,000 in some cases. Not having to build brand new arenas because the infrastructure is already in place means nothing has to be purpose-built for the Olympic and Paralympic Games and is a huge advantage.

At the same time, within a 600km radius – and 6 hours by train – you can reach more than 220 million people. We have large capacity venues, huge crowds and from a sustainability point of view, it is easy to come to Germany by train. It raises the interesting question of whether we should bring the Games to the people or the people to the Games? I support the idea of hosting the Games in the region and think it would be great.

What are you most looking forward to seeing this week?

I am really looking forward to Sunday’s Rolex Grand Prix, part of the Rolex Grand Slam. Everyone in show jumping is looking forward to that prestigious event and then, of course, the dressage. It doesn’t matter if someone is winning or losing, the Aachen spectators are really supportive and celebrate every rider, which is great to see.

(Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Ashley Neuhof) (Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Ashley Neuhof)

McLain Ward wins the Turkish Airlines-Prize of Europe

 

Fifty six horse and rider combinations – each with their sights set on early qualification for Sunday’s pinnacle Rolex Grand Prix class – contested the 2022 edition of CHIO Aachen’s Turkish Airlines-Prize of Europe, a 1.60m competition over two rounds, which got underway in beautiful North Rhine-Westphalia evening sunshine and culminated under the Hauptstadion’s dazzling floodlights.

The Frank Rothenberger-designed course, which consisted of 14 obstacles in the first round and eight in the second, attracted 12 of the world’s top 20 ranked riders, including current number one, Switzerland’s Martin Fuchs, and Britain’s Harry Charles, who leads the U25 rankings.

With just the top 14 riders after round one progressing to round two, a faultless performance and a quick time were crucial. Rolex Testimonee, 2021’s winner of the Rolex Grand Prix at CHIO Aachen, and current Rolex Grand Slam Live Contender, Germany’s Daniel “Double D” Deusser was on blistering form with his 11-year-old stallion, Bingo Ste Hermelle, with the pair eventually topping the leader board after the first round. Other riders to note, who advanced to round two included the talented 26-year-old American, Spencer Smith, promising U25 French rider, Megane Moissonnier, and on-form Irishman, Conor Swail.

Despite double clears from Conor Swail and fellow countryman Darragh Kenny, Megane Moissonnier, former Major winner, Austria’s Max Kühner and Mexico’s Nicolas Pizarro, Switzerland’s Martin Fuchs and his superstar gelding Conner Jei appeared to be on another level, crossing the line in 41.48 seconds. However, USA’s McLain Ward and his 13-year-old gelding Contagious were determined to upset Team Fuchs’ celebrations, pipping him to top spot by just seven hundredths of a second, which is where the pair remained after last to go Daniel Deusser put a pole down.

Thrilled with his partner, Ward commented: “He [Contagious] has a lot of quirks and he’s a little bit afraid of everything, and quite sharp in the schooling area with the other horses, so we have to manage that a little bit. But when he goes into the ring, he builds himself up, he believes in me, I think, and he throws his heart over first. He’s done some remarkable things, not things I thought he’d do in the beginning. He’s a smart horse and he believes in what we’re doing.

Ahead of Sunday’s Rolex Grand Prix, Ward said: “I kind of always say that Aachen is like the girl I can never get! I’ve been lucky enough to compete in some major Grands Prix all over the world, but I can’t get this one. I’ve been close and I’ve had the last one down in the jump-off, and it’s the one I’ve dreamed of since I was a small child. I try not to think about it, we try to do our best every day, and I’ll try to be in the hunt.”

(Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Ashley Neuhof) (Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Ashley Neuhof)

Meet the Next Gen with:

Chloe Reid

 

What are you hoping to achieve between now and the end of the year?

I'm hoping for an amazing week here at CHIO Aachen, and then I’ll spend the rest of the summer months in Europe before we head back to Florida in the winter.

Which horses have you brought to CHIO Aachen?

I've brought my amazing mare, Super Shuttle, who will jump the Nations’ Cup, and my younger horse, Charlotta, who I’m jumping in the Youngsters. Shuttle is definitely my ride – she has a lot of character, a lot of blood. People always make fun that I always add a lot of strides with her out on course, but it's a style that I like and she has all of the heart in the world. People might not think she can do it, but she will try her hardest every single day for me – Charlotta has so much scope, I feel like I could jump a house with her! It's been really fun getting to know her and learn with her.

What has been the proudest moment of your career so far?

Can I say being here?! This is an unbelievable experience for me. It's something I've dreamed of my whole life, so to be able to be here, chosen by the U.S. team, to come and represent my country is the ultimate dream.

Who has inspired you the most throughout your career?

I'd say my family is a large inspiration for me. Neither of my parents ride, but they've always supported me from the very beginning and without them, this wouldn’t be possible.

My uncle, Chester Edward, is also here and competes in the driving. He's been a large influence in my equestrian career, as well as my grandmother. She has the love of horses in her blood and that's how I got it. Without my family, I wouldn't be here.

What keeps you motivated?

I think the horses are a large motivation. I love the horses, so having that bond with them is amazing.

I also think the competitiveness of the sport motivates me. I'm a very competitive person, so waking up every day to try to be better and improve is something that really motivates me.

Which senior show jumper do you most look up to?

That's hard. But being here in Germany, I’d have to say Marcus Ehning is a huge inspiration – his style is incredible.

How positive do you believe the Rolex Grand Slam has been for the sport of show jumping?

I think the Rolex Grand Slam is amazing for our sport. It’s on TV, you can watch it on the internet – it's amazing. It's everywhere you go. People know these Majors and they understand the prestige and history behind it. To be here is amazing and I think the Rolex Grand Slam is fantastic for our sport.

Have you been to any other non-equestrian sporting events this year? How do they differ from the Majors?

When we were at the London Olympics we watched a lot of different sports, like swimming, diving and volleyball. It was really fun to see a lot of other top sports at their elite level.

Which Rolex Testimonee inspires you the most?

I trained with Markus Beerbaum and Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum for a very long time, so I'd have to say Meredith is a real inspiration, as a Rolex Testimonee.

(Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Ashley Neuhof) (Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Ashley Neuhof)

Behind the stable door with:

Phoebe Leger, Daniel Bluman's groom

 

How long did it take you to get to CHIO Aachen, and how do you keep yourself entertained on long lorry drives?

It was approximately a two hour drive from the stables near Brussels to CHIO Aachen. I drove myself in our small truck and the horses followed behind me. When I'm not driving, to keep myself entertained, I watch Instagram videos, TikTok, and things like that. I also watch Rolex Grand Slam’s Instagram channel a lot!

Do you feel more pressure when you are at one of the Majors that make up the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping?

Definitely. CHIO Aachen is one of Daniel’s [Bluman] top events. We go to all of the Majors and there is a lot of pressure to do well every time we come. Out of the four Majors, I’d have to say CHIO Aachen is my favourite. I love the atmosphere here and the showgrounds are fantastic. It’s like a small city with so much to do all in one place. I have lots of friends here and I am friends with almost every groom in my aisle – the camaraderie is really great.

Which horses do you have with you this week?

This week I have Ladriano [Ladriano Z], Gemma [Gemma W] and Cachemire De Braize. Ladriano is 14-years-old and has been doing this a long time. Hopefully this week we have really good results with him in the Grand Prix. Gemma is 11-years-old and has just been coming up into the big classes since last year and is very promising. Cashmere is our younger one – he is 10-years-old. Like Gemma, Cashmere is just coming up into the big classes and he is a great anchor horse for us at the big shows.

How have you been preparing them for CHIO Aachen?

At home, I have spent the past week clipping all of the horses, bathing them, making sure all of the tack is ready and ensuring all of the horses are in shape. While Daniel was away at the other shows, I helped ride them and keep them fit. In short, there’s a lot of preparation that goes into this!

Do you think the horses know the importance of an event like CHIO Aachen?

Ladriano definitely does! The other two – Gemma and Cashmere – are just very easy and travel wherever you want but Ladriano knows when it’s time to do the big ones. He gets very excited in his stall. He starts bucking and rearing. He gets very excited whenever we travel anywhere. He is just all for the sport and all for the game. He has such a personality!

How much riding do you do?

I ride almost every day on one or two horses – especially when at home. I do a lot of tack walking while Daniel is away and also warm up his horses.

What is your favourite part of the job?

My favourite part of the job is seeing the horses every day. I have been with them for so long now – almost three years. Especially with these three horses, I have been with and taken care of them since day one so it’s wonderful to see them grow and achieve new things every year.

What is your least favourire part of the job?

The long days when you start at 5am or 6am and don’t finish until 7pm or 8pm at night. Even then, it’s worthwhile but the long days are rough sometimes!

What advice would you give to someone considering a career as a groom in elite show jumping?

Follow where your heart wants to take you and where it feels like you are a family. A lot of people do it for the money and think this money doesn’t pay me enough so I want to find a new job that pays me more. But a lot of the time, if you are happy where you are, then it doesn’t matter how much you make. You need to find something that you love, stick with it and that’s why I have been with Daniel for three years now. I love every day and I am very happy with my life.

 

(Photo: Rolex / Peggy Schröder) (Photo: Rolex / Peggy Schröder)

 

You are the Rolex Grand Slam live contender once again, how are you feeling ahead of CHIO Aachen?

I am very excited! It is always very difficult to win the Rolex Grand Prix at CHIO Aachen, so to win it two years in a row would be phenomenal. I think that being the Rolex Grand Slam live contender definitely makes it more interesting. Even without being the live contender the Rolex Grand Prix at CHIO is always one of my main aims each year.

CHIO Aachen is one of the biggest stages in equestrian sport, and in your home country, do you feed off the energy and support from the crowd?

CHIO Aachen is such an incredible show. It is one of the biggest shows in the world, and on Sunday during the Rolex Grand Prix there are 40,000 people sitting in the stadium – it creates the most amazing atmosphere. I definitely think that both me and my horse feed off the energy from the home crowd – they add so much to the show. CHIO Aachen is very special and unique – all the best riders in the world want to win there.

How have you been preparing and which horse are you hoping to compete with in the Rolex Grand Prix?

I am planning on competing with Killer Queen VDM in the Rolex Grand Prix. She has competed at CHIO Aachen and in the main stadium for a number of years, and she feels really relaxed and comfortable there. She has also won there a lot; in 2018 she won the Sparkassen Youngster Cup, in 2019 she won the RWE Prize of North Rhine-Westphalia and then obviously the Rolex Grand Prix last year. I think that the arena really suits her – she has big stride and is a big forward mover and so having more space is better for her.

She did a couple of outdoor shows very early in the season. When we came back from Florida, she did one or two shows, but I have now given her about four of weeks off. CHIO Aachen will be the first show back after her break but I am still riding and training her at home. My plan for CHIO Aachen will be do a small warm-up class early in the week, then do a big class to get into a rhythm and prepare her for the Rolex Grand Prix on Sunday.

Have you also been thinking ahead to the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’?

I would love to take Killer Queen VDM to CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’. However, the problem is it is the week after our home show, the Brussels Stephex Masters. If I have enough horses at the right level then I will try and go to CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’, but I will have to see a bit later in the year.

You travel a lot for competitions - which is your favourite country to travel to and why?

I really like Spain. I think it is a really welcoming country that has great weather and delicious food. I always have a great time when I am there. I have been there a couple of times for the holidays and obviously for shows – I really like Spain.

The equestrian calendar is very full! How do you decide which shows to enter and which horses to compete with?

