Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping



©Rolex/Thomas Lovelock. From left to right: Frederic Tarder, Organizer of the Jumping International de Dinard; Marco di Paola, President of the Italian Equestrian Sports Federation; Diego Nepi, Event Director of the CSIO Roma Piazza di Siena; Pierre de Brissac, President of the CSIO Jumping International de La Baule; Steve Guerdat, Rolex Testimonee; Laurent Delanney, Rolex Sponsoring Director; Conny Mütze, Steering Committee representative of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping; Stephan Conter, CEO of the Brussels Stephex Masters; Michael Stone, President of Wellington International; Pat Hanly, Deputy Chief Executive of the RDS Dublin Horse Show ©Rolex/Thomas Lovelock. From left to right: Frederic Tarder, Organizer of the Jumping International de Dinard; Marco di Paola, President of the Italian Equestrian Sports Federation; Diego Nepi, Event Director of the CSIO Roma Piazza di Siena; Pierre de Brissac, President of the CSIO Jumping International de La Baule; Steve Guerdat, Rolex Testimonee; Laurent Delanney, Rolex Sponsoring Director; Conny Mütze, Steering Committee representative of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping; Stephan Conter, CEO of the Brussels Stephex Masters; Michael Stone, President of Wellington International; Pat Hanly, Deputy Chief Executive of the RDS Dublin Horse Show

The Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping – the sport’s ultimate prize – is delighted to welcome the Rolex Series to the Rolex Equestrian family. Announced on Thursday 23 May, the Rolex Series unites six of the most respected equestrian shows in the world, each supported by Rolex.


The new initiative was fittingly revealed in the spectacular setting of the opening Rolex Series event – the CSIO Roma Piazza di Siena. The Rolex Series will also include the CSIO Jumping International de La Baule, the Jumping International de Dinard, the Dublin Horse Show, the Brussels Stephex Masters, and the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, USA. These six shows all share common qualities including offering some of the best infrastructures and facilities, age-old traditions, the highest standard of competition as well as reflecting Rolex’s own enduring commitment to excellence.


The Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping and the Rolex Series will be separate concepts, however the Rolex Grand Slam fully supports the introduction of the new Rolex Series, and are thrilled that it will be joining the exclusive Rolex family, which also includes individuals and organizations from the sport who set the highest standards of performance. Additionally, the Rolex Series further enhances Rolex’s commitment to equestrianism and its mission to unite and inspire.


The past 10 years of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping have been filled with countless incredible sporting moments across the four Slams namely The Dutch Masters, the CHIO Aachen, the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ and the CHI Geneva – the pinnacle venues in the sport – including when Scott Brash lifted the iconic Rolex Grand Slam trophy at the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’. The Rolex Series will now elevate the six premier world-class show jumping events, and equestrian fans are sure to be treated to many more unmissable sporting occasions at these shows.


This weekend all eyes will be on Sunday’s Rolex Grand Prix at the CSIO Roma Piazza di Siena to see who will claim the inaugural Rolex Series event. Attention will then turn to the CSIO Jumping International de La Baule (6–9 June), which will play host to the second Rolex Series event, with the next Rolex Grand Slam Major, the CHIO Aachen, following just a few weeks later.

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

Highway TN N.O.P is the result of generations of planning. Breeder Peter Verdellen started the Highway TN N.O.P chapter almost forty years ago, and in those forty years he has bred four generations. With each generation he has added something new to the line that would make the next generation better – little did he know that he was creating the foundation for the success of Highway TN N.O.P.



The story begins with the mare Evita (Ramiro - Viola x Abgar xx, breeder: J.A. Janssen). Peter Verdellen remembers: "Evita was born in 1986 and was standing quite close to where I lived. An old neighbour of mine told me I should go and see her. He said: 'I know a very beautiful mare by Ramiro, she is a year-and-a-half now.’ I went to see her and I took someone with me who had a bit more knowledge about horses than I did – he liked her too, and so I bought her. We started her under saddle when she was three-years-old. She then became a sport horse and Huub Jannsen was her rider. When she was six-years-old she competed in 1.30m show jumping and advanced level eventing. Evita was used in breeding and sport at the same time – Huub still competed with her when she was in foal and when she had a foal on foot. She had her first foal when she was five-years-old. Huub really knew what he was doing, he always let the horses be what they were. If the horse gave him the impression that it was too much, he stopped. Her second foal, Klint (by Ferro), became a licensed stallion and Grand Prix dressage horse under the name Ferrolan. Evita was a tall and long limbed mare with a lot of movement. Over time I tried to use stallions that did not have such a big canter to improve the comfort of the rider.

The reason I used Hemmingway for Evita  was slightly down to luck as I used him with another mare and that foal turned out to be an outstanding horse. Hemmingway improved the type and made his progeny pretty. He also added movement without giving a huge canter. I thought he might go well with Evita. The result of this pairing was Ovita V. She became the champion foal of Limburg and I then went to the Benelux Championships in Zangersheide with her, where she became champion out of 150 fillies. She was really beautiful. She jumped up to 1.10m, but she was not easy to ride and so she became a broodmare with us.

“The next stallion in Highway TN N.O.P 's line is Darco. I used Darco because Ovita V was beautiful but she was quite small, and so I wanted to use a stallion who could give Ovita V more scope. I picked up his semen from Belgium, inseminated her and she was in foal immediately. The foal turned out to be the granddam of Highway TN N.O.P.”


Zelana V (Photo :Ben Reuvekamp) Zelana V (Photo :Ben Reuvekamp)

Verdellen added: "Uvita V had less blood than her dam Ovita V, which was to be expected. She was also a little heavier in type, and not as tall either, around 1.65cm. When she was two-years-old I transferred an embryo from her. She had a very interesting pedigree, so I thought it might be interesting to use Chellano Z for her. During this time I did a number of embryo transfers with several mares, and together with Ton Vullers, we looked at which stallion would be the right cross for Uvita V. Chellano Z was an upcoming stallion and was ridden by Jos Lansink. I was very impressed with the stallion and the way he jumped. Looking back, it was a golden combination. The daughters of Chellano Z produce a lot of sport horses. I have always been attracted to German bloodlines like Contender, and Chellano Z is by Contender. This embryo became Zelana V, the dam of Highway TN N.O.P.”


Highway TN N.O.P

Verdellen continues to explain why he used Eldorado van de Zeshoek TN for Zelana V: “Team Nijhof had two five-year-old stallions that were approved at the time. One of them was Eldorado van de Zeshoek TN. I had known this stallion since he was two-years-old. Pieter Merckx had ridden some of my horses in the past and he had Eldorado van de Zeshoek TN in his stable as a two-year-old. Even as a two-year-old he showed that he had a lot of temperament. He was a big horse and I saw him free jumping once and he looked great. I thought Zelana V could use a little more size and that made Eldorado van de Zeshoek TN a good stallion for her. The first foal from this combination was a filly, Elana V Z, who I sold to France as a foal and who competed at 1.35m. I was very happy with her and therefore decided to use Eldorado van de Zeshoek TN again. The result of this was Highway TN N.O.P. He was a good foal with a lot of presence. His dam, Zelana V, with Highway TN N.O.P. at foot, were sold at an online auction in 2012. Looking back, I should never have sold her. When Highway TN N.O.P 's new owner came to collect him, he was a little taken aback by his size. However, what he didn't realise was that the stable he was standing in was lower down. When I took him out, they looked relieved.”

“I saw Highway TN N.O.P again as a three-year-old at a stallion inspection. I thought he was already quite big – if I remember correctly, he was already 1.67cm tall. He got selected for the stallion performance test. We went there on the last day of the performance test, and I remember one of his rounds where he touched a pole and then his reaction was unbelievable! You could tell he had an incredible quality. He was extremely careful.”


Willem Greve (NED) riding Highway TN N.O.P. thanks the spectators after winning the Rolex Grand Prix 's-Hertogenbosch. (Photo : Rolex Grand Slam / Ashley Neuhof) Willem Greve (NED) riding Highway TN N.O.P. thanks the spectators after winning the Rolex Grand Prix 's-Hertogenbosch. (Photo : Rolex Grand Slam / Ashley Neuhof)

“It is special to have such success with Highway TN N.O.P. People respond to that success and you get in touch with a lot of people. It was also very exciting for us when he was selected for Horse of the Year. The moment Highway TN N.O.P won the Rolex Grand Prix at The Dutch Masters, we were sitting with our daughter in Nieuwegein celebrating her birthday. We followed his performance via and were on the edge of our seats when he started as last to go in the jump-off. We knew it would be difficult but the relief was great when he managed be clear and faster. I am usually quite down-to-earth during these types of moments but there were tears in my eyes. We will not forget this moment and are very proud breeders. We are also well aware that we achieved this result because our breeding product ended up in the right place.”

After forty years of breeding with one line, a lot of information comes together. Verdellen says: "What I can say is that horses from this line really want to work. They want to work with the rider, and it is something I really like about this line. I used to be a rider myself and I thought it was normal to have the mares in the sport to see their qualities. I started breeding with this line and we still have this line in our breeding programme today. At the moment I have two mares from this family – one for show jumping and one for dressage. This line has brought me many special moments.”


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

The Dutch Masters – the first Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Major of the calendar year – culminated this afternoon with the show’s pinnacle class, the Rolex Grand Prix. The Major, which was the final of the four shows within the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the initiative did so with a fitting ceremony on Saturday evening looking back over the highlights from the past decade.


The energy in the Brabanthallen was electric as fans waited with bated breath to see if the current Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping live contender, Richard Vogel, could claim back-to-back Majors in his pursuit of the ultimate prize in the sport – a quest that would not come easy with a sensational field of riders including the current European, World and Olympic Champions all hoping to claim this prestigious Rolex Grand Prix.


Second to go – Rolex Testimonee and winner of the CPKC ‘International’ Grand Prix, presented by Rolex at the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament – Martin Fuchs was the first to master Louis Konickx’s exceptionally built course. His mount, Leone Jei, has jumped eight clears in Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Majors, the most of any horse in the class.


The next combination into the main arena, World No.1 Henrik von Eckermann and King Edward ensured there would be a jump-off with a perfectly judged clear round, whilst the flying Frenchman Julien Epaillard, was another to clear the 14 combination course and kept his hopes of the becoming the first French rider to win a Major alive. At the halfway point, seven riders from seven different nations had secured their place in the jump-off including the ‘Dutch Rider of the Year’, Harrie Smolders who set the home crowd alight, and German rider Marcus Ehning. Of the remaining riders, only two additional combinations proceeded to the second round with some of the competition’s favourites such as Steve Guerdat and the live contender Richard Vogel unable to join the exclusive list of riders.


Returning in the same order in which they jumped in the first round, it was Fuchs who set the pace with a clear in a time of 35.11 seconds, however, his lead was quickly usurped by von Eckermann and King Edward who showed why they are considered to be the leading combination in the world, when they crossed the line in 33.74 seconds. The crowd roared to life as Smolders produced a super smooth round, but heartbreak came when he was 0.92 seconds slower. It looked like it would be a Swedish victory, but last to go, Dutch rider Willem Greve with his bay stallion, Highway TN N.O.P. produced an expertly judged round to beat the World No.1’s time by just 0.04 seconds. Greve therefore not only claimed his first Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Major but also a first for the Netherlands, and become the live contender ahead of the CHIO Aachen in July.


Speaking on his win the Dutch rider stated: “I have to pinch myself – it is unbelievable. Words cannot describe how I am feeling. I am so thankful for my horse for his courage and his mentality. It means so much to me to win in front of my home crowd – the history here is incredible, and it is an honour to add my name to the list of winners. I have been coming to The Dutch Masters since a was a small child, and so to win here is a dream come true.”

Interview with Next Gen rider - Lars Kersten

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

We are here at The Dutch Masters, your home show, how special is this venue to you?

It is so special to be here at The Dutch Masters. I competed here for the first time last year, and had a good round in the Rolex Grand Prix – my horse jumped very well and I am hoping for the same again this year. 


The Dutch Masters is one of the best indoor shows in the world – to be honest, all of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Majors are the pinnacle of the sport. For me as a Dutch rider to have a home Major is amazing. 


Can you tell us about the horses that you have with you and what qualities they have that make them so special?

I have a very good string of horses with me this week. My grey mare, Hallilea is here – she is in very good form having won the FEI World Cup™ Qualifier in Gothenburg only a couple of weeks ago. She had a nice round in the 1.45m class on Friday, and I am planning on jumping her in Sunday’s Rolex Grand Prix. 


Then, I have a stallion called Funky Fred Marienshof Z. He was double clear and fifth in the VDL Groep Prize on Friday, and I jumped him last night in the Audi Prize. I also have a nine-year-old with me called Chuck Marienshof Z who is very talented. 


How do you prepare yourself and your horses for a show such as The Dutch Masters?

I try to keep everything the same and keep their normal routine. They have been in very good form over the last few weeks, so we are trying to maintain that momentum. They felt great in Amsterdam and Gothenburg, and hopefully we can keep on getting good results. 


You were part of the Rolex Young Riders Academy – how special was it to be part of that and what did you learn from your experience?

The Rolex Young Riders Academy is an incredible opportunity for young riders. The programme gives you some great insights into the sport, especially from different areas that we would not usually be exposed to, for example, we visited both the Rolex and FEI headquarters. They have enabled us access to so many experts across the different aspects of our sport, which has been incredible.