It really depends on the experience and preferences of the horses. For example, Killer Queen VDM prefers and performs the best in big grass arenas. So that is one way I choose, I look at which horse would best suit a show and then we will plan to go there. There are also some shows that are always in my calendar and that I go to every year – CHIO Aachen is one of those shows, and so I try and make sure that I have my horses ready for this show. Often, I will look at how a horse performed at the shows last year and whether they like smaller indoor arenas or bigger outdoors ones and I will plan according to that.

Do you watch other sports or follow other athletes? If so, how do they influence you as a professional sports athlete?

I was invited by Rolex to go to Roland Garros two weeks ago. I saw the quarter final between Nadal and Djokovic. I have to say it was inspiring to watch the way they cope with the atmosphere and their fitness. As an athlete, when you see that kind of atmosphere it inspires to get better and train harder. Our sport is very unique because the horse is also the athlete so you have to ensure that both you and the horse are fit enough and can cope with the atmosphere.

Frank Kemperman (Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Peggy Schröder) Frank Kemperman (Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Peggy Schröder)

 

CHIO Aachen Chairman, Frank Kemperman, is set to retire following an incredible 29 years of service to the show. The Rolex Grand Slam team interviewed him to find out how the show has evolved and what he will miss most.

You have had 29 incredible years with CHIO Aachen, what have been the three main highlights for you?

My highlight has to be the FEI World Equestrian Games in 2006 – I had been involved in other championships before, but nothing will compare to those held at CHIO Aachen. It was a lot of hard work for our team, and I think I got my first grey hairs, but it was such a success. Even now people still talk about those Games, and I think we wrote an important part of history with them. It is difficult for me to choose two other highlights as we have had so many incredible shows and classes!

How has your career evolved throughout the years?

CHIO Aachen is steeped in history. In 2024 it will celebrate its 100-year anniversary and the club will be almost 125-years-old. I used to go the show as a child and there was always something magic about it – in my opinion it is the best show in the world. It is so important to keep the traditions that we have at the show, but also crucial that we continue to innovate and change with the world. Quality is also key, as a show we strive for the best of everything, and that combined with the traditions and innovation makes CHIO Aachen the best in the world!

When I started, I was doing shows all around the world, and then CHIO Aachen approached. Initially I thought it was a bit strange that the German’s were asking a Dutchman, but I was already heavily involved in the media centre at the show. I think they wanted to become more professional and modern. Together with the show I have helped to make the facilities better and lots of things have been changed and modernised, whilst ensuring the traditions and history of the show remain.

The show is now looking towards the future by trying to innovate and I think that that is something every show or event should try to do. I remember when I first started working at CHIO Aachen there were five or six people in the office, and now today there are around 35 people. Back then we did not have a single in-house professional for media, just had a lady from the local newspaper who would come by once a month to see if we had any news to share – now we have a specific media department with 10 people.

At the 2006 FEI World Equestrian Games we had the use of the internet, but social media was not in existence. The world has changed so much, and we always tried to follow and adapt to these changes – for example social media is now a huge part of the show. I remember when I first came to the office, we had one electric typewriter and there were no computers. Today, people would not cope without the use of computers. I think this shows how much things have changed over the time that I have been Chairman. But, what is amazing about CHIO Aachen is how we always look towards the future and innovate.

What will you miss the most?

Of course, I will miss CHIO Aachen, but I am going to be part of the Supervisory Board, so I will still be involved. I think the change in routine will be difficult – every morning for the last 29-years I have gotten out of bed and gone to the office, but I do think that Covid-19 has made that transition easier. I think it is time for the next generation to take over. I am getting older, and so it is normal to let younger people take on the role. It was Father’s Day in Holland on Sunday [Sunday 12 June], and I got a very funny book about retiring. CHIO Aachen was here before I was the Chairman and it will be after – my name is not what is important, the most important thing is the show and the success of it going into the future.

What do you plan to do with your spare time?

I am still involved in The Dutch Masters and Maastricht in the Netherlands, and I am part of the Dutch Equestrian Olympic Committee as will as the Chairman of Grooms. Grooms are the most important people in the sport.

My wife is trying to make me become a gardener – but I really do not know the difference between weeds and flowers. But my most important job now is being a grandfather. I have a two-year-old granddaughter who lives in the same village as me, and I love spending time with her.

Who has been the most influential person you have worked with over the years?

I think the horses have been the most influential – we work in such a unique sport. We have to listen to the horses and understand what is best for them. The outside world is now more critical of our sport so we must ensure that the welfare of the horses is our top priority. We have to make sure that we can continue to do the sport we all love so much.

To name just one person is hard – but to be honest I think the most influential person would have to be my wife because without support from home you cannot do the job.

What does it take for an event to become a Major?

There are so many amazing horse shows organised around the world and of course you always want to be the best show in the sport. It is challenging to get people who are not horse lovers interested in the sport. The special thing about CHIO Aachen is the spectators and the number of them that come – they create the most amazing atmosphere. At many other shows, even if there are the top riders jumping the atmosphere is not the same – it is what makes CHIO Aachen so unique. We have two different types of people that come to the show. Firstly,  the horse lovers who go to shows every week and secondly  the fans who don’t have horses but come every year because they love the atmosphere and like to watch sport.

You don’t have to be a horse lover to have a fantastic day at CHIO Aachen. There are thousands of people who love the event, and they shop, have food and drink. It is the total atmosphere that makes CHIO Aachen great, and that is what we have to offer. We don’t just listen to what the horse people want and need. You must also have good relationships with the riders as well and understand what they need.

I have visited many shows, I think I have seen almost everything, but to be honest the events where I learnt the most are not equestrian ones.  We went to Roland-Garros, The Championships, Wimbledon and other big events to learn what they were doing and how they make their events unforgettable for spectators. In our sport, we must cater for a range of ages, as unlike football where 80% of the crowd would be male, the majority of ours is families, so we have to ensure that everyone is happy.

Everything around the sport should be spectacular to make it an unforgettable day and I think that helps make a show a ‘Major’. CHIO Aachen is one the best equestrian events in the world, but our goal is to be on the front page of every newspaper in the world and show that we are not only a horse event.

Which horse and rider combination has been your favourite to watch compete at CHIO Aachen?

There have been so many! Of course, there are some riders that you know more in your private life, and it is always nice to watch them be successful. Last year, it was incredible to watch the young American team win the Nations Cup™ - they were so happy to win such a big event. It was a fantastic moment in the sport, and so great to watch the next generation of show jumpers loving the sport. It is also amazing to watch Isabell Werth be so dominant in the dressage; and of course, an amazing moment was watching the father and son combination of Rodrigo and Nelson Pessoa come first and third in the Rolex Grand Prix in 1994. Moments like those are unbelievable, and hopefully in the future I will have more time to watch them!

How do you think the Show can evolve over the next 10 years?

CHIO Aachen is so special – it provides the best sport in the world and has the incredible grass arena. They have some traditions that I think they should not change, but they should also try to innovate and look at what can be done better. The show is all about ensuring high quality, and making sure that the welfare of the horses, the spectators experience and the media response are the best that they can be. It is like making a cake; you need all of the right ingredients to make it delicious and in CHIO Aachen’s case that includes sponsors, riders, media, horses and so on. The show needs to try and make sure that all of the key stakeholders are happy to have the best show possible. So many things have changed over the last 30-years, but the quality is still there, for example with the Rolex Grand Prix on the final Sunday. Overall, I think if they keep the traditions of the sport but also look to innovate then CHIO Aachen will continue to be the best in the world.

(Photo: Rolex / Ashley Neuhof) (Photo: Rolex / Ashley Neuhof)

 

The Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping returns to CHIO Aachen from 24 June – 03 July 2022, with the Rolex Grand Prix on the final Sunday providing a fitting end to two weeks of exceptional sport. Returning to it usual slot between The Dutch Masters and Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’, the event often compared The Championships, Wimbledon will welcome 40,000 passionate equestrian spectators back the pristine Aachen Soers showground.

Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping – Rider Watch

Daniel Deusser returns to the hallowed grounds as both the live contender of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping, following his victory at The Dutch Masters in March, and the defending champion of the Rolex Grand Prix at CHIO Aachen. The German, currently ranked World No.9 brings the talented mare Killer Queen VDM with him to defend their title and continue his conquest to become only the second person to win the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping. Deusser will be joined by six of his fellow Rolex Testimonees, as well as numerous talented German riders including Christian Ahlmann, André Thieme and Marcus Ehning.

World No.1 and winner of the 2021 Rolex Grand Prix at CHI Geneva Martin Fuchs will be looking to claim the non-consecutive bonus for winning two Rolex Grands Prix in a year. The Swiss has had an incredible first half the year securing the FEI World Cup Finals title in April and more recently winning the 5* Swiss Grand Prix. He has strength and depth in his string of horses and will be looking to carry his winning momentum into the main stadium of the Aachen Soers showground. Compatriot and fellow Rolex Testimonee Steve Guerdat will also be looking to build on his vast winning experience to claim his first victory in this respected class.

Tokyo 2020 Individual Olympic Games gold medallist Ben Maher will be looking to add a victory in the Rolex Grand Prix to his impressive collection of results. The Englishman finished in fourth-place last year on his impressive chestnut gelding, Explosion W. Long-term teammate Scott Brash, the only rider to have won the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping, knows what it takes to take to win in the beautiful grass arena and will be hoping to restart his quest for a second Grand Slam. Joining the strong British contingent is the Under-25 World No.1, and World No.17 Harry Charles. Charles has had a meteoric rise through the senior rankings over the past year. The young British rider will be returning the iconic venue following his debut in 2018 and will be looking to cement his name amongst the best riders in the world.

2022 Rolex Grand Prix winners Ashlee Bond (World Equestrian Festival) and Gregory Wathelet (CHI Royal Windsor Horse Show), all know what it takes to win a Rolex Grand Prix and will be relying on this experience to help them claim one of the most prestigious prizes in show jumping.

Show jumping legend Rodrigo Pessoa returns to Aachen exactly 50-years after his father, Nelson Pessoa, claimed his second CHIO Aachen Grand Prix win. Marlon Modolo Zanotelli will also be vying to ensure the Brazilian flag is represented on the podium. Off the back of recent victories in in Paris and the Nations Cup at CSIO Roma Piazza di Siena, Frenchman Kevin Staut, will be full of confidence of his talented horses heading into CHIO Aachen.

Joining the list of world-class horse and rider combinations is World No.3 Peder Fredricson, who is always a fierce competitor and heading up the Irish contingent is World No. 5 Conor Swail who brings two of his top horses; Count on Me and Nadal Hero & DB.  

(Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Peggy Schröder) (Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Peggy Schröder)

 

It has been nearly a year since your sensational CHIO Aachen Rolex Grand Prix second place, what have you been doing since?

So many things! That was such a monumental show for me and such a wonderful experience. After that, I gave some horses some downtime and I spent the winter competing in Wellington, Florida. Now, I am back in Europe this summer doing a lot of shows for Team USA which is always such an honour. I’ve got a few more horses this year compared to last year so I am competing more. I am still trying to move forward and keep going onward and upward.

How is Balou du Reventon, do you plan on riding him this year at CHIO Aachen?

Balou du Reventon is fantastic; we have some goals for him later in the year that we are working towards. I competed with him in the Nations Cup at CSIO Roma Piazza di Siena the other week and he jumped brilliantly there. He was clear in the second round of the Nations Cup but unfortunately hit the last fence in the Grand Prix. He feels in top shape ­– he is such a great stallion. He is sixteen this year, so we use him sparingly, but we definitely pull him out when we need to, and he does his job which is the great part about it.

How do you keep a horse of his age in such good shape?

I think it is so important to understand the horse and to listen to them. He has so much personality, he is really going to let you know when it is too much or when he is not doing enough. I have a great team at my stables especially Lesley Leeman who is his primary caretaker. We take it day by day to see how he’s doing and to make sure he is always fit and as healthy as he can be, so when he needs to perform he is ready at all times.

Who are currently your top horses, and do you have some exciting younger horses who you think are future stars?

Absolutely, I have another horse right now at the five-star level who t I own myself. I’ve had him for about seven years, his name is ‘MTM Vivre Le Reve’. He was in America last year and had some time off with illness, but now he is back at the top of the sport. He is 13-years-old but he still has a couple of years left. I have a very promising nine-year-old owned by Anne Thompson [the same owner as Balou du Reventon]. I also have a couple of young horses that are look promising, including a seven-year-old of mine that is coming up through the rankings. It is so important to always have the horses coming up after your top level horses especially as they get older.

There are so many events in the show jumping calendar, how do you choose which ones to focus on and which horses to compete with?

At the beginning of the year it is important to make a plan for the horses that you have and the things you want to accomplish. For example, riding for Team USA is so important to me so I have geared Balou du Reventon towards those events primarily. I will keep him fresh for those events so that he peaks in those moments.

Do you find European competition different from the US circuit?

Yes, I do. Last year, I didn’t know what to expect when I came to Europe, I obviously knew the best riders in the world as well as the legends that I have looked up to my entire life, mainly compete in Europe. But it wasn’t until that first 5* event, which was in the first week that I was over here last year, that I thought to myself ‘oh my goodness’. I think it is incredible to go to these shows and compete with seven of the top ten riders in a single class. For me it really motivates me to be just like them and be competitive with those top riders at the top level of the sport. It is very motivational and it makes me very competitive – it is fun to be with people you used to look up to and now see them as ‘competitors’.

Of the four Majors that make up the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping, which is your favourite?

For sure CHIO Aachen. I love the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament ; but CHIO Aachen will always have a special place in my heart. Out of the majors, all of them are fantastic shows that I really look forward to competing at, but CHIO Aachen holds a special spot.

What non-equestrian sport do you think show jumping can most be compared to?

I notice a lot of similarities to Formula 1, which I am sure a lot of riders would agree with. Ultimately to me, show jumping is such a unique sport that it is almost impossible to compare it to something else, but I would say that is as similar as you can get. 

All we need now is a ‘Ride to Survive’ Netflix show?

Exactly, ‘Ride to Survive’ that has a ring to it - that is amazing!

What are the most important foundations to having a successful career in Show Jumping?

To connect with your horses is the most important thing. I started my career because of my love for the horses. What you put into them is what they will bring out for you, and I think it is really important not to lose touch of that. Whether you have one horse or you have 15 horses they are all athletes the same way you are and they have emotion, they feel and are top competitors. I think it is so important for them to feel appreciated, to get the best care and to really listen to them. You must understand your horse and remind yourself why you do it. For me, it was because I was a crazy horse kid since I was a baby and that has never changed.

When you are not competing or training, what do you like to do with your down time?

In my down time? That is a good question! I really use it as a time to unwind and regroup, whether that be physically or mentally. I love to cook, so I cook a lot when I am home, I enjoy that very much – but I am not very good at it! I see a lot of people at the shows, a lot of my closest friends and my family come to all the shows, so I get to spend time with them there. So when I am home, not competing, I like to take time for myself and get ready for the next few weeks that are coming up after that time off.

What is your signature dish?

There are so many, but I do make really good shrimp tacos!

If you could ride any horse past or present which would you choose?

I would have loved to ride Hickstead he was such a powerhouse type horse even though he was small; he was quick, and he was clever. I have always loved and had a soft spot for small horses so I think to ride that horse would be amazing and he was such a true athlete. Although I never knew the horse personally, he seemed a bit quirky and had a lot character, so I think I would have definitely loved to ride like that horse.

CHIO Aachen CHIO Aachen

From 24 June – 03 July, CHIO Aachen will welcome the return of the world’s best horse and rider combinations to the spectacular grounds of the Aachen Soers Showground. Providing unmatched atmosphere and competition, including five equestrian disciplines, the World Equestrian Festival will also welcome back a full capacity crowd of 40,000 for the first time since 2019.

The show will officially open on 28 June with an arena extravaganza featuring 200 horses, 500 extras, as well as extraordinary artists and performers including superstar singer Wincent Weiss. A highlight for many will be a special performance from the "Höhner", who have recorded a new song exclusively for the opening of the World Equestrian Festival.

This year’s event will focus on youth and young talent more than ever, including local street art being on display. The first weekend will include numerous young rider show jumping classes as well as Vaulters competing in the Driving Stadium. CHIO Aachen will also host the FEI Youth Equestrian Games for the first time. The Games will include 30 young show jumpers, aged between 14 and 18-years-old, from 30 different nations ranging from Egypt and Guatemala to New Zealand and Uzbekistan. The talented riders will compete in the Main Stadium in both an individual and a cross-continental competition.

Often compared to The Championships, Wimbledon – CHIO Aachen showcases the some of the best show jumping in the world. On the evening of Wednesday 29 June, the Turkish Airlines-Prize of Europe, one of the world's most renowned show jumping competitions will take place. As the first qualifier for the prestigious Rolex Grand Prix on Sunday, it is expected the best athletes will be fighting to claim this respected title. The Mercedes-Benz Nations Cup will take place the evening after, with the top eight teams in the world competing. With the FEI World Equestrian Games™ later in the summer, competitors will be looking to impress their Chef d’Equipe to gain a coveted spot in the team. The highlight of the Festival will be the Rolex Grand Prix taking place on Sunday. Last year’s victor and home favourite, Daniel Deusser, will return to the hallowed grounds of Aachen Soers as the Live Contender of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping following his win at The Dutch Masters in March and will be looking to retain his title Rolex Grand Prix title.  

5* Dressage will also be on show at CHIO Aachen, with the Grand Prix Freestyle CDIO5* taking place on Sunday 03 July. Crowd favourite and last year’s winners Isabell Werth and DSP Quantaz will be looking to add another title to their tally. In addition, organisers of the Show will host a very special retirement ceremony for Isabell Werth’s Bella Rose on the evening of Friday 01 July in the Deutsche Bank Stadium, the venue where the duo won the Deutsche Bank Prize in 2019.

Top level Eventing will take place on from 01 – 02 July with the SAP Cup, with the highlight coming on Saturday morning where the horse and rider combinations will take on the demanding cross-country course which will test the endurance, speed and accuracy of the combinations. Following this, Driving combinations will compete for the prestigious Prize of Schwartz Group title.

This Esme This Esme

Esme Higgs is one of the biggest influencers in the equestrian world – with 730k followers and an incredible 100+ million views on her YouTube channel, as well as over 260k followers on Instagram and a stunning 412k followers on TikTok.

 

What is your earliest equestrian memory?

I am very lucky to have always lived in the countryside, so my earliest equestrian memory was probably growing up on a small holding with donkeys. The local riding school used to ride past my house, and from as young as I remember, I would always ask for riding lessons. My parents always used to say no for various reasons, such as I was too young or too short or too small to ride. My first time on a horse was at a friend’s fifth birthday party. After that they had no excuses, so I started having lessons.

My first pony was called Mickey. I still him have today – he features on the channel a lot. We loaned him for a month first and I wasn’t really expecting him to be my first pony – but we fell in love with him! I am very lucky that I got him at the age of eight – I have been very fortunate with horses that I have had.

How did your career as an Influencer start?

It really happened accidentally. My second horse, Casper, was very green when we got him, so YouTube was something I did for myself to watch his progress. My friends and family would video me riding him and his show jumping rounds, and then I would edit them and post them on YouTube. For me, being able to see our progress gave me a lot of confidence in our partnership. I uploaded them onto YouTube originally because I didn’t have the greatest phone and so it would run out of storage, so YouTube was a safe space that I could store them.

One summer, I decided to do a ‘how to tack up your horse’ video, because I come from a non-equestrian background and I know that sometimes riding schools just teach you how to ride and don’t focus so much on the care side, so I thought this video would be helpful to some people. This was the first video of mine that wasn’t just watched by my friends and family – I think it ended up getting around 1,000 views and I thought that was wild! In posting that video I found my passion, and I started making Vlogs, not because I thought lots of people would watch them, but because I liked making a video diary for myself.

I made quite a lot of videos that I didn’t post because I was too shy or too scared of what people would say. It was really the summer after my GCSEs that YouTube became something I did with all my time and loved doing, and still love doing today. I was that awkward age of 16, where you can’t drive, and I lived in the middle of nowhere – so I made lots of videos of my ponies for fun. I got up to 10,000 subscribers just making videos of my phone, but I never thought it would take off like it has and become my full-time job. At the time, I knew there were a few YouTubers who did it as their main job, but they were very mainstream – producing lifestyle and beauty content – I never thought it would be possible for a sport as niche as horse riding.

What are the steps in building and growing a successful equestrian social media network?

I think that one of the most important things is consistency. I spent three years uploading onto YouTube once a week without earning a penny or thinking it was my job. I did it because I loved it and was always so excited to get home on the weekends and make a video. A lot of people try to do YouTube but after a few months they realise it is hard work and give up. I think the main elements to being successful are consistency, good quality content, being yourself and being original.

Which riders do you follow and who would you say has the most impact with their social channel?

I really enjoy watching Caroline Breen’s stories. They show the behind-the-scenes of her life - a lot of top riders only share content from shows but she shares her dogs, vegetable patch and other things that you do not typically get to see from riders.

Which of the four Majors that make up the Rolex Grand Slam is your favourite?

CHIO Aachen – I am going there for the first time this year and I am so excited! It looks incredible and I am sure that I am going to have the best time!

How important is social media and Influencer strategy when marketing a Major equestrian event?

I think that it is crucial to the future of equestrian sport to be on social media. In the last couple of years, the equestrian world has been brought into the 21st century and has started to see the value of social media. Social media provides more exposure to the sport than ever before, and this is important in ensuring the next generation of equestrians come through. It also enables the sport to be more accessible than ever before, and this is something that I am passionate about and have been working on with my channel. I have been working with some great riding schools and charities that aim to make the sport more accessible. A lot of people have found my channel because they love animals, and they are now interested in equestrian sport or have even started riding themselves!

What is a typical day in the life of This Esme?

It really depends on the day – it is probably easier to say a typical week than a day. But on a typical day when I am at home it usually consists of filming and editing videos, along with riding and looking after my horses. I try to have a point in the evening when I stop working, but I work from home, and I am very driven, so it is hard for me to ‘switch off’. I probably do about 80-hours of work on the channel each week including filming, editing, interviews and zoom calls. There is always more to do but I absolutely love it!

How does the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping enhance the sport?

I think show jumping is the best discipline for people who do not know too much about horses as it is easy to understand. The Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping enables a wider audience to be able to watch the world’s best horse and rider combinations compete at the very top level of the sport. There is also a lot of strategy involved in the sport and it is nice that it is not always the same person who wins each competition. I find show jumping such an exhilarating sport to watch – I have been lucky to go to some of the top shows in the world and it is incredible how close you can get to the fences and the horses and riders.

What is your favourite part of the job?

I think I have to say all the incredible people I have met and the amazing stories I have heard. I work with some amazing charities such as Brookes and World Horse Welfare which is a truly incredible experience. Also being able to be with my horses and work with horses is a dream come true for me.

What is your ultimate ambition for your brand and channel and platform?

My absolute dream would be to have a series on a platform such as Netflix or Amazon Prime. It would be mind-blowing if that were to happen.