Through my time with the academy, I have been able to access some great horsemen and trainers which has been invaluable for my development as a rider. Another benefit of being linked to the academy is that it helps you to get into the best shows in the world, such as here at The Dutch Masters. It has made a huge impact on my career and I am very honoured to have been part of the programme. 


Do you have a mentor or a rider that you look up to – what advice have they given you for this weekend?

I would say that the main influence on my career has been my father – I have been based at home for the majority of my career and he has been my trainer my whole life. He taught me all of the basics and has been incredibly supportive. 


Away from my father, I look up to Marcus Ehning – he has always been an idol of mine, I think that he is a great horseman. I spent a week with him and I learned so much from him, even in such a short period of time. I have also been trained by Jos Lansink in the past.


The Dutch Masters is the final Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Major to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of the initiative – how special has it been for the sport?

For me the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Majors are the best in the world – if you look at The Dutch Masters or the CHI Geneva they are the crème de la crème of the sport. I went to the CHI Geneva last year for the first time – not as a competitor, but it is an incredible venue. I think that these shows are a level above the others. The Majors are the ultimate goal and a dream for any rider to win. 

Interview with Maikel Van Der Vleuten Groom - Alin Seidler

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

Could you introduce yourself and tell us what your role is…

My name is Alin, and I have worked for Maikel van der Vleuten for almost one year. I started my career 10-years-ago in Germany at Holsteiner Verband.


What made you want to pursue a career in horses?

I started riding with my father when I was a child – it was our father-daughter time. I used to have a horse that I would compete with, but in Germany there are so many good riders, and I did not think that I would quite make it to the top level of the sport. So I was honest with myself and thought about how I could travel the world with horses, and I realized that grooming was the way. I could still be with horses, ride, and see the world – it was the perfect solution.


For you why is The Dutch Masters such a special show?

The atmosphere here is incredible. The feeling inside the main arena is insane – the crowd is so supportive.

It is also one of the nicest shows – we have everything that we need. The food is amazing, and everything is close for us so we do not have to walk very far. The space is incredible for horses – they are happy and so long as they are, then we are too.


Can you tell us about the horses that you have with you?

Beauville Z N.O.P. is here, I call him the ‘main man’. He has his own personality, he is totally unique, and is a once in a lifetime horse. Then we have a 12-year-old mare, Elwikke and Kentucky TMS Z, who is our young stallion – he is very nice but needs time to develop a bit more.


As a show groom you travel around the world, how do you ensure that your horses are happy and ready to compete?

I try to keep everything the same, no matter where we are going. We make sure that there is never any stress, we take our time, and if we are three hours late then that is what it is – we always put the horses first. I make sure that they are comfortable, if a horse needs more space then we give them that or if one is better with a gelding beside them then we do that. You have to know your horses and understand how to make sure that they are happy.


What qualities does Maikel have that makes him such a successful rider?

He is a real horseman. He understands the horses when he rides them. He knows if they feel good or if there is something a little bit wrong. We talk about any issues and then make a plan about how to fix it. It could be as simple as changing the food, or speaking with the vet or the physio. It is important that we make a plan together to make sure that we can fix it in the best way possible.


Can you tell us about the wider team?

We have an amazing team at home – we would not be where we are without them. All of our success starts at home. The travel and shows are my responsibility, but if the horses are happy at home then we can ensure that they are happy at a show. The team at home keep the horses healthy, and they ride them when we are not there – they are so important.


The Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping is celebrating its 10 year anniversary, how important this initiative mean for the sport?

I have been to all Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Majors apart from the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament. I think the initiative has been so important for the sport – you have the best riders in the world competing against each other, and they always bring their best horses. It is not that common that you have this calibre of competition, and so I think it is great for the fans, as they get to see the very top of the sport.


What is the best piece of advice that you have been given?

I would tell her to do exactly the same. I would tell her to do what you love and to make sure that your dreams come true.



Behind the scenes

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Interview with Richard Vogel's Groom : Felicia Wallin

Dutch Delight in the VDL Groep Prize

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

Friday marked the first day of international show jumping at this year’s edition of The Dutch Masters with the pinnacle class coming from the VDL Groep Prize. Held under the bright lights of the Brabanthallen, the world’s best horse and rider combinations gathered to take on Louis Konickx’s technically designed 1.55m course.

Fittingly, the first of the 42 riders to enter the arena was the long-standing World No.1 Henrik von Eckermann with his sensational gelding King Edward. The pair who are the reigning FEI World Champions could not quite produce the round that they wanted when collecting four faults.

Rolex Testimonee and third into the arena, Bertram Allen, was the first rider to produce a clear round and set the standard for those to follow. This was quickly followed, much to the delight of the home crowd, by Dutch rider Frank Schuttert, who ensured that there would be a jump-off. Clears came throughout the talented field, including FEI European Champions Steve Guerdat and Dynamix de Belheme, as well as fellow Rolex Testimonee, Daniel Deusser – a three-time winner of the Rolex Grand Prix at the venue – who once again showed himself to be a true expert of the main arena at this prestigious show with a stylish clear round.

In total 11 riders proceeded through to the jump-off, a list that included the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping live contender Richard Vogel and the two Rolex Young Rider Academy riders Robert Murphy and Lars Kersten.

After a short break, riders entered the arena in reverse order of merit, based on their time from the first round, with the quickest clear round having the advantage of being the last to go. First into the arena, Deusser set the early pace with a clear in a time of 44.73 seconds, but it wasn’t to be for the German rider, as Guerdat produced a smooth and nimble round to come home 2.08 seconds faster. The crowds then came alive just one horse later as Maikel van der Vleuten took 0.61 seconds of the Swiss rider’s time. None of the remaining riders could match the precision, skill, and accuracy showed by van der Vleuten, leaving the Dutchman to claim the 2024 VDL Groep Prize.

Speaking on his win van der Vleuten remarked: “My horse [Beauville Z N.O.P.] was incredible today – it was his first show in two and a half months so I am very pleased with this result. He jumped a lot better in the jump-off which meant I could get all of the forward strides which enabled me to beat Steve’s [Guerdat] time. We will see how he feels in the next few days but the plan is to jump him in the Rolex Grand Prix on Sunday.”

The home favourite added: “The world’s best riders in the world are here not only to compete but to win. As a Dutch rider this show is so special to me and the crowds here are amazing. They were a fantastic support for me this evening, so to win in front of them is truly incredible.”

Interview with course designer - Louis Konickx

(Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Thomas Lovelock) (Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Thomas Lovelock)

For you, why is The Dutch Masters such a special show?

It is an incredible show and I have so many special memories here. When I arrived here on Tuesday to lay out the poles with my team, we were in awe – the arena is so beautiful and the shopping village is amazing. In my opinion, there is no other show quite like it. As a course designer, there are very few limits here, which allows us to be very creative. Every show has a shopping village or a nice area, but the atmosphere and the energy here is just something else.


Can you tell us a little bit about the course that you have designed for Sunday’s Rolex Grand Prix?

Every year when I start designing the course for The Dutch Masters, I am filled with memories from the past years. A week or so ago, we put the planned course on paper with the correct arena dimensions. We had a beautiful course, but we soon realized that something was wrong – all of the combinations were on the right-hand side of the arena, and we could not seem to change it without ruining the course. We soon figured out a solution, and I think that this is a special course – there is a turn back which I do not think that you see in many arenas. The riders will jump a double and then do a tight turn back to another double. Quintin [Maertens], who is much more precise at measuring than me, wanted to check that this turn could actually be done, and so on Thursday we went into the main arena and tested it out to make sure that it worked – it was such a relief to know that it would work.

The first round has fourteen fences, which is quite a lot, but the same number as the CHI Geneva. There are two double combinations and one triple – the conditions here are so incredible that the horses jump so well, so it is a balance to design the perfect course. We currently have two jump-off options so need to decide which one we will use.  

I think it is a great honour for the riders to be here and I think they will be excited to test their horses to see if they are the best of the best.  


How important is the team around you in a successful course?

Earlier in my career, I would make my own plans and be a bit more independent. But nowadays my team is so important to me – I think that I have the best team.

Quintin [Maertens] is so intelligent and is a multi-talented man. If I have a crazy idea, he is the one that makes it fit. Then there is Gérard Lachat, who I work with here and at the CHI Geneva – he is our counterbalance and incredible at creating the perfect distances. Paul Rooijmans is the team organizer. All of our  assistants  have their own roles and without them this would not be able to happen.

We also have 40 volunteers, who are a club from a local riding school. They have helped us for over 15 years and they are great. We have some very good drivers moving the fences and they help us to make sure that course is presented at the highest level.


Which course are you most proud of? 

I think for me the course that I am most proud of was the course in 2021 during the Covid edition of the show. As we were not allowed fans, the arena was four metres wider than usual. This meant were able to do things we had never done before. We built an incredible line which was like an ‘S’ across the middle of the arena. The jump-off that year was also amazing, Marcus Ehning came up to me to say that he had never seen a jump-off like it. Even just two months ago I had some riders come up to me to speak about that course.

It is interesting – each nationality has a different idea about what makes ‘good sport’. For example, in Holland they like the modern sport and the way that people such as Harrie Smolders ride. They also do not like losers – for example last year when there were 16 horses in the jump-off, I thought it was too many, but they loved that. However, in Calgary they think that first round should be tough and exciting, and the CHI Geneva is somewhere in the middle.


What advice would you give to someone starting out in a career in course designing.

There are two different parts to this – a course builder and a course designer. Course building is a step that you have to take to become a course designer. A course builder has to learn how to create a course efficiently and work at every level. Whereas as a course designer you get to work at shows such as The Dutch Masters. I think it is important for young course designers to come to these types of shows to be inspired and motivated for the future. As a course designer you have to be creative – you have to think about the lines as well as the decoration, but you also have to have feeling – you have to understand the riders and the horses. I think that all of the great course designers have a very good feeling. You also have to be careful that you do not design at every show – it is important to be selective about the venues that you work out.

I read in a book, and saw this quote “You should learn the rules in your job as a professional and then break them as an artist”. I think this is very true for course designing – you need to be independent and do it your own way. You have to feel in your heart and have the passion.


The Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping was formed in 2013 and The Dutch Masters will the final Major to celebrate the 10-year anniversary – do you have a personal highlight from the Rolex Grand Slam?

I think last year was special – I still have an incredible feeling from that jump-off. The 2021 edition of the show was also great, but it was a pity that no one was there to witness it. To be honest, I am still waiting for my top moment – that will be when a Dutch rider wins a Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Major!

Interview with show director - Marcel Hunze

(Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Thomas Lovelock) (Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Thomas Lovelock)

How has planning gone for this year’s edition of The Dutch Masters?

It has been going very well. We were able to start the build slightly earlier this year – we started with the main arena around four weeks ago. We have already received great feedback on how the arena and venue look, and so we are really excited for the 2024 edition of the show. Ticket sales have also gone very well; the sessions are sold out from this evening [Friday] and for the rest of the weekend. We are very excited to welcome our fans.


2024 is an important year for The Dutch Masters. Not only is it the final Major to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping, but 2024 also represents the 10 year anniversary of Rolex at the Main Sponsor of the show

The Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping has been instrumental in developing The Dutch Masters. In my opinion, we have been a good show since the first edition back in 1967. However, since we became part of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping, there has been a significant difference in the set up. It has allowed us to really focus on the quality of the event. It has enabled us to develop the Main Arena and the Shopping Village. We were able to improve and focus on the quality of the show. We also have the best of the best riders here at the show – we generally see 20 out of the top 30 ranked riders competing here, which is brilliant. This improvement is thanks to the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping, and it has raised our show to the next level.

All the four Majors really work together – we give advice, compliments, and even constructive criticism to help us all be the best in the world. We try to inspire each other and are very transparent with each other – we share our thoughts and new initiatives. This helps each Major to become better.


Looking to the future, what are you and The Dutch Masters hoping to achieve in the next 10 years?

Our general goal is to become better every year. We want to focus on being an attractive event for everybody including families, children, sponsors, riders, grooms and media. Not only for fans with big budgets but be accessible for everyone. The tickets for Arena 2 and Shopping Village are a cheaper price and very popular.

In terms of what we are aiming to achieve in the future, is having a full house every session of the show. We are looking into innovating our program on the first day to achieve this goal. This will be our focus for the future.


You also organize an ATP and WTA tennis tournament, what do you find are the similarities and differences between the two sports, and what do you think they can learn from each other?

There are a lot of similarities when organizing sporting events as you are dealing with athletes – of course there are differences between riders and tennis players. One of the main differences is that tennis players attend a tournament with a whole team that takes care of them whilst here at The Dutch Masters the whole team is here to take care of the horse.

But the core is the same, you do your best to take care of them so that they are comfortable and can perform at their very best. As organizers, we try and provide the best possible surroundings for the athletes to succeed. Obviously, at The Dutch Masters, it is slightly more complicated with the horseboxes, the horses, and the stables.

There are also similarities when dealing with media, sponsors and fans. We have learnt a lot from organizing each event. We have witnessed things in the equestrian world that we think are interesting and could work well in tennis, and vice versa. One thing we have learnt from organizing tennis tournaments, was at The Dutch Masters there was lack of visibility of the horse outside of the competition arenas, and so that was one of the first things we changed. At a tennis tournament you see the players all around the venue with a number of practice courts available for the public to view. The horse is central to The Dutch Masters, and so we wanted to make sure that in every part of the venue you could see a horse.


What do you think are the sporting and non-sporting highlights of the show this year?

I think that the Shopping Village is incredible, and has something for everyone – it is why we have included the Shopping Village in the Arena 2 tickets. It has everything from a 40 metre yacht, Rolex watches, Audi cars to the equestrian equipment for riders. There is a lot variety in the shops which keeps things interesting. The atmosphere at this show is incredible – we have tried to create an energy that is felt by everyone, from the riders to the grooms to the fans. I definitely think it is one our highlights.

The sporting highlight is definitely the Rolex Grand Prix on Sunday. It is always amazing, and there will be a full house, with every seat taken. The crowd is totally quiet and they feel the atmosphere – they understand how important and prestigious this class is. The best riders in the world are here to compete for the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping. The level of the sport on Sunday is truly impressive, especially when you compare it with 10 years ago.


Who do you think will win the Rolex Grand Prix on Sunday?

We are in the Netherlands, and Harrie Smolders is one of the best riders in the world. He has never won a Rolex Grand Prix, and so it would be great for him to win his first Rolex Grand Prix at The Dutch Masters. On the other hand, we have our Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping live contender, Richard Vogel. It would be great if he can win here like McLain Ward last year who won two in a row.


Could you tell us a little bit more about the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping 10 year celebration that will be happening on Saturday?

On Saturday evening, before the Audi Prize, we have a celebration ceremony for the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping’s 10 year anniversary. We will showcase a highlights video made by a team from Spruce Meadows. We will have live singer who will be performing, as all of the winners of a Major, who are present, enter the arena. There then be a short interview with the only winner of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping, Scott Brash.


What has been your favourite memory over the past 10-years of the RGS?

Our favourite moment was in 2018 when The Dutch Masters became part of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping. We are so incredibly proud of this – there are countless great shows in the world, all of whom would have liked to become the fourth Major, and so for us when we became the final addition, it was incredible.

(Photo: The Dutch Masters / REMCO VEURINK) (Photo: The Dutch Masters / REMCO VEURINK)

The Dutch Masters, one of the four shows that makes up the sport’s ultimate prize, the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping, returns from 7–10 March with a packed schedule of sport and entertainment. This iconic show, which was first staged in 1967, attracts the world’s finest horse and rider combinations to impressive Brabanthallen for four days of thrilling action, which is sure to impress and delight those who attend. In addition to top-class international show jumping and dressage competitions, the show hosts national competitions and has a huge array of shopping available. There are also plenty of entertainment options for children with influencer meet & greets, hobby horsing, and pony riding opportunities. 


Action commences on Thursday in both the international and national arenas, with the sporting highlight of the day coming from the FEI Dressage World Cup™ Grand Prix presented by RS2 Dressage. With riders such as reigning individual World Champion Charlotte Fry, and the world’s most successful dressage rider, Isabell Werth in action, the competition is set to be fiercely fought. In the evening, crowds should expect to be thoroughly entertained as ‘The Dressage Masters’ takes centre stage. The evening will be opened by a spectacular musical performance from Patricia van Haastrecht, known for her appearances on The Voice Holland and Mamma Mia! This will swiftly be followed by a breathtaking display from Paralympic rider Sanne Voets, who will showcase her new Freestyle to Music routine. Next, fan-favourite dressage and show jumping riders swap roles. Dinja van Liere and Marieke van der Putten will take on the challenge of jumping, whilst Harrie Smolders and Maikel van der Vleuten will attempt to master the perfect piaffe. The evening will be concluded with a dressage masterclass from Dinja van Liere, Rieky Young, and Anky van Grunsven, and a spectacular performance from the 'Friesian Train'. 


With eight classes taking place across the two areas, Friday promises to be action-packed. First up in Arena 2 is the KNHS Para Dressuur Trophy, which will see para-dressage riders competing in a Freestyle to Music competition. Friday also welcomes the start of the international show jumping classes with the highlight of the day, the 1.55m VDL Groep Prize, taking place later in the evening. Last year Dutch rider Willem Greve thrilled the home crowd with a spectacular victory, one he will be aiming to repeat.


The Dutch Masters will host the final Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Major to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of the concept, and on Saturday there will be a dedicated ceremony to recognise this special occasion. Fans can expect to learn more about the history of the initiative and witness some of the key highlights from the past 10 years. The celebration will be followed by the feature show jumping class of the day, the 1.50m Audi Prize. Earlier in the day the FEI Dressage World Cup™ Freestyle presented by WeLoad Energy Systems takes place, with riders hoping to secure points to qualify for the FEI Dressage World Cup™ Final in early April.


All attention will be on one class on the final day of the show, the Rolex Grand Prix. This prestigious class is coveted by every show jumper and at 15.00 on Sunday, 40 of the world’s most elite horse and rider combinations will be attempting to be the definition of skill, harmony, and athleticism to claim the title. This year, German rider Richard Vogel will enter the arena as the current Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping live contender with the hope of continuing his quest to become only the second rider in history to achieve the ultimate prize. 

(Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Thomas Lovelock) (Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Thomas Lovelock)

Congratulations! You are the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping live contender, how are you feeling ahead of The Dutch Masters?

I am excited and looking forward to competing at The Dutch Masters. My position has changed significantly since the CHI Geneva as I was not one of the favourites going into the competition. I was considered a young rider who was trying to gain experience in those classes. I went there with the mentality of wanting to give it my best shot, and so it was an unbelievable result for us to win the Rolex Grand Prix at the CHI Geneva. We will never forget that class, that day, or that show. It was, and will always be, an incredibly special moment for us.


We are now heading to The Dutch Masters, I think our position has changed a little bit. I would not say that I am one of the favourites, but people have higher expectations of us now. We are going to try to be as competitive as possible, and the goal is to try and win again.


It will be my first time competing at the show. I have heard only great things about it – all my fellow riders love the show, so I am excited to go, and even more excited to be going there as the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping live contender.  


Reflecting on your win in the Rolex Grand Prix at the CHI Geneva – how special was this victory to you?

It was something very special. Probably even more special as the CHI Geneva was one of the main focuses of last season, and we planned our year around it. Before the CHI Geneva, I competed for two months in Mexico. 


We did not take United Touch S to Mexico, we left him at home and made a training programme for him and his rider and groom, Naomi. She kept him in very good shape whilst we were gone for two months. I came back home for only two to three weeks ahead of the CHI Geneva. We fine-tuned the preparations as much as possible in those weeks and felt like we were in a good position ahead of the show. I took United Touch S with me to the show as the rest of my horses flew directly to Wellington, Florida from Mexico. 


It was an unusual show for the team, as we only competed in two classes, the first qualifier for the Grand Prix and the Rolex Grand Prix itself. It felt like a long week – I prefer to be busy. I like having a couple of classes a day, or at least a couple of horses so you can do flatwork in the morning and jump in some classes in the afternoon. 


On the day of the Rolex Grand Prix, United Touch S felt very good. We had a good warm-up and I think that luck was definitely on our side. We were clear in the first round, and then in the jump-off I told myself that we had nothing to lose and that we should give it a try. We felt extremely lucky, happy, and honoured that it worked out.


United Touch S is an incredible horse – can you tell us a little bit more about him?

United Touch S is an incredible horse. I have never, and probably will never sit on a horse with that much scope again. He has unbelievable scope and a big canter. He also has such a will to jump and a powerful take-off – it is a very special feeling being able to ride him. I am very thankful to his breeder and owner that I get the chance to ride him. 


In the beginning, we had a couple of issues with the more technical lines. I had to figure out a way for the technical courses to suit his stride as it is so big. It is hard for him to shorten his stride, but he gets better and better, and we are still trying to improve!


To start with I found myself overthinking my way of riding with him and with the courses and lines. I would always try to stay with the normal lines that were in the course plan. If it was a short seven strides, I would try to do a short seven. However, we figured out that it was easier to do one less stride. It took a while to figure out how to make the courses suitable for him. I would say that we grew together and developed into a strong team. 


United Touch S helps out a lot and I try to do the same from my side. I try and make a course suit him whenever possible, for example, making a tighter turn or doing one less stride. I know his strengths and weaknesses, and I try to ride the course with that knowledge.


What is United Touch S like at home?

When you are in the ring with United Touch S, he is quite tense and sensitive – he also has a lot of blood. When we are not competing, and when he is in the stable area at a show or at home; he is really relaxed and very calm. He is a chilled horse, he is a stallion but does not really act like one, so you can ride next to mares without a problem. He behaves very well and is a very hard worker. As I said, we are working on his stride. We do this work maybe three or four times a week, the other times he does other work such as hacking. Working on his stride is hard work for him, but he enjoys it and likes to improve. I can really feel that he recognizes the improvements himself and that he likes the process and hard work that is necessary to improve. 


How have you been preparing for The Dutch Masters? Do you feel any extra pressure knowing that you are the live contender?

We have not changed our preparations too much. In my eyes, a bit of extra pressure is good – it gives us more focus. We have been focusing on The Dutch Masters since the CHI Geneva and we have tried to make a good plan for the show. 


I will not be bringing United Touch S with me to The Dutch Masters but I will be bringing another of my very good horses, Cepano Baboulet. The arena in ‘s-Herteogenbosch is smaller than at the CHI Geneva, and I think that it will suit him better. 


He [Cepano Baboulet] competed in Mexico at the end of last year and has been in Wellington over the last few months. I have competed him in three shows, mostly in Grand Prix qualifiers to ensure that he is fresh ahead of the show. He flew over to Europe last week, and is staying at our stables in Germany. From there we will travel to ‘s-Herteogenbosch together. 


Can you tell us about the other horses in your string? Do you think that any of them have the qualities to win a Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Major?

I am very lucky. I have a very good string of horses such as United Touch S and Cepano Baloubet. Cepano Baloubet won classes at the CHIO Aachen last year, and he jumped in the FEI Nations Cup™ at the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament in Calgary. Last year, I viewed Cepano Baloubet as my second horse as he was only nine-years-old. It was a great experience for him to compete at the big shows and to jump the Grand Prix qualifiers and the FEI Nations Cup™. Now he is a year older and is ready to step up to the to the next level. He has jumped in several 5* Grands Prix, but they were on the smaller side when compared to the Rolex Grand Slam Grands Prix which are the biggest in the sport. He has not jumped on that level before, but won two 5* classes last year, so I am very confident that we can be competitive. 


I have another very promising 10-year-old called Cydello, he is a new horse to me. We have very high hopes for his future. He is probably the opposite of United Touch S, he is small and tiny, but just like United [Touch S] he has an unbelievable want to jump, he is very motivated and clever. He has a different manner and style but his brain and will are similar. We have high expectations, he is still quite green and inexperienced but I think that he can compete at the top level. 


The Dutch Masters, like the CHI Geneva, is an indoor arena – do your preparations differ for indoor shows than outdoor? 

In general, our preparation remains quite similar. Before the CHI Geneva with United Touch S, I jumped him indoors and I practiced some shorter lines to get him used to them. However, the arena at the CHI Geneva is larger than a lot of the outside rings that we compete in. It is not a typical indoor arena. 


For The Dutch Masters, logistically it is not going to be possible to compete Cepano [Baloubet] in an indoor show since he has been in Florida and there are no indoor shows. We are lucky enough to ride outside in great weather – it is one of the main reasons why we are here, as it is better for the horses. I have never jumped Cepano Baboulet in an indoor show, but I am not worried that it will make a big difference to him. Our horses are very experienced and as soon as they get into the ring, they know what their job is and remain focused on the fences. 


If you have a less experienced horse, they can quite easily get overwhelmed by the crowds. They are usually much closer to the arena, and the atmosphere is very different from an outdoor show, so the horses can feel this. At an indoor show, the atmosphere is more intense, but the experienced horses are used to this and know that they need to focus on their job and do not get easily distracted by everything. 


How important is your wider team, for example, grooms, vets, etc. in your success?

They are so important – everyone plays a vital role. If you take one person away it causes trouble. It does not guarantee that you will win one of the Majors, but without the foundation that the team creates there would be no chance of performing successfully at the highest level of the sport. 


A large amount of responsibility lies on the grooms; Felicia is my show groom who comes to all of the important shows. She will fly with me from Wellington to Germany. If I compete in a training show, she might not necessarily be there, but she only misses only one or two shows a year. 


At home, in Germany, I have great and reliable team members. Here in Wellington, we currently have a new girl, Maggie, who is not as experienced but she does a great job. Whenever we go to a show, she remains at the home base to take care of the horses that are not showing that week. We travel back and forth – it is only ten minutes away from the show so we can be there a lot.  


In Europe things are a bit different as the shows are located a couple of hours away from home, or sometimes not even in Europe like the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament in Calgary. Therefore, we need to have a good team at home that know the horses, can ride the horses well, can lunge well, and who also have a feeling for the horses. They need to be able to recognize slight changes in their mood. We always want to be a step ahead – sometimes if you only recognize issues when everyone else can easily see them, then it may be harder to treat the horse, than if you recognize the warning signs early. That is what we are aiming for and that is why we need very good people. We want to provide them with the best care possible. 


We work with two very good blacksmiths. One called Christian Götz who does the older horses, and Manuel Black who is also very good and does the younger horses. Whenever we struggle with a horse, we have two individual opinions, but they both really respect each other. 


Our vet, Shane Fouhy and Ulli Laege takes very good care of our horses. They have the same philosophy as us, which is to ensure we are a step ahead of the horses. We do not wait for a horse to be lame to react, we always make sure that our horses are as sound as possible. I think that is incredibly important if you want to compete at the very top of the sport. 