Who is your favourite rider?

This is really hard – I have so many. One definitely is Trevor Breen; he teaches me and has helped me with my horse Joey – I think he is amazing. I also really admire Holly Smith and I have fortunate to be able to interview her quite a few times at Hickstead.

Who is your favourite Show Jumping horse?

I would have to say Ben Maher’s Explosion W. He is incredible and I have been lucky enough to see him jump at a few different shows.

Along with the four Majors that make up the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping; Rolex partners with a host of world class shows. Over the course of the summer the best horse and rider combinations will compete to win a prestigious Rolex Grand Prix at some of the most picturesque shows in the world.   

From 5–8 May, CSIO Jumping de La Baule will host the first Rolex Grand Prix of the summer season. Held in the seaside city of La Baule-Escoublac for more than 60-years, the show will welcome some of the world’s most competitive and exciting horse and rider talents. This year will mark Rolex’s first year as Official Timepiece and Title Partner for CSIO5* Rolex Grand Prix of La Baule. In addition, there will be an independent Nations Cup.

Held in the private grounds of Windsor Castle, the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world, Royal Windsor Horse Show (12–15 May) will play host to the second Rolex Grand Prix of the month. Last year, Ben Maher and the spectacular chestnut gelding, Explosion W, claimed the victory in front of their home crowd before going on to win the individual gold medal at the Tokyo Olympic Games. The show has always been a favourite of Her Majesty The Queen, who has attended every edition of the show. This year the show will host Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee Celebration. The celebrations will feature more than 500 horses, 1,200 participants and an 80-piece orchestra. Over 90-minutes, equine and international displays, the armed forces, actors and artists will ‘Gallop through History’ in honour of Her Majesty’s reign.

For five-days CSIO Roma Piazza di Siena (26–29 May) returns to the stunning gardens of the Villa Borghese located in the heart of Rome. Rolex has been the Official Timekeeper of the show since 2018, and it is often considered to be one of the most beautiful show jumping venues in the world. Germany’s David Will claimed the prestigious class last year and will be looking to repeat his success in the picturesque Piazza di Siena.

Knokke Hippique runs over three weeks from 22 June–10 July. The show will host the Rolex Grand Prix on Sunday 10 July, just one week after the second leg of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping at CHIO Aachen (24 June–03 July). Organised by Stephex events, Knokke Hippique, held in the exclusive Belgium coastal town of Knokke-Heist, is known not only for top-level competition but also excellent hospitality, entertainment and shopping.

Jumping International de Dinard (28–31 July), which has more than 100 years of heritage is a fitting show in the Rolex summer season. The Rolex Grand Prix Ville de Dinard was won last year by Rolex Testimonee Martin Fuchs riding Conner Jei owned Adolfo Juri. The duo showed all the precision and scope required to win this esteemed Rolex Grand Prix.

Rounding off the summer season is the Brussels Stephex Masters. Running from 24–28 August the show will provide a spectacular finale to what is set to be an incredible season. The 2022 edition of the show will be hosted at a brand-new location, now solely on turf arenas, and is sure to attract the world’s best horses and riders looking to claim the high-status Brussels Stephex Rolex Grand Prix.

Eric Lamaze and Fine Lady V at the CSIO Spruce Meadows 'Masters' 2018 (Photo: Rolex / Ashley Neuhof) Eric Lamaze and Fine Lady V at the CSIO Spruce Meadows 'Masters' 2018 (Photo: Rolex / Ashley Neuhof)

Rolex Testimonee Eric Lamaze is one of the world’s most respected show jumpers and achieved so much throughout his stellar career. Following the announcement of his retirement, the Rolex Grand Slam team reached out to some of Eric’s biggest fans and dearest friends to highlight what makes him the legend he became.

 

Steve Guerdat

What is your favourite Rolex Grand Slam Major memory with Eric Lamaze?

There is more than one moment that stands in my memory, it is more about the history between Eric and the Rolex Grand Slam Major of Calgary. Over the years he has built a legacy over there and both Eric and Spruce Meadows have benefited from all the successes they have shared, it is unimaginable what he has achieved in that ring.

Which of Eric’s horses stands out the most and why?

Hickstead, he is one of the all-time greats and so similar to Eric, one pair I can’t stop watching again and again…

What is the most useful thing you have learnt from Eric?

Never doubt, always stay positive and keep moving forward

If you could use one word to describe Eric, what would it be?

Confident and positive

 

Tiffany Foster

What is your favourite Rolex Grand Slam Major memory with Eric Lamaze?

My favourite Rolex Grand Slam Major memory with Eric is when he won the Grand Prix in Calgary on Hickstead for the first time in 2007. It was an incredibly inspirational moment that I was able to witness firsthand. I’ll never forget the goosebumps that ran down my spine and the tears of joy when he cleared the final jump. It will be seared in my memory forever!

Which of Eric’s horses stands out the most and why?

I think this one is pretty obvious… the one and only Hickstead. I started working for Eric when Hickstead was nine-years-old and got to be along for the whole ride. In my opinion, he is the best show jumper of all time. He wanted to win as bad as Eric did and they were a perfect match. They would both try to win any class they entered; while most horses need a round or two of schooling in between classes, Hickstead never did. He was a joy to watch compete because you could feel his heart was in it. Truly spectacular!

What is the most useful thing you have learnt from Eric?

The most useful thing I have learned from Eric is to be resilient. There is no room for not trying your hardest every time when Eric is involved. He pushes you to give your all and he will not accept cowardness of any kind. He has made me stronger than I would have ever been without him.

If you could use one word to describe Eric, what would it be?

Competitor.

 

Spencer Smith

What is your favourite Rolex Grand Slam Major memory with Eric Lamaze?

It would have to be my first year at CHI Geneva, I was very inexperienced and young. He really made me believe I could win the Rolex Grand Prix. I went in the ring so confident; he has that effect on people. 

Which of Eric’s horses stands out the most and why?

Fine Lady, she has the biggest heart and she would do anything for Eric. Their partnership was amazing. 

What is the most useful thing you have learnt from Eric?

To believe in yourself.

If you could use one word to describe Eric, what would it be?

Determined.

Henrik von Eckermann riding Toveks Mary Lou (Photo: Ashley Neuhof / Rolex Grand Slam) Henrik von Eckermann Toveks Mary Lou (Photo: Ashley Neuhof / Rolex Grand Slam)

 

Can you tell us about your family’s background, how did you become part of the equestrian world?

I have been interested in horses my whole life. When I was young, I would go to the stables everyday after school. My husband, Gregor, also grew up around horses so we have been part of the equestrian world for a long time. Both of our daughters begun riding when they were small children – originally Isabella liked dressage more and Evelina was more interested in show jumping.

Mary Lou is a very special horse who achieved a lot in her career, can you tell us about when you first saw her and why you wanted to buy her?

Evelina was training with Henrik when we found out that Toveks Mary Lou was going to be sold. We saw the partnership that Henrik had with her, so we decided to buy her so that Henrik could keep riding her and she would be able to compete for the Swedish teams. We also bought her to be an ambassador for our family company Toveks Bil as well as our sponsor.

Were you at The Dutch Masters when she won the Rolex Grand Prix there? How did that feel?

Evelina and I were at The Dutch Masters when Henrik and Toveks Mary Lou won. It was such an amazing feeling. I was so proud of the two of them and it is such a happy memory for me.

Do you form a strategy together of how best to compete the horses throughout the year?

We trust Henrik completely with our horses – so he makes all of the plans for the horses.

How do you decide which horses to give to Henrik and which to give to your daughter, Evelina?

Nowadays, we keep most of the horses for Evelina, but Henrik still rides a few. For example, he rode Hollywood V at The Dutch Masters.

What excites you about the sport of show jumping and keeps you hungry to be a part of it?

We love it – it is such an exciting and interesting sport. Watching the incredible horses and riders working together and forming incredible partnerships to win some of the biggest classes in the world is so amazing.

Do you have a plan of how and when you are going to purchase horses? What attributes are you looking for when you purchase a horse?

Horses are so unpredictable, and everything can change so quickly so we are always looking for talented horses, and if there is an opportunity to buy a talented horse then we usually will take it. We have both dressage and show jumping horses and we really love the ones that we have at the moment.

How has the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping enhanced the sport?

It has been incredible for the sport. Every rider wants to win it, so they are pushing the boundaries to strive for continuous improvement, in both themselves and their horses, to be able reach their goal. The quality of horses and riders now in the world is phenomenal.

Have you been involved in any different sports?

After winning the Swedish and European championship (rallycross) several years we decided together with our partner to sell-off the car and stop with rallycross in order to focus on equestrian sport and our daughters.

 

(Photo: The Dutch Masters / Remco Veurink) (Photo: The Dutch Masters / Remco Veurink)

Daniel Deusser wins the Rolex Grand Prix at The Dutch Masters

 

The Rolex Grand Slam dream was reignited for Germany’s Daniel Deusser on the final day of The Dutch Masters, as he claimed the prestigious Rolex Grand Prix title in the Netherlands.

The course set by Louis Konickx saw a quality field of 12 horse and rider combinations master the first round without fault, including CHIO Aachen champion and Rolex Testimonee Daniel Deusser, who was in contention for a Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping non-consecutive bonus. Much to the delight of the Dutch crowd, a strong contingent of four Dutch riders reached the nine-obstacle jump-off, vying for a home victory.

Cheers echoed around the arena as Harrie Smolders and Monaco were first to secure a double clear in a speedy time of 38.03 secs to take pole position and apply the early pressure. Jack Ansems followed suit, but was unable to shave any seconds off the leading time and slotted into second place.Smolders had a nail biting wait with 10 still to go, which included in-form Daniel Deusser and Scuderia 1918 Tobago Z. This formidable partnership made it look effortless taking0.13 seconds off the time set by Smolders. Deusser’s time proved to be unbeatable despite the best efforts of Germany’s Marcus Ehning and Great Britain’s Scott Brash who both posted a quicker time but had four faults at the last fence. All eyes now turn to the second Rolex Grand Slam Major of the year, CHIO Aachen in Germany, where Daniel Deusser will not only be looking to defend is 2021 title, but will also be striving to continue his journey as the Rolex Grand Slam live contender.

Congratulations! You looked very confident in the warm-up, did that course suit you and Scuderia 1918 Tobago Z?

Yes, I was feeling confident as the horse has felt in very good shape over the last couple weeks, but you still have to bring it on the day of course. Scuderia 1918 Tobago Z jumped very well in the first round, he felt really nice but we had a lot of competitors in the jump-off which always makes it harder and puts on a little bit more pressure. It made me think about what tactic I should play a bit more, I tried to do one less stride from the first to second, but I knew even when I had done my perfect round, that there were good riders to come and it could maybe be beaten. I was very lucky that the ones who tried to go faster had the last down and I am over the moon with this result.

When you saw Harrie Smolders’ quick time, did that change your tactics at all?

No, I didn’t think about that when I went into the ring. I had walked the jump-off before the class started and worked out my options. It all went to plan and was exactly how I wanted to ride it and it feels very good when it all works out!

(Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Peggy Schröder) (Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Peggy Schröder)

Crossed-interview with:

Angelica Augustsson Zanotelli & Marlon Modolo Zanotelli

 

How does it feel to be here at the first Rolex Grand Slam Major of the year?

Angelica: It is amazing to be here, it is very exciting. For me, it is the first time here and the fact that we can be here together is very special. It is going to be a great weekend I hope!

Marlon: I am really looking forward to it, I had a great show here last year. My horse is feeling very good, so I am hoping to go well. It is very nice to be here together which makes it even more special and exciting to have two chances of winning!