The horses need to be as mentally sound and prepared as possible. That is why I say that there is a lot of responsibility that lies with the groom. They need to know when a horse needs to be worked more or if they need more time in the field or even a hack in the forest. 


We are convinced that the brain and the mental health of the horse is a big part of a horse’s performance. There are a lot of different things to think about and to be on top of, I am very lucky to have a great team – it would be impossible to do it without them. There is a saying ‘it takes a village’  and I think that is so true. 


The Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping is celebrating its 10-year anniversary – how big an impact has it had on the sport?

You could not think about the sport without the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping – it is the top of the sport alongside the Olympic Games and the World Championships. The riders who attend The Dutch Masters, the CHIO Aachen, the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament, and the CHI Geneva, are the best in the world – out of the top 30 ranked riders in the world there always going to be 25 or even more of them competing there. 


You have the best riders in the world competing with their best horses, and everyone is able to win the class. It is very competitive and tough but it brings the level of our sport to another level. After competing at those shows last year, I always came back stronger and gained a lot of experience. It was a great opportunity to watch how the best riders warm up their horses, or how they walk the course. Sometimes it would be very small details, but for someone like me who is less experienced, I learned so much.


How important do you think sporting Majors, such as the CHIO Aachen or The Championships, Wimbledon are in sport?

I think they are very important. For example, I am not very big into tennis or golf, but I still know about the Majors and I know when they are on. Maybe people would not watch the whole tournament but they are interested in the result. I think they also provide the understanding that whoever wins a Major is one of the best in the sport at the moment, or at least has to beat the best in the sport. For someone who is not really into that sport, it is a good indicator to see who is at the top of the sport. 


If you weren’t a show jumper, what would you have been? 

I would have been a farmer on my grandfather’s land.


What is the best piece of advice you have been given? 

I think the best piece of advice that I have been given is to keep going. There are a lot of failures on the road to success, but use them and learn from them. It is also important to not be afraid of failure or to lose. If you do fail, then learn from it and try to do it better next time. 


I told myself this when I went into the jump-off at the CHI Geneva. I don’t think it was the safest clear round I have ever done, but I saw the chance to win. If you risk something it often pays off, and if it doesn’t you can learn from your mistake. 

(Photo: The Dutch Masters / REMCO VEURINK) (Photo: The Dutch Masters / REMCO VEURINK)

The Dutch Masters – the first Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Major of the calendar year, and the final Major to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the concept – takes place from 7–10 March and will welcome the world’s best horse and rider combinations to the city of ‘s-Hertogenbosch. In total 44 riders from 12 nations, including the six top-ranked riders in the world, will contest the international show jumping classes, with the coveted Rolex Grand Prix taking place on Sunday afternoon. 


Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping live contender, Richard Vogel, will be making his debut at the show, and will be aiming to keep his Rolex Grand Slam dream alive. The young German rider, together with his remarkable stallion United Touch S, stormed to victory at the CHI Geneva. However, Vogel has made a tactical decision to bring the 10-year-old Cepano Baloubet, with whom he has had several 5* victories, as his partner for this Major. 


Vogel will be joined by five other German riders, including three-time Major winners, Daniel Deusser and Marcus Ehning, both of whom are likely to challenge for the top placings. Another notable German rider in action at the Indoor Brabant Horse Show is Christian Kukuk, who will be looking to build on his impressive third place at the CHI Geneva in December last year. 


Leading the group of Dutch riders looking for a home win is World No. 10 Harrie Smolders, who will be joined by 13 of his compatriots, including Leopoldo Van Asten, a previous winner of the Grand Prix at the venue (pre-Rolex Grand Slam era) and Lars Kersten will be looking to build on his victory in the final FEI Jumping World Cup™ Qualifier at Gothenburg last week. The passionate and enthusiastic Dutch crowd is sure to create a sensational atmosphere as the local riders canter into the main arena in the Brabanthallen.


Great Britain will be represented by three riders, including Scott Brash – the only rider to have won the prestigious Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping title. World No.2 Ben Maher, who is still looking for his first Major victory, comes to The Dutch Masters off the back of a number of impressive results at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Florida. Meanwhile, at only 24-years-old, Robert Murphy will be making his Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping debut. As a member of the Rolex Young Rider Academy, Murphy is sure to be one to watch over the coming years.  


World No.1 Henrik von Eckermann, winner of this pinnacle class in 2019, is always a threat to the top of the leaderboard, and is sure to be a favourite heading into this year’s edition. Another past winner looking to reclaim his title is Max Kühner. The stalwart of the Austrian team will bring EIC Up Too Jacco Blue who won the Audi Prize at the show last year. Frenchman Julien Epaillard came close to securing his maiden Major at the 2023 event, and will be looking to improve on his second place from last year. Known as one of the fastest riders in the world, the French rider is always one to set the crowd alight if he makes it through the jump-off. 


Steve Guerdat and Martin Fuchs are sure to present a strong Swiss challenge for the title. Guerdat, who has competed in every Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Major since its initiation, had a sensational 2023 which was topped off with a victory in the Rolex IJRC Top 10 Final at the CHI Geneva. Both Guerdat and Fuchs – who between them have won six Majors – will be hoping to claim their inaugural Dutch Masters title.


Other noteworthy entries include Rolex Testimonee Bertram Allen from Ireland, Belgium’s highest-ranked show jumper Gregory Wathelet, and the stylish Italian rider Lorenzo de Luca.

(Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Thomas Lovelock) (Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Thomas Lovelock)

Often considered to be the sport’s ultimate challenge, the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping will once again be at the forefront of every rider’s ambitions for the year ahead. As with the Majors in sports such as tennis and golf, the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Majors are considered to be the most esteemed and celebrated competitions in the world, which require the highest level of skill from horse and rider. Such is the prestige of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping that it attracts the world’s best horse and rider combinations from across the globe, resulting in unmatched levels of competition.


The first Major of the year, The Dutch Masters, takes place over four days from 7–10 March. First staged in 1967, the Show will be the last Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Major to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the initiative after celebrations began at the CHIO Aachen 2023. Following his victory at the CHI Geneva in December, the young German Richard Vogel will make his debut in the main arena of the breathtaking Brabanthallen as the live contender of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping with the hopes of continuing his quest to become only the second rider in history to win the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping.


Often compared to The Championships, Wimbledon, in tennis, the CHIO Aachen provides a fitting stage for the finest levels of competition in the sport. Also known as the World Equestrian Festival, the show hosts five international equestrian disciplines, with the pinnacle of the 10-days of action coming on Sunday 7 July with the Rolex Grand Prix. On the hallowed ground of the Aachen-Soers arena, with 40,000 passionate equestrian fans in the stands, 40 of the world’s most talented horse and rider combinations will compete over three rounds with the hopes of etching their names onto the iconic winner's board.


The Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Major calendar then makes the journey across the Atlantic Ocean to what is often considered to be the leading venue in North America – Spruce Meadows. The CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament (4–8 September) hosts one of the biggest Grand Prix in the world, the CPKC ‘International’ Grand Prix, presented by Rolex where course designer Leopoldo Palacios is known to provide the ultimate test of bravery, precision, and scope. Last year’s competition was won in spectacular fashion by Rolex Testimonee Martin Fuchs with his talented partner, Leone Jei.


The CHI Geneva will conclude the 2024 Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping calendar year. From 11–15 December, the show will bring together an outstanding line-up of elite athletes to the beautiful city of Geneva. The show, held in the impressive Palexpo, is widely regarded to be the leading indoor Show Jumping venue. With a packed schedule of sport, the Rolex Grand Prix will provide a fitting conclusion to what is set to be yet another sensational year of Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping action. 

Jessica Springsteen & Josie Eliasson Jessica Springsteen & Josie Eliasson

Could you introduce yourself and tell us about your job?

My name is Josefine and I have worked for Jessica Springsteen for the last eight years. In the beginning, I was based at her home yard and I rode a little bit, but for the past six years, I have travelled around the world with her and horses as her show groom. 


How did you begin your career in the industry?

Initially, I started riding when I was around five or six-years-old, and I fell in love with horses. When I was slightly older, I had a nice young horse that I competed with in Sweden. The owner of the stables where I kept my horse, used to compete regularly as well in the National Young Horse Championships, and I would go with her and groom for her. I soon realized that I really enjoyed grooming, and she was always very encouraging. She used to say that I was very good at it, and I remembered all of the important small details. 

I then went to visit a friend of mine, who at the time was working with horses in Switzerland. After only about two days, I knew it was what I wanted to do, so I asked if she knew anyone who needed help at their stables. That is when I got a job with Romain Duguet – I still had my horse but I managed to lease her out, and I packed my bags for Switzerland as a permanent move. I stayed in that job for about a year, before I went back to Sweden. I realized that what I really wanted to do was to become a show groom, and in Europe, so I felt a bit restricted without a horsebox license. But before I had even done my first HGV driving lesson, I got a job with Jessica, and that was over eight-years-ago now. 


If you could go back in time to the beginning of your career, what advice would you give yourself?

I would tell myself to listen to those who have more experience. What I love about this profession is that you are always learning new things. This is for two reasons – because the sport is evolving, as well as the fact that every single person has their own systems and techniques. I  say to ask more questions – that is how you learn. 


You often make the long journey across the Atlantic Ocean for competitions, how do you ensure that the horses are still fit for competition after the trip? Do you have any top advice for ensuring their welfare?

The key is to really know and understand your horse, this way you can notice the small signs that something might be wrong. The earlier you can see an issue, the more able you are to help them with whatever they need. It can be easier to spot this with your Championship horses as you spend so much time with them and you get to know their habits so well, so you can see the smallest changes in their behaviour and do something about it before it becomes an issue. 


Do you have any superstitions or a certain routine that you have to do at an important competition?

I think everyone has their own unique superstitions when it comes to the more important classes. No matter what I always tell my rider to have fun, and I give the horse a little pat. Of course, during the bigger classes, I do this quietly so I do not interrupt my rider’s concentration and focus – but I still do it. 


Could you tell us about the string of horses that you look after and some of their characteristics?

Our most special horse is Don Juan Van De Donkhoeve, Jessica’s Olympic Games horse. I have an incredible bond with him. You spend so much time alone with your Championship horses that you get to know them in a different way. As a groom, I think you always tell yourself you have a special bond with your horse, but I really think we do. For example, when I walk into the stable he will whinny for me but he doesn’t do that with a random person. He is very important to me – I am very emotional when it comes to him. He is a stallion, but he is the nicest stallion I have ever handled. 

I always video every class – I guess that is another superstition that I have – even if there is a live stream or if you can buy the videos. If someone else is recording, I don’t know what to do with my hands, I need to hold a phone. Whenever I film Don [Juan Van De Donkhoeve] I always seem to be giving my commentary of the round, telling him ‘You can do it!’ 

Hungry Heart is another of our top horses who is competing at the 5* level. He is 12-years-old, and has the biggest character in the stables. He is like a dog, you can play with him. I always joke that I think I could teach him to sit if I really tried. He is a very funny horse. We have a couple of other younger horses who are very exciting, I think the future is looking good. 


How do you ensure that they are able to peak at the most important moments during the year?

We try to work backward from a specific competition or goal to ensure that we have planned the best possible schedule for that individual horse. If we know that a horse jumps better during their second week of competition, then we will make sure that it competes two weeks in a row. 

As a groom, I try to keep their routines as much the same as when they are at home, as I think that the horse takes comfort from that. Of course, at the bigger competitions, you will use things such as massage blankets more but I try to keep it as simple as possible and let them be horses. 


Jessica had an incredible result in the Rolex Grand Prix at the CHI Geneva. How special was that for you as a team?

The CHI Geneva is such a special show. It is my favourite indoor show, and I would say that it is Jessica’s as well, probably most people in the industry would say this. To do so well in such a famous and prestigious Grand Prix was a dream and something that we had been really working towards. We did a couple of shows before going to the CHI Geneva, and he [Don Juan Van De Donkhoeve] was in really good form. I think we put quite a lot of pressure on ourselves because of this, but to finish our 2023 and European season with that result was incredible. Last time we were at the CHI Geneva, we had one small mistake in the Rolex Grand Prix, and so this year felt like a redemption. 


The Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping is celebrating its 10-year anniversary, how big an impact do you think it has had on the sport?

It has had such an incredible impact on the sport. It is the one thing that every rider aims for. Of course to win a Major and to become the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping live contender is amazing, but I think it is a huge privilege for riders to even be competing at these shows – they are the most prestigious in the world. To compete or even just be at a venue such as the CHIO Aachen or The Dutch Masters is incredibly special. 


How important do you think sporting Majors, such as the CHIO Aachen, or The Championships, Wimbledon are in sport?

I think it really increases the levels of visibility of the sports. It is always great to watch the highest level of sport, and this is what the sporting Majors provide. They provide a chance to win something beyond the normal competitions, such as the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping. I think that even a non-equestrian fan would find this exciting to watch. 


Last year you launched your own company Yeehaw to connect grooms and riders. What was the inspiration behind this? 

There were a couple of things that inspired me to start the business. One reason was that I did, and still do, get a lot of people asking about good staff and good jobs. There are so many good grooms and employers out there but it is hard to match them together. 

I wanted to create a platform where everyone would be able to see the opportunities available. It is not a hard industry to get into because there are so many jobs, but what is hard is finding the right place. If you do not know the right people, then there was not really an official place where you could look for a job.

I wanted to provide a place where new grooms or riders could find each other. Another goal is to try and raise the industry standards for grooms – to ensure that their working conditions are improved. I think that having a good grooming job makes you want to do it forever. But if in your first job you are not treated well then it can very quickly kill your interest in continuing in the business, even if you are very good at it. I just want to make sure that people get the best jobs because to me this is the best career you can have. 


If you could pass one thing on to an aspiring groom, what would it be?

I would give them the same advice that I would tell my younger self – to learn from and listen to the more experienced grooms. I would also say do not be afraid. A lot of people are comfortable about where they are working, but they are not as happy as they could be. Of course, it is scary to try something new and to make a big change in your life, but it is so important to find the right place for you. You also have to love horses – as a groom, you have to work such long hours and there is a lot of travelling – but if you love horses it is the best job in the world.

(Photo: YRA) | (Photo: Nelson Chenault) (Photo: YRA) | (Photo: Nelson Chenault)

Brothers Joseph and Mark Stockdale are both up and coming stars of their respective sports – Joseph in show jumping and Mark in golf.

They have incredible sporting heritage with their late father, Tim Stockdale, representing Great Britain at the 2008 Olympics in show jumping.


Please could you both introduce yourselves and quickly tell us a little bit about your career so far

[Joseph Stockdale]: I'm Joseph Stockdale. I'm 24-years-old from Northampton and I am an international show jumper. In 2022, I was part of the British team that won a bronze medal at the FEI World Championships in Herning, and I hope to compete at the 2024 Paris Olympic Games this summer. 


[Mark Stockdale]: My name is Mark Stockdale. I'm 19-years-old, also from Northamptonshire. I'm currently on the men's golf team at the University of Central Arkansas, as well as in the England Men's golf team. I aspire to be a professional golfer, and I am currently ranked 320th in the world.  


What do you think you have learned from your respective sports – what are the similarities and differences? 

[Joseph Stockdale]: I think the similarities are that it can be very frustrating. Mark has ridden and I have also enjoyed playing golf. Especially at the top level of sport, it is extremely difficult. With the horses you have so many ups and downs – it is a real roller coaster. From my amateur perspective in golf, it is a mentally frustrating game and you are battling against yourself. In show jumping, we are almost lucky that we have other factors to contend with, for example, the horse. Golf is a very individual game and there is only really yourself to blame. So, I think mental strength is one of the most important things that you can learn from both of the two sports.


[Mark Stockdale]: I would agree with that. I would say staying patient and trusting in the work you put in. These things take time and you have to have plenty of resilience to get there. The sports are very different, but very similar at the same time. You have to be very patient. You are not going to be the best in the world overnight, you have to keep going day by day. 


[Joseph Stockdale]: I think the core value of any sort of top-level sport is that it is not necessarily about what you do or the outcome, but the mental side of it and the perspective you have from a performance. I think you can compare this even though they are two completely different sports.  


Do you think that the relationship between a caddy and a golfer could be comparable to a groom and a rider?

[Mark Stockdale]:  I think it's definitely got some very similar factors. The trust is going to be there. For Joe, he has to trust Charlotte [his show groom] to make sure the horses are as well prepared as possible and on top form to compete. I have got to have that trust with my caddy that we are both going out there with a certain mindset and goal. When we are talking about certain aspects of the round we have to be on the same wavelength, we cannot be arguing with each other. But at the end of the day when Joe enters the ring or I am hitting the shot, the groom or the caddy are out of the equation, they have done their part and it is down to the individual to go and perform in the moment.


[Joseph Stockdale]: I think there is a large similarity between the two. Like Mark said it is all about trust. It takes such a weight off your mind when you know that you have someone behind you that you can trust to get you to where you need to be. It is so important to have someone to be able to bounce ideas off – so with Mark with his caddy, he can ask: ‘What do you think about this shot?’, and even if the caddy just says that is a great idea, it gives you that extra bit of confidence. For me, when I am in the warm-up with Charlotte, and ask: ‘How did he jump that last vertical’, and she says it was perfect. Even if it is just a mental thing for us, it gives you that next bit of confidence to trust your process and what you are already doing. It helps with your mental strength and gives you an extra layer of confidence and backing before you go in the ring or you take that shot on the course.  


Can you tell us about your team, and how important they are in your success? 

[Joseph Stockdale]: I have a great team behind me. My team spans a huge amount of people, it is not just the people working on the yard every single day, but it is the vets, farriers, physiotherapists, and many more. When you think of how wide my team spreads, there are a lot of people who help make it all happen. I have recently been reading a lot of sports psychology books, and reading about cyclists when they talk about making everything 1% better. Your team can escalate you so much – if you improve yourself by 1% in every area it makes a huge difference overall. That is certainly what we are aiming for, making everyone push to be that 1% better. I must say that the team and the people around me are incredible – they put 110% in their work every day and I cannot thank them enough. I would not be where I am today without them.


[Mark Stockdale]: I would say the same thing. I would not be in the position I am today without them, whether is it family members or anyone else. For me, being in golf is a sport which as a family we did not have any prior knowledge about, and so everything we do, we do it together and it is a constant learning phase. There have been plenty of hardships that you need to be able to talk about and learn from, so that has been a big part. I also have incredible support from the university, for example, today I am meeting with my trainers so that I am in peak physical condition to go and play. England Golf is also helping me play in the best tournaments and compete at the highest level possible. Even looking at the manufacturers of my golf clubs, there is a long list of people who without them, I would not be position that I am. 


Can you explain how important Majors, such as CHIO Aachen in show jumping, and The Masters in golf are to not only your respective sports but to their external image 

[Joseph Stockdale]: Within the sports, those are the events to go to. For show jumpers, when we speak about going to a Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Major such as the CHIO Aachen or The Dutch Masters, we speak about them as the best in world – they are massive and spectacular events.

I think that the greatest example is that if I am speaking with any of my non-equestrian friends I can list the names of different shows, they do not understand, but when I say that I am going to a Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Major, they immediately have an understanding and level of respect. That is the legacy that Rolex has around those shows. 

For us riders, they are the biggest of the biggest shows, they have the best prize money and they are the ones that everyone wants to win. They are where you get the top-level sport. 


[Mark Stockdale]: It is the same in golf, people hear The Masters and they understand the prestige and history around it. They would know people that have won the tournament even if they are not a golfer themselves and they would know about the ‘Green Jacket’. I think the Majors bring together people who maybe aren’t usually interested in the sport – they can see the prestige, and I think that is incredibly important to the sport. 

The Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping provides the opportunity for young riders to compete. How important is providing the next generation with the opportunity to compete amongst the best in the world 


[Joseph Stockdale]: I think it is what helps you step up to the next level. Just jumping at the normal 5* shows, the fields of riders just aren’t as strong as what you get at the Rolex Grand Slam Majors, the fences aren’t quite as big, and the courses aren’t as technical. So as a young rider, when you go to Major for the first time and it is quite a shock to the system. 

I think you do most of your learning when you are slightly out of your comfort zone. The first time I went to the CHI Geneva, I loved it – it was an incredible experience. You are there with the best in the world, there is not one top rider who is not there, they all have their best horses and are all there to win it. The jump-offs that you get in the classes are sensational – you just do not get that at the other shows. You might see one person do an incredible round in a month of shows, but at the Rolex Grand Prix at the CHI Geneva in 2022 we saw five riders one after another going as fast as they could, and every rider you watched you thought that they could not be beaten, and then they were. It was the best of the best sport, not only for the spectators but as a learning experience for me. I learned so much from that experience. To have that opportunity as a young rider has been so valuable, and so it is a credit to the Majors to provide that chance for young riders. I am not sure where I would be if I did not have those opportunities – they really elevated my game so much.  


Having grown up in an equestrian family, what led you to your passion for golf, and do you think you take any lessons from your upbringing around horses into your golfing career?

[Mark Stockdale]: I just started playing golf as a casual thing. My mum and dad played, and Joe had lessons alongside them , so they would go and play my dad was back from shows. I wanted to learn so that I could spend time with them – I had a few lessons and immediately the competitive side kicked in. I had to practice to try to be better than them and beat them. I picked it up quite quickly and started to play in some tournaments and just fell in love with the process of practicing and improving. It is one of those sports that is so frustrating – you think you have it and then you go out the next day and you have lost it. The endless pursuit of getting better is what I really love. 

From my family, I learned you cannot take a day off. You have to ride every day, you cannot just leave a horse in the stable you have to constantly work. When my dad and Joe would ride, I would go off and practice and focus on my craft. That is the main thing I learned, but you have to have a lot of resilience. You are going to have hard times, but if you stay focused on the same goal and keep working every day you will get there. 


You come from an incredible sporting heritage, with your father competing at the Olympics. What lessons did you learn from him?

[Mark Stockdale]: I have learned so much from him. I think about the stuff he taught me on a daily basis. Even as simple as how he interacted and treated people – whether it was kids asking for autographs or the way he had a conversation with people. When he was at shows he walked around and everyone knew him, and he knew everyone’s names. What I learned is that you have to build relationships with people to earn their respect. He was so dedicated and so hardworking, and to me, that is just the base standard of how you have to be. You have to be 100% dedicated to what you want to do, do not take no for an answer for things, and really fight for it. 


[Joseph Stockdale]: I agree with Mark. He was so resilient and stubborn. If it was not going right or he was not winning, he wouldn’t ever back off, he would put more into it. He was always working his hardest and trying to find a way to get back to winning. He was so determined, if it was not working he was going to make it work, and he was going to find a way to get it over the line to get the result that he wanted. Even if we half have the idea that we might want to quit we always have his voice in the back of our minds saying: ‘You have to keep going and keep trying to find a way’. He is a great motivation to the two of us. 


If you could win one of the sporting Majors, which one would it be and why?

[Joseph Stockdale]: In my own sport I would love to win the Rolex Grand Prix at the CHIO Aachen. It is such a special Grand Prix, with multiple rounds, and everyone talks about how big and difficult it is. The CHIO Aachen has such an incredible grass arena with so much amazing heritage to it – it would be a dream to win there. In golf, I would have to say The Masters. To win the ‘Green Jacket’ and play the course at Augusta would be phenomenal. 


[Mark Stockdale]: I would also have to say The Masters. In golf, it is the closest thing to perfection, velvet green fairways cut to perfection. In a non-perfect sport, it is the closest thing, and the image around it is unbelievable. When you see the players putting on the ‘Green Jacket’ at the end of it is what the image of golf for me growing up was.

(Photo : Tiffany Van Halle) (Photo : Tiffany Van Halle)

The story behind United Touch S

The dam line of United Touch S is based on the memorable Olympic winner Classic Touch (Caletto II – Sevada x Landgraf I, Stamm 4025, breeder: Hans-Werner Ritters). Ridden by Ludger Beerbaum, the daughter of Caletto II  won a gold medal in Barcelona in 1992, which brought Beerbaum his only individual Olympic gold medal to date. There are two breeders that play an important part in the story of United Touch S. First the van der Vorn family, who bred Touch of Class and who owned Cantate Touch. Secondly, the breeder of United Touch S , who made the combination between the half-brother and sister that led to United Touch S.


The van der Vorm Family – De Margaretha Hoeve

Cantate Touch – the first foal of Classic Touch – was sold through Joop Aaldering to the van der Vorm family in the Netherlands, who owned de Margaretha Hoeve. Annemiek van der Vorm says on behalf of her family: “Classic Touch had just become German champion, which my family already thought was a great horse. We heard from Mr Aaldering that she had a daughter by Capitol I: Cantate Touch. We were always Holstein-oriented, my father invested in good mares at the time and bought her then. She was a fantastic mare. Over the years, we became owners of Lux Z and my family thought this was a perfect match for Cantate Touch. Lux Z had a lot of scope, length, power and was hugely flexible. According to them, this was the perfect stallion for a super careful mare like Cantate Touch. I think we, especially my parents and brothers, have bred some fine horses for several people at Margaretha Hoeve with about 60 foals every year. Of course, we are super proud of United Touch S.” Cantate Touch jumped at 1.60m with Ben Schröder, who rode for the van der Vorm family at that time. The partnership won Nations Cups and, amongst others, the Grand Prix in Modena in Italy.


Julius Peter Sinnack

Julius Peter Sinnack, who was awarded the Breeder of the Year Prize in 2015 in Westphalia, tried to buy the mare Cantate Touch from the Margaretha Hoeve for many years having seen her success in the ring.


Touch of Class (Photo: Private) Touch of Class (Photo: Private)

Sinnack did not give up and in 2003, he was able to purchase a filly by Lux Z out of Cantate Touch. Sinnack baptised this promising filly Touch of Class. Sinnack recalls: “I always wanted to have something out of the line of Classic Touch. In the nineties Classic Touch was THE horse that made everybody’s heart beat faster. I saw her after her Olympic victory in the stable with Ludger Beerbaum. She impressed me very much! I asked my good friend Joop Aaldering, who has a lot of connections, if he could help me in finding an offspring from this line because he purchased Cantate Touch from Hans Werner Ritters and sold her to family van der Vorm originally. Cantate Touch was active as a broodmare after her sports career. I tried to buy Cantate Touch but she was so expensive that I didn’t purchase her at first. In 2003, she had a filly by Lux Z, which I was interested in, and purchased. I still remember when she arrived here at my farm – I am a quite emotional breeder – but when she stepped out of the trailer I thought, here comes Classic Touch, that was quite an emotional moment. At that point in time, I couldn’t know how she would be as a broodmare. I let her do some loose jumping as a yearling and that was not good at all, I was quite disappointed. I covered her as a two-year-old and flushed an embryo. I didn’t wanted her to carry her own foal at such young age. That embryo became a colt by Diamant de Semilly, Deauville S, who later turned out to be her first offspring with top-level victories – he had many top placings with Laura Kraut, both in Nation Cups and 1m60 Grand Prix like in St. Moritz. I used Diamant de Semilly because Touch of Class was a very blood typed mare and built slightly downhill, so I really thought she could work with Diamant de Semilly and it did. I used him later again for Touch of Class. It takes me weeks and sometimes months to figure out the right crosses for the mares. After Diamant de Semilly, I used Canturo for Touch of Class, this filly turned out to be Zypria S who jumped at 1.70m with Willem Greve. They were part of the Dutch Olympic team in Tokio in 2021 and part of the winning Dutch team for the Nations Cup Final in 2019. Canturo gave many traits like scope and a good technique to Zypria S. She was maybe a bit tight in her body, and that sometimes gave her difficulties, but she made it up with her good traits.