What are your dreams and ambitions for 2022?

Angelica: I have a very exciting year ahead of me, I have some opportunities that I didn’t have before, like this weekend for example. To compete here at a Rolex Grand Slam Major is completely new for me. I have also qualified for the World Cup™ Final for the first time, so I am very much looking forward to that.

Marlon: I am really looking forward to the Rolex Grand Slam events. Obviously, I really want to win one of the Majors, that is a huge aim for me. Last year I got very close, and it is definitely one of my dreams as a rider to win at least one, but hopefully more, hopefully three in a row! This year we have the World Equestrian Games™, it is something that we look forward to, and to win a big championships has always been my aim as a rider. So yes, a very exciting year ahead hopefully!

Marlon - you have had some fantastic results recently what has attributed to your recent success?

Marlon: My success is definitely down to my entire team. The owners I am working with are very supportive, our entire team at home is amazing. I have been away for two weeks competing but we have some wonderful riders and grooms at home who have been taking care of the horses. Angelica has been riding Grand Slam VDL for me to get him ready for this show. So, this is the main reason I am having this success – it is down to the people I have around me and I am very grateful to have such a strong team behind me.

Which horses do you have here this weekend?

Marlon: I have Grand Slam VDL, who has a perfect name for this show! He’s 11-years-old now and developed a lot last year. He jumped really well in the Saturday evening class here last year, jumping double clear to finish in 4th place. I have very high expectations for him this year, he has some great experience and is feeling very good at the moment, so let’s hope it all works out for him on Sunday in the Rolex Grand Prix.

Angelica: I have two horses with me; one 12-year-old called Kalinka van de Nachtegaele, she is a wonderful mare who has had some great experience and good results already. She is my main horse for this year. My second horse is a nine-year-old mare called Danna RJ, she is a little bit green for this level, mainly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she hasn’t had as much experience as we would have liked. But she has a lot of potential, and I am very excited to see how she will do.

Do you get competitive against each other?

Marlon: I am very competitive, not just with the horses, even if we are playing cards or games I want to win! I try to push Angelica as much as a I can

Angelica: I always let him win!

Marlon: Angelica is also very competitive in the ring and when the time comes, she always delivers and makes it happen. I think we are both very competitive, but not against each other, we always support each other and try to make the other one better.

How do you decide who rides which horses?

Marlon: I would say the horses pick us, instead of us deciding which horses we would like. We try to see who fits the horses best and see how it goes. Sometimes we change horses throughout the season depending on where we are competing.

Do you ever have arguments over horses?

Angelica: No…

Marlon: Yes, of course… [laughs]. When Angelica was pregnant, I had to ride her horses and she was the most difficult owner I have ever had…

Do you share training regimes?

Marlon: Yes, we do, and it is definitely one of the reasons I have improved so much as a rider. Over the past five years Angelica has been there for me and helped me a lot along the way. We have had different experiences in life, she [Angelica] was based in Germany for so many years for example. I think we really help each other and improve each other, and I think that is what makes us so strong.

Angelica: We are so lucky to be able to do this together. Every day we train together, jump together, we exchange ideas together we are a really good team. It is a situation many riders would like to have, so we feel very fortunate to be in this position.

What would you say each other’s biggest strengths are?

Angelica: I could speak about a lot of strengths for Marlon. He is extremely talented and has an incredible feeling and way of understanding a horse when he rides. He has an amazing ability to make the horse work with him and creates a very special harmony with the horses. He is also very competitive, it doesn’t matter what horse he gets on, he always wants to win and usually does. It is so important to understand the horses and how to work with them, and Marlon has a very special gift to be able to do this so well.

Marlon: Angelica is also extremely gifted in understanding horses. She is very patient and listens to the horse which is sometimes very hard to do. You can see how much her horses improve when she starts working with them. She gives so much time to the horses and is very good at the flat work as well as the jumping and has a very good understanding of how to train them at home. She is a very complete rider, so for me to be around her so much, I learn so much from her.

(Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Peggy Schröder) (Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Peggy Schröder)

Meet the Next Gen with:

Jack Ryan

 

You have had a great start to the year, what are your hopes and ambitions for 2022?

I would like to keep the year going in the same way that it started! Hopefully, I will compete at a few more Nations Cup™ competitions and more Rolex Grand Slam Majors.

Which horses do you have here this weekend?

I just have BBS McGregor here. He is actually the only horse I have at the moment so hopefully he will perform well this weekend.

What is he like, can you tell us about his personality?

He has a great personality. Sometimes he can be a bit annoying as he always pokes your arm, but he is a very kind horse and lovely to have on the yard.

How does it feel to be here at The Dutch Masters?

It is fantastic! I would like to thank the Rolex Young Riders Academy and everyone who helped me get into the show. Everyone in the Rolex Young Riders Academy have helped me so much. Frank Kemperman, Eleonora Ottaviani, Emile Hendrix and the whole team have been so amazing to me!

Who has been your biggest inspiration throughout your career?

Marcus Ehning – he is one of the best in the world and is so amazing to watch. Last week when he won the Grand Prix in Doha, he made it look like it was a training round – he is incredible.

What is a typical day for you at home?

Recently, I moved to Jos Lansink’s stables to train there. That opportunity came about through the Rolex Young Riders Academy. Usually, I start at 07:30am and ride BBS McGregor, and the rest of the day I ride Jos’ horses. I have only been there a week, but I am riding so many different horses, it has been great and so nice to get to know the whole team.

Which riders to do you think you have learnt the most from?

I was with Shane Breen for two-years, and I learnt so much from him. I got to ride some amazing horses and go to some incredible shows. It was actually with help from him that I got into the Rolex Young Riders Academy – I have lot to thank him for. I have only been at Jos’ yard for a week, but I have already learnt so much in that week, it is very exciting opportunity.

How much do you focus on growing a social following?

I am not very good with social media – I need to get a bit better as it is important in our sport!

How do you balance your work and social life?

The horses are my main priority – they come first. But I do like to go out for dinner sometimes.

 

(Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Peggy Schröder) (Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Peggy Schröder)

Pieter Devos wins the Audi Prize

 

Thirty-eight competitors representing 14 nations made up the impressive start list for the 1m50 Audi Prize – the feature class on day two of The Dutch Masters 2022.

Show jumping legend, Marcus Ehning (GER) was the first rider to post a clear-round on the score board, showcasing the harmonious partnership he shares with the stunning grey mare, Calanda 42. A total of a nine horse and rider combinations, four of which flying the flag for the Dutch, followed suit to set-up a thrilling jump-off in front of the supportive crowd.

Belgium’s Pieter Devos applied the pressure, displaying a masterclass in horsemanship to record the first, and only, double clear, stopping the clock on 37.20 secs. With a strong line-up still to enter the ring, tension built among the home crowd hoping to witness the second Dutch victory of the day. The penultimate rider to face the challenging course, Willem Greve, produced a lighting quick round, but with four faults at the last fence had to settle for second place.

Pieter Devos commented:

How was that jump-off course this evening, it looked tricky?

To be honest, it was a strange jump-off course, it was not really fluid, and I didn’t think I had too much of a chance, because with my horse I can leave out strides but it’s not so easy to do the short turns, and this was all about turning, so I was not really confident before I went in. I must say though, he did everything he could to leave the fences up, he did really well and I’m really happy with him.

What is your horse, Kannabis van de Bucxtale, like?

He’s a very special horse, he’s ultra-careful. In the warm-up he’s quite nervous with all the other horses around, but in the ring he really is a trier, he really wants to go clear and he tries his best. If you get him relaxed, he tries everything for you, but it’s not easy to get him relaxed.

What is it like to have to spectators back at The Dutch Masters this year?

It’s super to have the spectators back, that feeling that you are supported by the crowd again. We have got so used to riding by ourselves and not feeling that atmosphere when you go into the arena. Now you go in and you see the people and you feel again one of the reasons for doing what we are doing.

How are you feeling ahead of the Rolex Grand Prix tomorrow?

The Rolex Grand Prix is a different level, but I hope my horse is in good shape tomorrow. I am riding another one, I am riding Claire Z, so we will see, we will do our best and see where we end up and tonight gives us a lot of confidence.

(Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Peggy Schröder) (Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Peggy Schröder)

Rider Interview with:

Maikel van der Vleuten

 

This weekend is extra special for you with the retirement ceremony of Verdi TN – how are you feeling about it?

To be honest I am really looking forward to the farewell ceremony for my old top horse Verdi TN. It was supposed to be two-years-ago but because the pandemic unfortunately it has not been able to happen until now. It is so wonderful to be able have the ceremony infront of The Dutch Masters fans.

Can you tell us about him – what made him so special?

He had an amazing character; I travelled the world with him, and he was always so straightforward and never let me down. He is so special to me and all the incredible results and medals that we have won together are moments I will never forget.

Is he enjoying his retirement?

He is enjoying his retirement. He goes in the field every day, hacks out and he is busy as a breeding stallion. He is in very good shape, his body looks very good, so hopefully he will continue in this way for many more years to come.

What do you miss most about competing with him?

He could jump any of the biggest tracks in world so easily. I think that now I am more experienced and have ridden more horses, I truly appreciate how special he was and how easy he found everything. It didn’t matter what kind of track or arena it was; he was so talented, and I think it will be hard to find another horse quite like him in the future.

Are there any horses in your string now that you think could follow in his footsteps?

Beauville Z is my top horse, and he is extremely talented. With him I can jump in the biggest classes in the world and compete against the best horse and rider combinations. I won a team bronze medal at the Olympic Games last summer with him and I really think a lot of him. Besides him, I have a couple of other nice horses competing at this level, I have a great string of horses at the moment.

Why did you decide to host the retirement ceremony here at The Dutch Masters?

It was a very easy decision for me. Verdi TN was bred in this city – his breeders are from Brabant. Myself and his owners are both Dutch, so really there was nowhere else that would be better for this ceremony.

The show has evolved a lot since it became part of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping, have you noticed the changes that have been made?

Yes definitely. I think that you can really feel that the organisers are very experienced and have made sure that everything is perfect for the horses and riders. As riders, we really look forward to this event because the facilities are so good and the level of competition is so high.  

The spectators are back this year, does competing in-front of your home crowd spur you on?

Of course – when you feel the crowd cheering and supporting you it makes you so motivated to perform your best and give it all.

What are your main ambitions for 2022?

The FEI World Equestrian Games™ is my main aim. It is a qualifier for the next Olympic Games, so it is very important that as a country we perform well to ensure our qualification.

If you weren’t a professional rider what would you be?

I would be football player. Football was something that I really enjoyed growing up, but there came a time where I had to choose which sport I wanted to pursue. I always loved being with the horses, so I chose to pursue show jumping.

When you are not riding, do you have any other hobbies that you take part in?

Most of my time is spent with the horses, but if I do have spare time, I like to spend it with my family. I have two young children, and l love being a good father to them. My eldest daughter is just over four-years-old, and she has started school this year, and my youngest is nine-months-old. They both like being in the stables with the horses.

Who do you think is your biggest competition for the Rolex Grand Prix on Sunday?

When you look at the start list, there are so many good riders, and they have all bought their best horses here. I have no idea who will be the best on Sunday, but it will definitely be a very exciting competition for everyone.

Walk the course with:

Louis Konickx

 

How did you land the role of the Rolex Grand Prix course designer at The Dutch Masters?

I think that everything must start with passion. I was passionate for horses and the sport; I was an amateur rider, but I could not afford to ride and have the proper training. Course designing allowed me to stay in the sport that I loved so much. When I was around 14-years-old, I helped a course designer at a small national show, and that is where I first started my journey to become a course designer.