At the moment I finished the embryo transfer of the embryo that became Deauville S, I could purchase Cantate Touch. I bred Cantate Touch then with the through my bred stallion Con Cento S (Cento x Polydor). This colt, Con Touch S, was jumped at international level with Laura Kraut and Simone Blum, reaching1.60m with Blum. After Con Cento S, I used the Hors la Loi II son, Untouchable, for Cantate Touch. This colt became the stallion Untouched – the father of United Touch S. He was a spectacular jumper as a young horse and was sold to an owner of Nick Skelton, who was the first to have international success with Untouched. Later Ben Maher competed with him, but Untouched passed away too soon. I am sure he would have achieved some incredible things in the sport.”


(Photo : Tiffany Van Halle) (Photo : Tiffany Van Halle)

United Touch S

Sinnack recalls: “The fourth foal of Touch of Class was United Touch S by Untouched. This was a big risk. A breeders experience that could have gone completely wrong. That was very risky, but there was never a moment that I had doubts. United Touch S was very pretty as a foal and could move well. When United Touch S was born I said right away on the first day, that this colt will breed the filly that was born on the same day. It also happened like this afterwards. I already had in mind that United Touch S could become an approved stallion. United Touch S could have been registered as a Holsteiner horse, but the Holsteiner Verband didn’t accepted his father as a stallion, they did not approve him when he was presented. So United Touch S became a Westphalian registered foal. He is actually completely Holsteiner bred with connecting French blood.

At the time I used Untouched as he already showed promising things as a sport horse. That also convinced me for a part to use him, because of the way how he used his body. I wanted to consolidate those traits. I also wanted to have a lot from Classic Touch back in the line. Again it also could have worked completely different if the foal wasn’t sound, or he ended up with negative traits. Inbreeding is there for that you consolidate certain traits, that is the goal behind inbreeding. I really thought it could work between Touch of Class and Untouched. The combination should work, also based of the conformation of both. In the end United Touch S turned out to be good. I know it was a risk to make this cross.

As a young horse he had a good way of jumping. I always thought positively about him. I remember that when he was two and was in the field with other young colts that we had there an open stable and during the winter they were in that stable. I have spent so many evenings with sitting before that stable and observing him. He just had something special and I also looked closely because he was inbred. I could never discover something negative about him and I really observed him for many hours.

He was ridden by Hendrik Dove as a four-year-old. I take lot of my young horses to him. He was already very enthusiastic about United Touch S – about his rideability and the handling, he was a very easy stallion. At my stable I have stallions, geldings and mares and that didn’t bother him. As a young horse he had a fantastic jumping technique, however scope was difficult to judge at that age. As a four and five-year-old he covered at Stud Schuld. He was second as a five-year-old jumping horse at the Westphalian championships. Three weeks later he was second again, this time at the Bundeschampionat. After the Bundeschampionat (young horse championships in Germany) he went to Willem Greve who gave him an outstanding education. I also wanted to ensure that he would cover mares in the Netherlands and therefore the semen was sold through Willem’s father, Jan Greve. He also had his half-sister, Zypria S, in his stable and with her he was in the national show jumping team. After Willem Greve, United Touch S went to Bart Bles. He was a nice combination with United Touch S but through certain circumstances he couldn’t really compete him in many classes and in the end I had to take him away. I got in touch with Sophie Hinners at a show at Holger Hetzels place and I talked about United Touch S with her. We agreed that I would stop by with him so that she could try him. Sophie thought he might be too strong for her but Richard (Vogel) would like to ride him. That was 10 days before the Bundeschampionate, but he called me to see if I had anything against United Touch S starting there in the class for the eight year and older horses. I was a bit surprised because every breeder would watch him very closely. I thought if that would go wrong everybody would laugh at me. The first day he had two down and he didn’t jump very well, but the second day they won the class.

I am happy and also a bit proud that it worked out so well with United Touch S in the end. Again I have to say that it was a risk, it could have gone wrong. It was not easy to make this decision but because it worked out well, that makes me happy. In breeding you sometimes have to try things. For me it can mean making progress in breeding. Sometimes you have to take risks. Breeding also has lot to do with luck. You have to be lucky for your horses to find the right rider. Plus I was lucky that I could breed with a dam line like Stamm 4025. If we go back a few generations we can see that Feldtor was already a mare with an outstanding willingness to work. Every time a farmer wanted to buy a tractor she was sold to the next farmer because they all wanted her. This characteristic is still in the line today, that these horses want to work.


(Photo: Tiffany Van Halle) (Photo: Tiffany Van Halle)

In the history of equestrian sport, there are riders whose names and achievements will be immortalized in history, and today at the CHI Geneva, the last Rolex Grand Slam of Show Major of the calendar year, that is what all 40 athletes were hoping to achieve by winning the prestigious Rolex Grand Prix.


Once again, skilled course designer, Gérard Lachat, had set a true challenge of bravery, precision and scope for the riders with a 14-combination first round test, which would then be followed by an eight-effort jump-off, should two or more partnerships navigate the opening round without a fault.


Following his win in the CPKC ‘International’ Grand Prix, presented by Rolex at the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament, live contender and third into the ring Martin Fuchs, hoped to continue his quest for sport’s ultimate prize, however there was heartbreak for the Swiss rider as the penultimate fence fell.


Problems came throughout the course with the time proving particularly tight. In total four riders produced a faultless jumping round, but picked up unfortunate time-faults. Furthermore, class favourites in the early portion of the competition, such as individual Olympic Champion Ben Maher, and World No. 8, Simon Delestre were able unable to master the tricky course.


It was fifteenth to go, the young German, Richard Vogel, who was part of the Young Riders Academy supported by Rolex, who produced the first clear inside the time. The packed Palexpo then came alive just three horses later as Steve Guerdat continued his fabulous form with Dynamix de Belheme, and ensured that there would be a jump-off. Rolex Testimonee Kent Farrington, was one of the ill-fated riders to finish on just four faults, as was Ireland’s Shane Sweetnam who was third in this class last year.


As the class went on, riders began to understand the nuisances of the course with clears coming from a number of riders including Belgium’s Wilm VermeIr,  Christian Kukuk,  winner of the 2023 FEI Nations Cup™ Final, and team silver medallist at the Tokyo Olympic Games, Jessica Springsteen. However, a real shock came as the World No.1 Henrik von Eckermann riding the supremely talented King Edward accrued eight faults.


In total seven horse and rider combinations returned for the jump-off, with riders entering the main area in the same order as the first round. Vogel and the huge striding United Touch S were first to go and wowed the crowd, setting the pace with a clear in the time of 37.14 seconds. Swiss hopes for a home win were dashed as Guerdat, who was looking fast, got too close to the second-to-last fence which ultimately fell. Christian Kukuk produced a double clear but was off the pace of Vogel, crossing the finish nearly five seconds slower. Mark McAuley was another to jump clear, but could not match the speed set. The only rider left that could stop Vogel from winning was Julien Epaillard, who is often referred to as the fastest rider in the sport, however, the second fence fell meaning that Richard Vogel claimed his first Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Major and closed out the 2023 Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping season in style.


Vogel said on becoming the new live contender: “I feel incredible – to win here at the CHI Geneva and become live contender of the Rolex Grand Slam is a dream come true. The atmosphere was amazing, and my horse was just perfect. He has such a big stride, and so especially in the first round some of the lines were very hard for him, but he put in all the effort for me. He gave me everything and jumped his heart out. I have never been to The Dutch Masters, but I am very excited to be there in March – we will make a plan for the next few months and try to win!”


The German rider continued: “I am very close with McLain Ward, and I watched the whole jump-off from last year last night – I knew that to win here you would have to be fast, and so even though I was first to go, I decided to really push for it.”


(Photo : Rolex Grand Slam / Thomas Lovelock) (Photo : Rolex Grand Slam / Thomas Lovelock)

For you, why is the CHI Geneva such a special show? 

The atmosphere at the CHI Geneva is incredibly special – everything is under one roof, and isextremely well thought out. The Dutch Masters is similar, it has an incredible competition but the arena is much smaller. The CHI Geneva is known for its grandness and the size of its main arena – itis one of the largest indoor show jumping venues in the world. 


How special is it to design a course here at the best indoor show in the world?

The best horse and rider combinations in the world compete at the CHI Geneva, and therefore it can be a difficult task and high pressured job to design a course. The size of the main arena at the show is similar to some outdoor arenas which is amazing, and provides the opportunity to design really interesting courses. There are also a lot of other unique features here, such as the lake and the fountain which we need to consider when building the course – we have to make sure the fans can see all of the course and therefore managing plans correctly is very important. The course also needs to be able to test the riders – they are the best in the world and therefore finding this balance is key to producing exciting competitions. 


Can you tell us a little bit about the course that you’ve designed for Sunday’s Rolex Grand Prix? 

I think course is very classic – the double with a ‘Liverpool’ will once again be used in the course. Itwas used at the CHIO Aachen and at the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament – I think it will be a very tricky combination to jump, it will be situated right by the lake. This is a new placement for the fence and so we will see how it jumps, however I think the more experience riders, such as those who competed in the Rolex IJRC Top 10 Final will be okay, but it will still test their technical ability. 


How did you become a course designer? 

I start designing courses at the national level, over time I built up my reputation and started designingsome top level national courses including the Swiss Grand Prix. When I started designing international courses, I was initially working as an assistant. I was incredibly fortunate to be able to work with some incredible designers including, Rolf Lüdi, who at the time was one of the bestdesigners in Europe.


Later on in my career, I started working with Frank Rothenberger and Louis Konickx. Louis is actually my assistant here this week – he has played a huge role in my career and I am incredibly grateful for his help. It is great to have someone else’s opinion on the courses, as it supports your ideas and helps make them become a reality. 


There are exams that course designers have to take in order to be a top designer, but I think the real learning comes from working as an assistant to an established designer – you use the theories that you have learnt, and experience them first hand. 


There are a number of young course designers who want to help at the CHI Geneva, and each year we select one or two to assist us – we provide the opportunity for them to gain experience at one of the best shows in the world. I was given chances like this in my career, and so I think it is incredibly important to do the same. This year we have two young and exciting designers from Switzerland joining us to learn about our processes. This is my ninth year as a course designer at the show, and it is great to have some younger designers with new ideas helping me. 


Which course are you most proud of? 

In my opinion, the Rolex Grand Prix at the CHI Geneva in 2021 was the best course I ever designed. The riders all praised the course, and the competition was incredible – this year I have really studied that course, and examined any aspects that I want to include. 


What are your passions away from course designing?

At the moment, I do not have many hobbies aside from course designing. I spend a lot of my time working at the breeding centre that my wife and I have. Last week, I became a grandfather for the first time which is very exciting and I am sure this will take up more of my time. 


How has the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping benefitted the sport of show jumping? 

I believe that the sport has truly benefited from the creation of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping – it encompasses the best shows in the world and the level of competition is so high. The sport is constantly developing, and the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping really motivates riders to continue to push themselves to be the best and win a Major. It also opens doors to the riders, and ensures that the younger generations are provided with the opportunity to compete at some of the best competitions the world. 



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

Could you introduce yourself and tell us your role.

My name is Emma Uusi-Simola, and I am Steve Guerdat’s show groom.


Steve Guerdat and Venard de Cerisy won the Rolex IJRC Top 10 Final on Friday, could you tell us how you feel?

Venard [De Cerisy] is my favourite horse, and so this win was extra special for me. I knew that they could do it, but you never quite know in this sport whether it will actually happen. They were incredible. After a few years that have not gone quite as well as we would have liked, winning this prestigious class to finish an incredible year is just amazing.


Venard de Cerisy and Dynamix de Belheme are such incredible horses – could you tell us a little bit more about them?

Venard is a very shy horse. He likes to know the people that are around him, and sometimes this can make him a little bit harder to look after, but he is just such an incredible jumper. He is my best boy!

Dynamix, has her own personality! She is a star in the ring, and is very easily to look after, but she gets bored very quickly. Steve changes her riding routine quite regularly to keep her happy – she doesn’t want to do the same thing over and over again, but when she is at a competition she is just phenomenal.


What are the facilities like for both yourself as a groom and the horses at the CHI Geneva?

The stables here at the CHI Geneva are great – this year the horses have really big boxes, and so they have plenty of space to relax between classes.

The other day, there was a brunch for the grooms, and that was a great start to our day. The food was wonderful and it was a very nice touch from the organisers.

Everything here is so organised and well thought-out. I have no complaints!


You recently won the Cavalor FEI Best Groom Award – how much did that mean to you?

It feels amazing. I am not sure that I have the right words to express my feelings – but it means a lot to me. I feel like all of the other grooms and the people around me appreciate what I am doing, and the way that I do it, so it is a great feeling to have won that prize.


How much do you enjoy coming to the Majors – The Dutch Masters, CHIO Aachen, Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’, and CHI Geneva? In your opinion, what sets them apart from the other shows?

They are the best shows in the world. For me, I think what truly sets them apart from the other shows in the calendar is that they are so well organised. You also feel like they truly prioritize the horses and the highest level of the sport.


How special it to be part of Steve’s team?

It is so special – I love working with him and the team. He treats the horses so well, and I really like how he thinks that horses should be allowed to be horses. At the stables, we keep everything very simple – it is not overcomplicated, we just try to keep the horses happy and successful. He is also an amazing rider!


As a show groom, you travel a lot. How important is your team at home?

They are crucial to our success. I trust them so much. I never have to worry about the horses at home when I am away, as I know that they will be perfectly looked after. This is really important to me, and to Steve as well.


What is your favourite part of the job?

I love the travelling and being at shows – I do not really like being at home, so this jobs suits me very well! Also, just been around the horses and taking care of them, each horse has their own personality which makes this job very interesting.


What is the best piece of advice you have been given?

The best piece of advice that I have been given is to always keep learning. I think that it is incredibly important to watch other people, and learn from them as you can always improve.


How important is the groom’s community?
I do not think that many of the grooms would do this job without the incredible community that we have – it is one of the things that keeps us all going. We all help each other, for example on Friday night after the Rolex IJRC Top 10 Final we all helped each other so that we could all leave the stables. Having a community like this is really great.


(Photo : Tiffany Van Halle) (Photo : Tiffany Van Halle)

Anticipation was palpable in the air of the Palexpo as the CHI Geneva’s passionate and knowledgeable crowd prepared for the 22nd running of the prestigious Rolex IJRC Top 10 Final. The innovative and globally-renowned class, often compared to the Nitto ATP Finals in tennis, saw the world’s top 10 ranked riders compete against each other over two rounds, to be crowned the champion of champions.


It was a truly international field, with the ten riders coming from eight different nations. This stellar list of athletes included last year’s winner of the class and World No.1, Henrik von Eckermann, the current live contender of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping, Martin Fuchs, as well as the individual Olympic gold medallist Ben Maher. Prior to the competition, the crowd was treated to the traditional parade of riders, which only added to the excitement and sensational atmosphere of the main arena.


With both rounds counting and faults accumulating, pressure was on riders from the moment that they cantered into the ring. In the opening round, riders went in reverse order of ranking meaning that it was Ireland’s Shane Sweetnam, a newcomer in the class, who was first to tackle the 1.60m course. Sweetnam produced a foot-perfect round to set the standard for the nine remaining riders. A number of riders struggled to match this, with favourites such as Simon Delestre having eight faults and both Harrie Smolders and Max Kühner accruing twelve faults. Julien Epaillard kept himself in contention with a typically fast round with only one fence falling.


However, the Palexpo then rumbled awake as Switzerland’s Steve Guerdat and Venard de Cerisy produced the second clear of the class – a result that was unfortunately not shared by his fellow Rolex Testimonees, Martin Fuchs and Kent Farrington. Ben Maher was another favourite unable to master the course, whilst last to go in the first round, Henrik von Eckermann showed all of his talent to keep hopes of a back-to-back win alive.


After a course change, riders returned in reverse order of merit from the first half of the competition. Max Kühner, first in, produced a faultless round, as did the four following riders, but faults carried forward from round one kept them out of the top spots. Kent Farrington and Greya, on four faults, were yet another clear, while Julien Epaillard, the only other rider on four faults, and often considered to be the fastest rider in the world, was the first to accrue faults over this shortened course.


All eyes were then on the final three, who entered the arena with zero penalties from the first round. First of the three clears, Guerdat, was lucky over the double combination but came home clear in a time of 48.13 seconds. Henrik von Eckermann was next in, but it wasn’t meant to be for the World Champion, when he got too close to fence 13 and accrued four faults. The only man who could prevent the home favourite from victory was first-timer Sweetnam, but two fences fell, and the Swiss rider claimed the class for the third time.


Speaking on his win, Guerdat stated: “I am very excited – it is unbelievable to win this incredible class for the third time! It is truly extraordinary. I have had so much success at this amazing show – but it keeps surprising me! The crowd was amazing and the atmosphere at the CHI Geneva is exceptional, this moment means so much to me.”


The Swiss rider continued: “Venard was incredible – he has been such a great horse for me and I am so proud of him. This win would not be possible without my team – they really deserve this win as much as me!”



(Photo : Rolex Grand Slam / Thomas Lovelock) (Photo : Rolex Grand Slam / Thomas Lovelock)

The beautiful city of Geneva once again welcomed the world’s most talented horse and rider combinations to what is often considered to be the best indoor equestrian show in the world, the CHI Geneva. The show, which hosts the final Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Major of the calendar year began yesterday, with today, signalling the first day of international 5* competition.


In total, 48 combinations started in the feature class of the day, the coveted 1.60m Trophée De Genève. The competition also provided the first chance for riders to secure their place in the pinnacle event of the show, the Rolex Grand Prix. As is often the case at the CHI Geneva, the field was truly star-studded and included the current Olympic, World, and European individual Champions of Ben Maher, Henrik von Eckermann, and Steve Guerdat.


First to canter into the Palexpo’s iconic Geneva Arena was Ireland’s Shane Sweetnam riding the chestnut gelding, Cjoxx Z. The duo produced a faultless jumping round, however, picked up an agonising time fault. It was fourth to go, the in-form Vitor Bettendorf, winner of two of today’s classes, who produced the first clear round – next to jump, Switzerland’s Pius Schwizer secured a jump-off after a super performance much to the delight of the home crowd. At the halfway point there were eight clear rounds, with faults coming throughout the masterfully designed course.


After a short break, the crowd was treated to another seven clear rounds and some exceptional levels of horsemanship from riders including Kent Farrington, who triumphed in this class two years ago, Germany’s Christian Kukuk, and Switzerland’s Elian Baumann. However, there was also heartbreak for the Swiss crowds as fan favourites, Steve Guerdat and Martin Fuchs, the current live contender of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping, both finished with faults and did not proceed in the second round.


In total 15 riders graduated to the jump-off after navigating the Gérard Lachat-designed course fault-free, and entered the arena in the same order as the first round. It was first in, Luxemburg’s Bettendorf who set the standard with a clear in the time of 38.63 seconds, however, the lead changed a number of times in what was an exceptional jump-off. World Under-25 No.1 Harry Charles looked like he may claim his first victory at this year’s edition of the CHI Geneva with a time of 37.08 seconds, however fellow Rolex Testimonee Kent Farrington, set the crowd alight and crossed the finish 2.31 seconds faster than Charles. The remaining five horses that followed could not set the pace matched by the American and his exceptional mare, Toulayna, and he took home the Trophée De Genève for the second time in three years.


Thrilled with his nine-year-old bay mare’s performance, Farrington commented: “I am really excited about my horse – I bought two young ones here with me this week –  they are developing so well and so I am thrilled with her performance. My tactic in the jump-off was to try to win – I wanted to give my horse a good experience – but it is one of the biggest shows in the world, so I came to compete.”


Looking ahead to Sunday’s Rolex Grand Prix, the American rider followed on: “I am excited after tonight, but tomorrow is a new day and there is still a long way to go – but I am really looking forward to it.”


Toulayna’s groom Denise Moriarty continued: “I am so proud, she is always game – she does whatever we ask her to do, and does it extremely well. Even at nine years of age, she is a super reliable horse, and we are very excited about the future. She travelled really well over from America, she is very relaxed in general apart from when she is in the ring.”


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

How has planning been going for this year’s event?

Everything has been going well. Work for the show began in February, when we starting thinking about the sporting schedule and the communications plans. We are delighted to be celebrating the 10 year anniversary of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping this year, and we have an excellent list of riders who are competing at the show – we are very excited to welcome our fans back to the CHI Geneva.


Is there anything new that the CHI Geneva has introduced this year? Will you be doing anything special to mark the 10th anniversary of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping?

We have organised a ceremony on Saturday evening at 21.00 in the main arena to honour Steve Guerdat. He has competed in all of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Majors, and so we wanted to recognise his incredible achievement. We will also celebrate the grooms – we are hosting a brunch for them for the first time. They are such an imperative part of the sport, and so we felt it was important to thank them for all of their hard work. Finally, we will have some smaller activities that will mark the 10 year anniversary of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping.


How important are the volunteers to the successful running of the show?

They are spirit and soul of the show – they truly make the show unique. They are so passionate, and they add this into the show. They are incredible, and they give a lot – we are very thankful for them.


The CHI Geneva places a lot of emphasis on young riders – why is this something that you focus on year on year?

This is incredibly important for us – they are the stars of tomorrow. We like to give them the chance to compete in the same arena as the most talented riders in the world. Hosting young rider classes is part of the fabric of the show and we think it is crucial to provide opportunities for young riders.


The Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping is celebrating its 10-year anniversary. How has the initiative positively impacted the CHI Geneva as a show?

It has had a huge impact – it takes the four shows that are involved to the next level. Having a Grand Slam in our sport is very important, and it is something that the CHI Geneva is honoured to be part of. The Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping has increased the visibility and understanding of our sport for those who are not fully aware of equestrianism. For people who don’t know about show jumping, it can be difficult for them to understand it completely, it can be complex, but the Rolex Grand Slam makes it simple – you have four Majors and these are ones that everyone wants to win.


What has been your personal highlight from the first 10 years of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping?

It is so difficult to select one memory as there have been so many – I would say for me, it would be Steve’s [Guerdat] victory here at the CHI Geneva in 2013. It was the first Major that we ever organised, and it was incredible to see a Swiss rider win.


What is your advice to someone who wants to get into the sporting events industry?

You need to really understand the sport that you want to work in – for example, I would find it harder to organise a football event as opposed to an equestrian event as I don’t know as much about it. If you organise a music concert or a sporting event – you can’t be afraid of how many hours you will work.

In addition, it is also important to have good relationship with external influencers, such as politicians or the state, for example for the CHI Geneva, it is vital to have a relationship with the state of Geneva. You also need to understand finances, be a good multi-tasker and flexible – you will do something different every single day. Finally, you must be able to manage your stress, sometimes you will be in a difficult situation and you have to be able to keep calm.


For you, as well as the CHI Geneva, what are the key components that make a successful sporting event, or sporting major?

Overall it is a mix between, fans, media and sponsors. I think you need to create a community for your fans and volunteers to be part of – it is important to create something strong with the people who love you.

Of course, you must have a very good relationship with the sponsors – without them you cannot organise a show. Having a very close relationship with them, and being able to be flexible and adaptive to what they want is very important in running a successful show. You can’t work in a ‘closed box’, you have to be able to work beyond a set boundary to find a solution with your partners – the world changes every day and so you have to aware of this.

You also need to be close to the athletes – they are a vital part of the show. It is a mix of all of this – you need to have all of these elements balanced to run a successful show.


Like the tennis legends Nadal, Federer and Djokovic, who have dominated the tennis world and its Majors, how important is it to the CHI Geneva to have the best in the world competing at your event?

It is very important for the sponsors – they want to have the best. It is also vital for our communications, if you want to sell tickets, having the best athletes in the world competing at your show is crucial, as the fans want to come to see the best. If you don’t have the best riders, it isn’t catastrophic, but it is better to have the crème de la crème for the image of the show – it gives credibility to the show. It is also great for attracting volunteers as they are proud to be part of a show that welcomes the best.


The CHI Geneva, is often considered to be the leading indoor equestrian venue, how do you ensure that you continue to innovate and adapt to ensure you maintain this status?

It is not easy – there are a lot of incredible shows across the world. To try and keep the CHI Geneva at the top level, we reflect each year and look at what we did well or what could have been done better. Year after the year we organise a debriefing session with the show’s partners and the whole team to be critical about the show and how we can improve.

A number of our organising committee are volunteers, and so therefore there is a lot of passion, and when you have passion you are more motivated. Our organising committee are so proud of our show – we listen to what the people say and we are very open to the critics – we just want to offer the very best. We are not afraid to make changes and adapt. There is passion in our veins – maybe this one of the explanations as to why the CHI Geneva is so successful.


Do you and the CHI Geneva organisers take inspiration from any of sport’s other major competitions, e.g., in tennis or golf?

It is very important to attend other show jumping shows, but also different sporting events. You need to do what the others do – it could be a festival, or a football event or a music event – you always have to learn.

If you go to an event you get ideas that would transfer into your own sport. I try to go to other shows – maybe I could go to a few more, but when I do go I try to talk to the organisers, and go backstage, as well as speak to a wider selection of people in the team, anyone from ticketing to communications to security. I took the idea for our security from a festival in Switzerland, and our ticketing system came from a music event I attended. You can also get ideas from watching sports on TV.

It is important for us to be open, and think what would work best for the CHI Geneva, sometimes something will work for any event in Germany but it will not work in Switzerland because you don’t have the same culture. It is important to travel, observe and be open to change.


(Photo : Rolex Grand Slam / Thomas Lovelock) (Photo : Rolex Grand Slam / Thomas Lovelock)

Can you introduce yourself, tell us who you work for, and what your role is?

My name is Lovisa Munter and I have worked for Bertram Allen for the past three years as his travelling groom.