I have been lucky to have some amazing teachers in Holland, and I have had the opportunity to assist some of the best course designers in the world, including Linda Allen, Bob Ellis, Arno Gego and many other amazing designers.

Do you have assistants or people that you currently mentor and train?

Yes. I am also in the process of retiring, so it is nice to be able to pass my knowledge onto the up-and-coming designers. In the Netherlands, I have two incredibly talented people I mentor, Henk Linders and Quintin Maertens. Henk has just started working as a lead course designer and now is working on 3* courses in Europe. Quintin is very similar to me and is always searching for a solution. He has some genius ideas and I really like working with him. We work very well as a team; I will come up with a course plan and he makes it better. He will be lead course designer for the Nations Cup™ in Rotterdam.

I am passing the reins over to him at the moment. I think that it is the best way to stop; knowing that you have someone there ready to take over. Over the years, I have nurtured his career, and now we have a relationship filled with trust and respect, so I feel confident to pass the reins to him. There are a lot of great course designer assistants in the world, but to take the next step, you must feel the pressure of designing a course by yourself. That is the last step, and this is where I feel I can help pass my knowledge.

Can you give any hints to what Sunday’s course will be like?

Last year I was so sad because we had such a beautiful course, which produced an amazing jump-off but there were no spectators there to see it in person. I almost wanted to do the same course again so the fans could see it!

We started planning this year’s course in January, and it has taken me a long time to come up with the perfect course. This week, I have finally created a course that I am happy with, so I shared it with Quintin, and we worked together to improve that course. The arena at The Dutch Masters is quite small so you have to be careful how you plan the lines of the course and makes sure it flows with balance. The course also needs to be able to produce a good and exciting jump-off. Ideally, as a course designer you want around eight horse and rider combinations in the jump-off; but you cannot manage the drama and the excitement it follows its own fate.

Do you get nervous when riders are jumping a course you have designed?

Yes, I do. Most people say that I do not seem nervous, but I do I get nervous. Designing a course takes a lot of time and effort, and we are totally committed to making sure we create the best and most fair track for the horses and riders. It can be very stressful, but it is my passion. I think that you need nerves to make sure that you keep improving.

How do you decide the time limit of the courses you design?

Setting the correct time is very important, especially since the rule change in January. Now, one second over the time is one penalty; so, you need to create a time that is tight but also achievable, as now the riders can collect so many time penalties and they can be very costly. We measure the course two or three times using a measuring wheel, and we will aim to get an idea of the time by Friday night.

What type of horse and rider combination will do well with the course you designed?

In an indoor arena you need fast and agile horses, as the space is so tight unlike the big grass arenas such as CHIO Aachen. The horses and riders will have to have lot of control and will need to be able to communicate well with each other. Marcus Ehning always rides in such a smooth and harmonious way – there is a total understanding between the horse and rider, and I think that this course will suit that.

If you could compare your role in another way, how would you do that?

As a course designer you almost create your own language and then the riders have to try and understand that language in order to ride the course how you imagined. Some riders will understand it and others will struggle and it is very interesting to watch. It can be a tough challenge, but we do it because we love it and it is so fun to innovate constantly and almost create a puzzle that the riders have to solve.

(Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Peggy Schröder) (Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Peggy Schröder)

(Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Peggy Schröder) (Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Peggy Schröder)

Martin Fuchs wins the VDL Groep Prize

 

The organisers of The Dutch Masters delivered world-class sport on the opening day of the first Rolex Grand Slam Major of the year. The VDL Groep Prize was the highlight of the day with Rolex Grand Slam live contender, Martin Fuchs (SUI), maintaining his top form aboard The Sinner to claim the title. Fellow Rolex Testimonee, Daniel Deusser, set the pace as first to go in the jump-off finishing eventual second with his Rolex Grand Prix horse, Scuderia 1918 Tobago Z.

The course designed by Louis Konickx proved challenging, with only nine horse and rider combinations, representing five nations, reaching the jump-off to battle it out under the bright lights of the Brabanthallen’s main arena. The return of spectators for the first time since 2019 was especially welcomed by the strong contingent of Dutch riders, who received a roaring echo of cheers as they entered the ring, but in the end, it was Switzerland’s Martin Fuchs who dominated the class to start his ‘The Dutch Masters’ quest in spectacular fashion.

Congratulations! What was the course like to ride?

It was a very good course, there were a lot of faults everywhere, but the course designer did a very good job. It was great to perform in front of the crowd here and I am very happy with my round.

Tell us a little bit about The Sinner…

The Sinner has always been very competitive from when I first got him, even when I wasn’t so used to him. Now we’ve had some very nice jump-offs together, so this gives me a lot of confidence entering a big jump-off knowing that my horse is able to do it, knowing what we are able to do it together, so it’s possible to make a plan and that plan went well today.

You are the live contender, and have started your bid to continue your Rolex Grand Slam journey very well. Does this give you extra confidence ahead of the Rolex Grand Prix on Sunday?

It’s very nice to start The Dutch Masters with a win in the big class. For the Rolex Grand Prix on Sunday I will be riding Conner Jei, who is fairly green and new at this level, but I’m very excited and looking forward to it. He hasn’t done too much indoor work recently, but he is a wonderful horse and I am hoping to continue our Rolex Grand Slam journey with a win on Sunday.

Mariella Offner (Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Peggy Schröder) Mariella Offner (Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Peggy Schröder)

Behind the stable door with:

Mariella Offner, Max Kühner's groom

 

Welcome to The Dutch Masters. How did you and the horses get here?

We drove here, it took us 14-hours in total. Unfortunately, when you are travelling so far you cannot control the traffic.

How do you entertain yourself for that time?

I listen to music and I call my friends, colleagues and other grooms, I seem to be able to keep myself entertained!

Do the horses travel well?

They are amazing travellers. When we go on a long journey, I try and make it as comfortable as possible for them. They each have their own water bucket, as on long journeys they drink a lot. I also try and give them as much space as possible, so they can stretch their heads down. With Elektric Blue P, I travel him loose in a box stall so that he has as much freedom as possible.

Do you and the team feel a bit of extra pressure coming into The Dutch Maters, with Max as defending champion?

I think that I feel more pressure than Max does – he is very relaxed! We have a different horse competing in the Rolex Grand Prix this year [Eic Coriolis Des Isles], so I think he does not feel as much pressure. But I really want to win again and show that we have more than just one amazing horse.

What other competitions do you and the team really want to win?

We would love to the win the Rolex Grand Prix at CHIO Aachen. I also love the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ – it is one of my favourite places. The first time I went there, Max was third with Chardonnay 79, so I would love to better that and win there.

What is your favourite part of your job?

Seeing the horses grow and develop. I first meet Elektric Blue P when he was a youngster, and I have watched him grow up to be such an incredible horse. When he won the Rolex Grand Prix here last year I cried so much. When you start watching them in young-horse classes, and then they are up on the podium at one of the biggest competitions in the world, it is everything. It makes the job so special.

Who is Max competing with in the Rolex Grand Prix on Sunday?

Eic Coriolis Des Isles is the horse that Max will ride in the Rolex Grand Prix on Sunday. He surprised us last year with his results, we never expected him to jump so well, so it is really exciting to hopefully watch him continue to grow this year.

How has he [Eic Coriolis Des Isles] been prepared for the Rolex Grand Prix

He spent a few weeks competing on the Sunshine Tour earlier in the year. We [Max and Mariella] have been in Doha for the last two weeks, so our home rider has been keeping him fit. She is doing a great job with the horses, so I am confident he is fully prepared for Sunday.

What is he like at home in the stable?

He eats everything – he is very greedy! He also pulls down everything in his stable including blankets and curtains.

How long have you worked with Max?

As a full-time employee it will be four-years this summer. I also did an apprenticeship with him when I was 15-years-old. It was really nice when I started working for him full-time as I already knew the stables, the staff, the horses and how everything worked.

What is it like to work with Max?

He is a great boss. I am the type of person that always has to have a plan for the day; he has realised this, so we now work together to create a schedule for each day which makes sure that everything runs smoothly. We have a lot of fun, and he makes you feel very comfortable – it all works very well.

What is your advice for people who want to become a professional groom?

Never stop learning. You should always take advice from the other grooms. You learn so much from just being around them and speaking and listening to them. I also think you have to really love your job and the horses.

Marcel Hunze (Photo: The Dutch Masters / Remco Veurink) Marcel Hunze (Photo: The Dutch Masters / Remco Veurink)

Word From the Organizer with:

Show Director Marcel Hunze

 

Firstly, how does it feel to have spectators at The Dutch Masters for the first time in two years?

We are thrilled to have the fans back. I think that the riders and sponsors will also be very happy to have them here at The Dutch Masters; the fans of course, I’m sure will be excited to be able to return. Last year, we had to run the show without spectators, and it was a completely different atmosphere. I think the fans influence the riders, especially when they are competing in front their home-crowd. For example, at CHI Geneva, when the Swiss riders are competing it creates an incredible atmosphere and it can lift the performance of the riders, like it did with Martin Fuchs. Let’s hope that it helps the Dutch riders here this weekend!

What are the main lessons you have learnt following two years of disruption to the event? 

As an event we have always had to be flexible – but especially over the last few years we have had to be very adaptative to change. In 2021, there was a lot of change, initially we decided to run the show behind closed doors, then two weeks before the show, we had to suddenly cancel due the spread of Equine Herpes Virus (EHV-1), and then find new dates to run the show later on in the year.

Even this year, we had to decide in January whether to run The Dutch Masters. At that time there were restrictions which meant we could only have 1,250 people and all spectators had to be seated. We made the decision to go ahead even with the restrictions, but luckily now those restrictions have been loosened slightly. Now, we can have up to 500 people unseated, but not even one person more otherwise all spectators would have to be tested every 24-hours. We are able to have a small shopping village and the warm-up arena is available to the public. We have had to improvise a lot over the last few years, but that is our job. It is very challenging but also very satisfying when a plan works out in the end.

How have the preparations of putting on an event of this scale changed since the COVID-19 pandemic started in 2019? 

A few things have changed. Our suppliers and sponsors are now more cautious. Luckily, we were able to pay everyone over these last few years, so we are seen as reliable partner. A lot of suppliers and companies have had bad experiences with other events as they could not pay or have gone bankrupt. We have learnt that communication has become far more important. Before you would just sign an agreement and then there would be limited contact afterwards. Now, you need to have more communication to make sure that everyone is happy and knows what is going on.

How big is your team and have any new roles been introduced? 

There is a fixed team of about 10 people, and that number continually grows in the build-up to The Dutch Masters. In ‘normal times’ we would usually have 1,500 people working at the event, this year however, there are about 800 people on the team. There are fewer this year because there is less catering and a smaller shopping village. But our team is very experienced, and we work very well together.

We have been working with our suppliers for a long time and we really like that because they know what we expect from them. We expect high quality and flexibility – our suppliers know if they deliver on this then we will work with them for a long time. We really like working with people for a long time because building up loyalty and trust is very important to ensure that we have a successful show.

What keeps you motivated and your drive high? 

My motivation is to improve the show every year. Now that we are part of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping, there is even more motivation to continue to innovate and get better. All the Rolex Grand Slam Show Directors meet up and discuss how, not only, we can improve the individual shows but how we can improve the whole Rolex Grand Slam. Being part of this special group is very motivating, and we challenge each other to get better.

How does the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping enhance the status of The Dutch Masters? 

We are so proud to be part of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping. It was our main goal after we stopped hosting the FEI World Cup™. We have seen so much improvement in the event, including the level of competitors and therefore the level of competition. There is far more international interest and exposure for The Dutch Masters now, with more international visitors and media. There has been so much improvement and we are thrilled to be part of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping.

Looking ahead to the weekend, what can the spectators expect to see at The Dutch Masters? 

World-class sport – the horse and rider combinations competing here are the best in the world, so spectators can expect a thrilling competition. The Dutch Masters is known for its incredible atmosphere and fun parties, but of course this year due to the restrictions they will be smaller but we will make sure everyone has great time!

Which horse and rider combinations could win the Rolex Grand Prix on Sunday?

For the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping concept, it would be great if Martin Fuchs won as he is the Live Contender, and that would make it very exciting. The home-crowd would love it if a Dutch rider would win, I think Harrie Smolders could win or at least be one of the best riders at the show.

Max Kuhner and Elektric Blue P (Photo: The Dutch Masters / DigiShots) Max Kuhner and Elektric Blue P (Photo: The Dutch Masters / DigiShots)

 

You are returning to ‘s-Hertogenbosch as the Rolex Grand Prix defending champion, does this make you feel added pressure?

No, not really. I suppose I now know that it is possible to win, but I am probably going to be competing on another horse, so there is less pressure than if I was riding Elektric Blue P. In our sport it is different every time you enter the ring, so that makes me feel less pressure.

Which horses are you planning to bring with you, and which one will you ride in the Rolex Grand Prix?

In the Rolex Grand Prix, I will either ride Eic Coriolis Des Isles or Elektric Blue P. Eic Coriolis Des Isles has been competing at Vejer de la Frontera, and is in very good form at the moment. I will also bring two younger horses with me to The Dutch Masters. I like to bring the less experienced horses with me, so they can be introduced to a show with more atmosphere – it is a very important part of their education.

Do you prepare for an indoor event differently to an outdoor one? Can you tell us the main differences?

I think that it really depends on the horse. Some horses need a little more training before they go to an indoor event. The most important thing for jumping indoors is that the horses are confident, especially as they have to jump fences right next to the fans, and the fences come up far quicker than in an outdoor arena. They also need to be used to jumping large oxers into the corners, so at home I like to practice with smaller exercises in the corners. We have a small indoor arena, so we like to prepare the horses for the indoor events in there.

The spectators at The Dutch Masters sit very close to the arena, does this affect the horses or make you more nervous?

Again, I think it depends on the horse. However, usually the horses that we jump in big classes such as the Rolex Grand Prix are used to having the fans very close. In my opinion the atmosphere that the spectators create is very special, and I believe the horses can feel it. I always say that when a big crowd is behind you, it gives the horse wings.

How important is your team at home to enable your success?

My team is unbelievably important. It is crucial to me that I have a good plan with each of my horses I plan for the long-term development of the horse over several years, not just one show at a time, and without a great team this would be impossible. Everyone is involved in this plan, from the home riders, the farrier and the grooms. We think about what we want to improve with each horse, and how we can best work together as a team to achieve this.

I always say that our sport is more of a team sport than an individual sport, because without the team, I would not be able achieve anything. The home riders do the majority of the training with the horses as I am away competing so much, for example before The Dutch Masters, I will ride the horses that I am taking on the Sunday before we leave. I cannot change anything big, so the horses have to be perfectly trained and prepared to go to s-Hertogenbosch.

What qualities do you look for in a home rider?

We are always looking for good people. The people that have a good attitude, live for their job and think about the horses as soon as they wake up and when they fall asleep. I have learnt that it is not important how much experience someone has when they start, because so long as they are truly interested, they will learn quickly, and it will be easy for them to grow. This is because it is not a job to them, it is a passion.

Which of the four Majors that make up the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping is your favourite to compete at and why?

I like each one – they are all so special in their own way. You really cannot compare them against each other, not even CHIO Aachen and CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’. Of course, they are both held in big grass rings, but the course building and fence design is completely different.

The one thing that is the same for all of the Majors, is that they have the toughest courses in the world. They are the most challenging, and therefore have the biggest prize money in the sport – they are the shows that every rider wants to win the most. At each of the Majors, there are more of the top-ranking riders than at the Olympic Games – it is something very special to be a part of.

Does the challenge of competing against the world’s top riders motivate you?

Absolutely. You learn so much competing against the best riders in the world. Even just watching them ride in the warm-up is so inspiring and motivating.

Which horse and rider combinations do you see as your biggest competition at The Dutch Masters?

It is a hard question as there are so many incredible combinations, but I think Martin Fuchs and Chaplin will be on top form. They won the World Cup™ at Lyon together, and I think Martin has been saving Chaplin for this competition, so I think they will be a very hard combination to beat. He has an amazing team, and he knows how to deliver a great performance at these important shows.

The sport has changed so much in the last 15 years, you used to only be able to name about three horse and rider combinations that could win – now there are about 20 who could win the Rolex Grand Prix at The Dutch Masters.

Do you ever have any downtime?! If so, what would you choose to do?

I try and spend it with my family – I have three children and I love spending time with them. If I have a bit more time off, I like to do some sport, I find that very fulfilling.

What do you enjoy most about being a professional show jumper?

I enjoy that there are so many challenging situations. It is not only just competing well in the ring – it is creating the right plan for the horses, getting a good team together and having great owners. There are so many things that have to work out in the right way in order to succeed, to me this makes being a professional show jumper very interesting.

What is your advice to younger riders who are just starting out in their respective careers?

Always stand up again!

Aside from show jumping, do you follow any other sports e.g., tennis or golf?

Unfortunately, I do not really have enough time. It is not that I am not interested in following other sports, but when I do have time off, I enjoy spending it with my family. They play lots of sport, so I watch them instead.

 

Grooms arriving at the Dutch Masters (Photo: The Dutch Masters Media) Grooms arriving at the Dutch Masters (Photo: The Dutch Masters Media)

This year The Dutch Masters welcomes back spectators to the world-renowned Brabanthallen for the first time since 2019. The event runs from the 11-13 March and will follow a slightly adjusted programme to meet the requirements put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Recognised as one of the most prestigious indoor shows on the equestrian calendar, ‘s-Hertogenbosch will not only host the world’s best show jumpers, but also welcomes the elite dressage horse and rider combinations who will compete in the FEI Dressage World Cup™ on Friday and Saturday.

The Tokyo 2020 Olympic gold medallist and World No. 1, Germany’s Jessica von Bredow-Werndl, will be hoping to continue her 2021 success aboard her 15-year-old bay mare, TSF Dalera BB, with whom she became double Olympic and European champion. The winning partnership will be sure to treat the crowds to a masterclass as they compete in the FEI Dressage World Cup™ Grand Prix on Friday afternoon and the FEI Dressage World Cup™ Freestyle on Saturday.

In the build up to the Rolex Grand Prix which takes place on the Sunday afternoon, spectators will be entertained by the world’s best show jumpers competing in a packed-out programme of international classes. Highlights include the VDL Groep Prize on Friday evening – which was won by Rolex’s newest Testimonee Daniel Deusser (GER) in 2021 – and the Audi Prize on Saturday evening.

Aside from the sporting action, one further highlight will be a very special retirement ceremony for Maikel van der Vleuten’s Verdi TN, which will take place ahead of the Rolex Grand Prix on Sunday afternoon. This retirement ceremony was originally planned for 2020, but the decision was made to delay until spectators were able to return to the stadium to enable Verdi TN to have the send-off he truly deserves. Throughout his career Verdi TN was a tough competitor and boasts accolades including a team gold medal at the FEI World Equestrian Games™ in 2014 and a team gold medal at the FEI European Championships in 2015.

Tickets are still available to book. Visit the website www.thedutchmasters.com for more information.

Harrie Smolders and Nixon van 't Meulenhof (Photo:The Dutch Masters / DigiShots) Harrie Smolders and Nixon van 't Meulenhof (Photo:The Dutch Masters / DigiShots)

The Dutch Masters returns from 11–13 March and will play host to the first Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Major of the year. The three-day show will culminate with the Rolex Grand Prix on Sunday, where the world’s best show jumping combinations, including seven of the world’s top 10 ranked riders, will be vying to claim the prestigious trophy and become the new live contender of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping. The bright lights of the Brabanthallen will once again shine on the famous arena as crowds are welcomed back to witness world-class equestrian action.

Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping – Rider Watch

The current live contender Martin Fuchs will be looking to secure a win in the Rolex Grand Prix to continue his quest to become only the second rider to win the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping. Following his historic win at the CHI Geneva 2021, in which he was the first person to win back-to-back Rolex Grands Prix, the on-form Swiss will ride Chaplin. The bay stallion is an indoor specialist, has many Grands Prix wins under his belt already; and is armed with the agility and experience to succeed in the tight Brabanthallen arena. Fuchs will be joined by five of his fellow Rolex Testimonees.

The newest Rolex Testimonee Daniel Deusser is looking to secure the bonus for winning two Rolex Grands Prix out of four, after his win aboard Killer Queen VDM at CHIO Aachen in 2021. The German who has spent the majority of the year out in Florida competing in the Winter Equestrian Festival, will ride Scuderia 1918 Tobago Z, who is an expert indoor horse. Deusser has previously won the Grand Prix at The Dutch Masters twice before, so will be looking to capture a third to secure the 250,000 Euro bonus. Following on from his victory at the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’, Swiss rider Steve Guerdat will also be aiming for the same bonus.

Last year’s victor Max Kühner, returns with all the knowledge of how to win amongst a top-class field at 's-Hertogenbosch. The Austrian will bring a strong team of horses to The Dutch Masters, with either last year’s winning horse Elektric Blue P or Eic Coriolis Des Isles as his choice for Sunday’s Rolex Grand Prix.

Current reigning Olympic individual champion, and World No. 5 Ben Maher finished last year off in exceptional fashion with a win at CHI Geneva in the Rolex IJRC Top Ten Final aboard the infamous Explosion W. The British star who has also based himself out in Florida for the winter season, will return to Europe to contest The Rolex Grand Prix in 's-Hertogenbosch for the first-time aboard the striking chestnut gelding, who was born approximately 10 kilometres away from the world-renowned Brabanthallen. Compatriot Scott Brash, the only rider to claim the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping, will be aiming to restart his quest to win the elusive title once more. The Dutch Masters is the only one of the four majors that has eluded Brash, so he will be sure to bring his top horse to win this prestigious class. Rounding off a strong contingent of British riders, is the up-and-coming Harry Charles, following a stellar end to the year in 2021, the 22-year-old is now the Under-25 World No.1, and will be looking to claim his first Rolex Grand Prix. Will one of these riders be able to become the first British winner since Robert Smith’s victory in 2003?

The home crowd will be hoping to see Harrie Smolders do one better than his second-place finish in the Rolex Grand Prix at CHI Geneva in 2021. The Dutch fans will be sure to be alight with excitement when Smolders enters the arena. The Dutchman will be joined by 12 of his fellow nationals, including Maikel van der Vleuten and Jur Vrieling.

2020 team Olympic Games gold medallist, Henrik von Eckermann, will also be contesting the Rolex Grand Prix. The Swede won here in 2019 and will be looking to emulate his success as one of only two Swedish riders competing at The Dutch Masters, after World No. 1 Peder Fredricson withdrew from the competition.

As excitement builds for the first Major of the year, will Fuchs’s quest for show jumping’s most coveted prize continue or will there be a new live contender?

Stephan Conter (right) at the retirement ceremony for Cornet D'Amour (Photo: Stephex Masters / Jeroen Willems) Stephan Conter (right) at the retirement ceremony for Cornet D'Amour (Photo: Stephex Masters / Jeroen Willems)

 

How did you get into the owning side of the sport?

I decided to start buying horses for Daniel Deusser 10-years-ago. Before that I had bought horses for other riders for over 20-years, but I decided that I really wanted to get to the top level of the sport. From there, I made the decision to find a top-level rider, and my decision was Daniel. I then threw everything into that decision and really went for it. Once you start to win Grands Prix and become a serious competitor it becomes very addictive, and you want to continue that success by having the best horses and riders.

I now have multiple riders, including my two daughters [Emilie and Zoé] and watching them succeed on my horses is very motivating for me. I am also very proud when I see horses that I have bred or sold doing well. We sell a lot of horses, in the Grand Prix in Wellington last week, we had two horses that I still own in the jump-off as well as a few others that we used to own, and watching the horses being successful gives me such a kick.

With your breeding programme, how do you decide which horses to keep and which to sell?

Normally, I say every horse is for sale. If a horse has had very good results, then of course the price of the horse will increase. I do not keep all my best horses because if you look at all of the horses we have sold, there are so many that have achieved incredible results. For example, if you look at the Olympic Games last year, we had seven horses jumping there and I only owned one, so that shows the quality of the horses that we sell.

If a horse is a really good match for one of my riders, then I will wait for a season before we think about selling that horse. Davidoff De Lassus is a very good match for Zoé, and so we will keep him for another year unless we have an exceptional offer.

If one of your daughters forms a special bond with a horse, does that change your opinion on selling that horse?

Yes, definitely! Emilie is more of a seller than her sister; she is willing to sell when a good offer is made. Zoé would like to keep every horse, but I think she is starting to understand that we are normal people, and we still need to make a living out of the sport to continue our beautiful story.

You have an amazing group of riders in the Stephex Stables team, including Rolex Testimonee Daniel Deusser and your two daughters, Zoé and Emilie – how do you select which horses to pair them with?

Firstly, I am a businessman and I like things to go quickly. This is why I mainly buy horses around six- to eight-years-old, but I still do run a breeding programme. These horses can be ready to sell in around 24 months and that is how I like to work. I am open to selling any horse, if not I would own thousands of horses. For me it is not a problem to own that many horses – the problem is that it is too complicated to train that many horses. To train a horse up to the level where it could be a Grand Prix winner you need to educate them with the highest care and quality. So therefore, we do sell a lot of the horses we breed unbroken.

The level of breeding in Belgium is extremely high – I think the best in the world. That means the horses are not cheap, but it does mean that you have a chance to choose the best horse for your rider. I make my decisions on which horse to buy for which rider based on my gut feeling. I cannot explain why I choose a horse sometimes, but I just trust my feeling. So far, this has brought me much success. 

How important is it to have a balance of experienced and young up-and-coming riders in your team?

It is very important. A few months ago, we had two riders in the Top 10, so you need to have a lot of horses to ensure they can stay up in the rankings. It is not like it was 20 years ago when the riders could take the winter season off, now there are shows every weekend. I think the rankings system is an addiction to the riders and that is a problem. To continue to be at the top of the sport riders need to compete almost every weekend to ensure they continue to gain ranking points. So therefore, we need a lot of younger riders to train the horses at home when our top riders are out competing.

There are a lot of young and talented riders in our sport right now. I believe that you cannot just discover your next top rider tomorrow, you need to work with them for a couple of years and ensure they are trained properly. Some of the top riders in the world now were not the best when they were 18-years-old, but they had an excellent work ethic and dedicated themselves to the sport. It is nice to see that with hard work you can get the results that you deserve.

How many horses do you currently own and which would you pick to achieve the best results this year?

With Daniel we are in a very luxurious position – we have a really strong team of horses. It is not always like that, so we feel very lucky right now. For example, Tobago Z jumped unbelievably well last weekend in the 5* Grand Prix at the Winter Equestrian Festival. He looked like he was eight-years-old and jumping in a 1.30m class. Killer Queen VDM is also jumping very well, so I think we are in for a very exciting year.

Can you share some behind the scenes insights into an owner/rider relationship programme?

I speak to my riders about everything. We choose which shows each horse will go to, but I do have a strong opinion on which shows we should prioritise, which are the Rolex Grand Slam Majors and the other Rolex Shows. All the riders agree with me, as these shows are simply the best in the world. Hopefully, one day people will say the same about the Brussels Stephex Masters. It is very exciting that CSIO Roma and now La Baule are also supported by Rolex. In my opinion, shows supported by Rolex are on a different level to all the other shows, and all my riders love to compete at them.

Which Stephex Stables horses are you most proud of – past and present?

I am proud of so many of them. We have sold so many great horses that naming some does not do justice to all horses. But I will say that in every Grand Prix we have at least five horses we have sold and that makes me very proud.

Killer Queen VDM has been tipped as a horse that could win the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping, what caught your eye when you first saw her?

She has a lot of character. She is a beautiful lady, but she has a lot of character and that can be difficult for Daniel sometimes. She has all the scope you could want in a top-class show jumper, and she wants to be the best in the world.

She has to compete against the best horses in the world in the ring, but she also has to compete against her neighbour in the stables, Tobago Z. She has to prove to Stephex Stables that she is better than him; we put them next to each other in the stables, so they know they have to compete against each other to be the best.

Maybe together Killer Queen VDM and Tobago Z, can win the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping. We nearly won the Rolex Grand Prix at CHIO Aachen in 2019, but Scuderia 1918 Tobago Z was beaten by Kent Farrington and Gazelle. We actually sold Gazelle to Kent, so we were beaten by one of our own horses. But I think, Tobago Z could win the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping, he is in great form at the moment. 

Out of the four Majors that make up the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping, which of them is your favourite, and why?

This is a very easy answer for me – CHIO Aachen. It was my dream to win at Aachen so to achieve that was incredible. In my opinion it is the best show in the world.

You host some incredibly successful events, such as Knokke Hippique and Brussels Stephex Masters – how to you keep innovating these shows?

We always aim to be the best and to keep getting better. We are building a new stadium for the Brussels Stephex Masters, and there will also be a new venue for Knokke Hippique next year. We are organising a new show in Marbella so that is very exciting for us.

Spencer Smith riding at the Palexpo for the CHI Geneva 2019 (Photo: Jenny Abrahamsson / WoSJ) Spencer Smith riding at the Palexpo for the CHI Geneva 2019 (Photo: Jenny Abrahamsson / WoSJ)

 

What is the proudest moment of your career so far?

One of my proudest moments was competing at my first Rolex Grand Prix at CHI Geneva in 2018. I also competed there in 2019, and it was a huge step in my career. Last year, I won my first 5* Grand Prix, which was an amazing moment in my career.

What are your plans, dreams and ambitions for 2022?

I hope 2022 is going to be the best year so far for me. I am aiming to be a part of the US Team for some FEI Nations Cup™ events and hopefully the FEI World Championships this summer. I would also love to be part of all the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Majors. That is a big goal for me and is definitely one of my main ambitions for this year.

When did your love for show jumping start, and who has inspired you the most throughout your career?

Everyone in my family is involved in horses, my parents have a big training and sales operation in America and they are a huge inspiration to me, so I have grown up with horses in my life. When I was 15-years-old, I went to train and work for Eric Lamaze. I was with Eric for five years, and he has really been my mentor in the sport. We have travelled the world together, and he was the one who first took me to Europe to compete. I have learned so much from him and really appreciate the chances he gave me. I really admire Daniel Deusser and love the way he rides, too – I try to emulate his style in my riding.

What attributes do you believe a successful show jumper needs?

I think that you have to be competitive, but you also have to be able to take the losses. In show jumping, you lose a lot more than you win, so you have to be able to cope with the ups and downs of the sport. Often when things don’t go well it is easy to want to change everything, but you just have to take a step back and make sure you are doing the basic things right. I think to be the best and win the biggest classes you need to have the balance between patience and drive.

Tell us a little bit about your stable of horses which ones are you most excited about?

I am very lucky – I have some great horses and amazing support from Georgina Bloomberg. My main horse is Theodore Manciais, and I have had him for a long time now. He has jumped the Rolex Grand Prix at CHI Geneva twice before and won a 5* last year. Another one of my top horses is Quibelle, who is owned by Georgina Bloomberg. She jumped a clear for Team USA in the CSIO5* FEI Nations Cup™ Final in Barcelona. We have had some great results, and I think she is going to be my top horse for big team events. I am really excited about her. I feel very lucky to have such great support from Georgina and her team, Jimmy Doyle is her trainer, who also helps me now. It’s a great relationship, we go to most of the same shows and I get to take advice and tips from Georgina and Jimmy.

How important is your team – your groom, your farrier, your coach, your vet, your owner?

They are crucial – they make the whole thing go round. I have a great group of grooms and managers, as well as an excellent vet and farrier. Without even one of them the whole thing would not work. When I win a big class or a Grand Prix, it is really nice, but it is really the team behind me that makes it possible. It is like any other sport, such as Formula 1, the team is vital to the success of the rider. When things don’t go well its tough because you feel like you are letting your team down, as they work so hard for your success.

What do you love most about show jumping? Competing, the camaraderie with the other riders, travelling the world…

I love working with the horses. Being able to create a partnership with your horse and pushing your relationship to the limit to achieve things that you never thought were possible. The camaraderie at the shows with all the riders is very fun, we are all in it for the same reason. It’s really fulfilling to compete against so many talented riders. We all try to help each other, and even when you don’t win you are still happy for the other riders.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

I got a great piece of advice this year from Denis Lynch, which was to always push ahead and to try not to make changes when things go wrong. You should stick with your plan. It has worked in the past and it will do in the future.

Rolex Testimonee Daniel Deusser has tipped you as a future star how much has he influenced your career so far and what other riders to do you look up to?

I met Daniel when I was 15-years-old, and I really look up to him as a person and a rider. I have always been fixated on his riding and his way of doing things. We have similar builds and so I have always watched him. As the years went on, we have become really close, and I consider him one of my best friends in the sport. I train at Stephex Stables over the summer, and they really treat me as part of their family. I try to ride around Daniel as much as I can and watch what he does. I try and learn as much as I can from him.

There are so many riders that I look up to and we have some great riders in the USA, including McLain [Ward], Jessica Springsteen, Beezie [Madden], Kent [Farrington] and Laura [Kraut], who are so incredible. They are obviously talented and very helpful when I’m looking for a bit of advice.

As a young rider, do you feel there are enough opportunities for up-and-coming riders in the sport?

I think there are a lot of ways to get to the top and a lot of different avenues within the sport. Surrounding yourself with good people and making the most of any opportunities makes a big difference.

I am very lucky because my parents are quite well known in the sport and so they have helped me with my career. I have been able to train with some of the top riders in our sport, which has been an excellent opportunity for me. I am very fortunate to have the right people behind me which has allowed me to reach some of my many goals.

How positive do you believe the Rolex Grand Slam has been for the sport of show jumping?

It’s really the peak of the sport. If you win the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping you have transcended the sport and you have achieved something that people will speak of for generations. I think it really changes the game and the next person that wins it will not be forgotten. I wake up every morning with this goal in mind. Currently, I really believe Daniel Deusser is knocking at the door and I have a feeling that he will be the one to do it next. He has a great team of horses, and people, and he has a really cool head in the big moments.

Just like tennis and golf, show jumping has its very own Grand Slam. Which of the other sporting ‘Majors’ do you love watching, and which is your favourite and why?

I love to watch tennis and golf. I don’t play much golf; but I play a lot of tennis, although not that successfully! I can really appreciate any sport and the effort and sacrifice that has to be made to get to the top level.

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