Tell us a little a bit about your journey to the CHI Geneva…

We were in La Coruña, Spain last week competing. We made a stop in France on the way here to give both the horses and myself a bit of a break. We arrived here at the CHI Geneva on Tuesday night.


If there is a horse that doesn’t like to travel, what can you do to help it and how do you ensure that your horses travel well so they can continue to perform at their peak?

Both of Bertram’s horses travel very well – they are very experienced, especially Pacino Amiro. They had a 12 hour break from travelling on our trip to the CHI Geneva, to allow them to rest. Whilst travelling, it is extremely important that we maintain the horses normal feeding times, and try to keep everything as ‘normal’ as possible, so we will stop the lorry throughout the journey to give them their mash and food. They also have hay nets and water buckets in their area of the lorry. I mostly travel with only two horses in one lorry for the longer journeys, so they have a lot of space – they travel really well.


How important is the whole team, e.g., vets, farriers etc., in ensuring the success of the team?


It is extremely important. We are very lucky as we have a great team. We have a fantastic vet – I call him every week to talk about the horses. Bertram, also has an unbelievable farrier – I have never had a problem with any of horses feet.

At home, we have a flat rider called Nathalie and she is the main rider of Pacino [Amiro] and for all of Bertram’s good horses. She does a fantastic job. Kate, the groom at home, is someone that is very reliable, and she is the person that I always call for advice.


Can you tell us about the horses that you have brought with you and what their characters are like?

Pacino Amiro, Bertram’s top horse – he is incredible! We have done so much together, actually last week it was my 50th show with him. He is a very funny character; he knows that he is the boss of the stable. He can be very demanding, and headstrong; you cannot really tell him things, he does what he wants.

The other horse that we have here is Castigo De Amor. He is new, we have only had him for a couple of months, but he has already won two Grands Prix. He is a stallion but he is the sweetest – we refer to him as a ‘little unicorn’. I never have a problem with him.


What are the facilities like for both yourself as a groom and the horses at the CHI Geneva?

It is my third time attending the CHI Geneva, and it is one of the best shows in the world. Everyone says it and it is very true. When you arrive here, you have the CHI Geneva team help you to unpack and muck out. The boxes for the horses are spacious and quiet – everything is just perfect.


How much do you enjoy coming to the Majors – The Dutch Masters, CHIO Aachen, Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’, and CHI Geneva? In your opinion, what sets them apart from the other shows?

The four Majors are considered to be the best shows in the world. Whilst growing up, I would dream to ride at the shows but it is extremely special to attend them as a groom. The facilities for the horses are perfect and the atmosphere at them is so special.

This year, I went to the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament for the first time and it was just amazing. I have also been to the CHIO Aachen – and it is a phenomenal venue! These Majors are the four shows that all riders dream of winning. 


Are you and Bertram feeling confident ahead of this week?

Yes, we are confident – Bertram is in good form. He jumped in the 5* classes at La Coruña last week as preparation for the CHI Geneva. He jumped well but not perfectly so will hopefully do so this week. He usually performs well at the important Majors – he is great under pressure.


How special it to be part of Bertram’s team?

It is so special; it has been a dream come true to work with a rider like him. I always enjoyed watching Bertram riding, he is one of the fastest riders in the world, and a very good horse man. I feel incredibly proud to be working with him and his horses.


What qualities do you think that Bertram has that has meant he has been so successful for so long?

It is incredible how Bertram can ride any horse and they will fight and jump for him. He has a talent that many riders do not have.


What advice would you give to someone who wanted to get into industry?

When I started out, I was working in Switzerland and attending only the national shows. The best learning experience I had was working at the Stephex Stables. I was a part of a bigger team, and worked with a number of experienced riders and grooms. It was a great opportunity to observe and learn from everyone. A major factor in being successful is to be patient in finding a good job once you have gained the experience.


What is the grooms’ community like? Do grooms support one another?

It is very important to have a community of grooms and friends to help out – a lot of my closest friends are here this week. The support means that we help each other out. During the long night drives, we all tend to call each other which is great. I consider them as my second family – we see each other more than our actual families.

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


The Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping returns to the CHI Geneva, from 6–10 December, with an action-packed schedule of sport and entertainment. The show brings together an outstanding line-up of elite riders for five days of compelling action, including the 22nd running of the Rolex IJRC Top 10 Final on Friday evening and the pinnacle class of the show, the Rolex Grand Prix on Sunday afternoon.


Held in the impressive Palexpo Arena, the world’s elite horse and rider combinations will tackle some of the toughest tracks of the year, at is what is often considered the sport’s leading indoor Show Jumping venue. Taking part in this year’s show is a remarkable line-up of riders including 16 of the top 20 riders, and nine Rolex Testimonees.


Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping – Rider Watch

Martin Fuchs became the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Live Contender after claiming the prestigious CPKC ‘International’ Grand Prix, presented by Rolex at the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament in September, with the striking grey gelding Leone Jei. The Swiss rider will surely go into the CHI Geneva brimming with confidence – Fuchs became the first rider in history to win successive editions of the Rolex Grand Prix at the CHI Geneva (2021 and 2019), whilst last year he was narrowly beaten by the American rider McLain Ward. With this impressive history of results at the venue and the support of the home crowd, Fuchs will surely to the one to beat.


Fuchs’ Swiss teammate, Steve Guerdat, is another favourite for this historic prize. This summer, Guerdat added a FEI European Championship individual gold medal to his two previous team European golds, aboard the extremely talented 10-year-old mare Dynamix De Belheme. The Swiss rider, who is often revered to be the ultimate horseman, has claimed three Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Majors, two of which have been in the Palexpo. Guerdat and Fuchs will be joined by 15 compatriots including the talented young rider Edouard Schmitz, who will be looking for his first Major win.


Another previous winner of this celebrated class is Rolex Testimonee, Kent Farrington. Farrington has been rebuilding his string of horses over the past few years following his incredible successes with Gazelle, including winning the Rolex Grands Prix at the CHI Geneva in 2017 and the CHIO Aachen in 2019. The American may have found his next Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Major winner in Landon, with whom he took home both the team gold and individual silver medals at the recent Pan American Games. Fellow American, and Rolex Testimonee Jessica Springsteen, will also be in action. Springsteen, has had an impressive year with a number of notable results including a 5* Grand Prix victory in London over the summer.


World No.2 Ben Maher, has won almost every competition going, including individual gold at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and the Rolex IJRC Top 10 Final, however he is still yet to win a Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Major. The British rider bounced back from an injury earlier in the season with a number of impressive results including winning the Rolex Grand Prix, presented by Audi at the Brussels Stephex Masters and the FEI World Cup™ Qualifier in Verona.


Maher will be joined by two other notable British athletes, Rolex Testimonees Scott Brash and Harry Charles. Brash is still to date, the only rider to have claimed the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping – the sport’s ultimate challenge and most coveted prize. Conversely, Charles will head to Geneva in search for his first Major victory. The World No. 1 Under-25 rider will be full of confidence following a successful autumn campaign, which includes winning the German Masters in November.


The current FEI World Champion, Henrik von Eckermann, has now held the World No.1 spot for the past 15 months. The Swedish rider has an exceptional string of horses, and will certainly be one of the favourites when he canters into the impressive main arena at the Palexpo. Having won the Rolex IJRC Top 10 Final last year, von Eckermann will be looking to add the silver salver to his impressive collection of results.


France has a number of representatives who could challenge for the top placings, including Julien Epaillard. The Frenchman had a spectacular 2022, with over 75 international wins –  this form has very much continued into 2023, with Epaillard claiming an individual bronze medal at the FEI European Championships and team silver at the FEI Nations Cup™ Final in Barcelona. Teammate, Simon Delestre, a former World No.1, is always one to beat, and this year came close to claiming his first Major in the Rolex Grand Prix at The Dutch Masters however, heartbreakingly the last fence fell.


Germany too has an impressive list of entries, including three time Major winner, Daniel Deusser, individual bronze medalist at the FEI European Championships Phillip Weishaupt, and the winner of the Rolex Grand Prix at the CHIO Aachen, Marcus Ehning.


The Irish will also have a strong chance at taking home the prestigious title with five riders set to take on Gérard Lachat’s course, including Bertram Allen, who was part of the victorious team in the BMO Nations Cup at the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament as well as coming third in the CPKC ‘International’ Grand Prix, presented by Rolex at the same venue.

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

Congratulations! You are the Rolex Grand Slam Live Contender, how are you feeling ahead of the CHI Geneva?

I feel fantastic; we have had an incredible year jumping at the highest level of the sport and winning the CPKC ‘International’ Grand Prix, presented by Rolex at the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament with Leone Jei was definitely a highlight. I am extremely excited to be coming into my home Major, the CHI Geneva, as the live contender of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping – riding in front of a Swiss crowd with all of their support is amazing.


Reflecting on your win in the CPKC ‘International’ Grand Prix, presented by Rolex at the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament – how special was this victory to you?

It was incredibly special! My father was second in that Grand Prix and has always talked so highly about the venue. He said that this was the important Grand Prix to win, and so to achieve that with Leone Jei was incredible.


You have had so much success at the CHI Geneva, winning in 2019 and 2021, as well as placing second last year. How special is this venue to you, and what do you think has enabled to you be so successful there?

Competing at the CHI Geneva is so special! In my opinion is it is one of the best shows in the world – the facilities for both the horses and riders are incredible. As a Swiss rider, I love competing there, the fans are amazing and they are truly behind every Swiss rider. My team play an enormous part of supporting me and are vital to my success.


How have you been preparing yourself and your horses for the CHI Geneva?

I have done a couple of shows with them – but they will have a break for the two weeks prior to the CHI Geneva so that I can really focus on their training at home and making sure they are feeling their very best before the show.


The CHI Geneva is your home Major – do you feel this gives you a home advantage when competing there or is there an added pressure?

The crowd at the CHI Geneva is so supportive – there is nothing quite like it. I love having my family and friends there supporting and watching me, it really motivates me to do well and make them proud.


You have had so much success with Leone Jei in recent years – tell us about him and what it is about him that makes him so successful?

He is an incredible horse with so much talent. He has won some of the biggest Grands Prix in the world as well as Championship medals. Leone Jei is a great partner to have – he can compete anywhere, he jumps just as well indoors as he does in outdoor arenas; he adapts himself to any arena and for any competition. He has such a lovely character; he is always eager to compete and jump. I love this about him.


How important is your wider team, for example grooms, vets etc. in your success?

My wider team play a fundamental role as part of my success – so much goes on behind-the-scenes. My parents have been fundamental in building a special team around me, this allows me to really focus on my training and doing well in the ring. I do not have to think about anything else apart from training and competing, as my team manages everything else. I have some great grooms that look after our horses, I would not have this amount of success without my grooms. I am very fortunate to have such a good support group, as well as having parents who help me with everything.


Much like The Championships, Wimbledon in Tennis and The Masters in Golf, the CHI Geneva is a Major. What is about the Majors in sport that is so special and why are they so important?

The Majors are some of the most important shows in the calendar; they are ones that every rider aims to win and dreams of competing at when they are growing up. They are the pinnacle of our sport, all the greats have competed at these Majors.

Growing up you watch your idols compete and win at the Majors, this makes you so motivated and driven to train and do well in competitions so that one day you can join them at these venues and to be perhaps fortunate enough to win one of the Majors.


The Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping provides a chance for two young riders to compete in each Major, how important is this in inspiring the next generation of top riders?

It is extremely important that this opportunity is offered to the next generation as they will gain priceless experience competing at a Major. Competing alongside the best riders in the world allows you to watch and learn from them – which is so valuable. I was very fortunate when I was younger to compete at the Swiss 5* shows which gave me the opportunity to ride at the highest level as young rider, even though I wasn’t at the top level yet – I learnt so much from these incredible opportunities. After a show, when you go back home, you have so much you want work on and many additional goals – it is inspirational.


The Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping is celebrating its 10-year anniversary – how big an impact has it had on the sport?

The Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping has an incredible impact on the sport, and has put it on a whole new level. It is a unique series which connects the four best shows in the world, and gives riders something to really aim towards – it has really changed the level of the sport!


If you weren’t a show jumper, what would you have been?

I definitely would have still worked with horses – I  really enjoy being around them. I love the teaching and training side as well as the dealing side. So, I would probably have been involved in dealing horses and managing people.


What keeps you motivated and hungry for success?

I really like to compete and to jump the best shows. I also love seeing a young horse develop and learn, it is incredibly rewarding watching a horse develop to the top level. It is a very satisfying part of the our job. In our sport, you never get bored, each horse is so unique, which means that every day is different. This makes you become a better rider and horseman to try and get the best out each individual horse as well as trying to provide them with the best life possible.


To learn more about Martin Fuchs’ team from his travelling groom, Sean Vard, listen to our latest Podcast: Rolex Grand Slam Talks: ‘Through the Groom's Eyes with Sean Vard’ on Spotify.

(Photo: MBC. ©CHI de Genève / Joseph Carlucci) (Photo: MBC. ©CHI de Genève / Joseph Carlucci)

The current administrative counsellor of the city of Geneva, in charge of the Department of Security and Sports of the City of Geneva, answered our questions a few weeks before the 2023 edition of CHI Geneva.


As an administrative counsellor in charge of the Department of Security and Sports, you must be a great expert on the Geneva International Horse Show. What role does it play in Geneva's major sporting events calendar?

It's a very important competition for Geneva and has become a must-attend event. The CHIG helps to raise the profile of our city and establishes it as a world-class equestrian centre. We want to promote and host sporting events of this kind, because they provide the public with a real thrill and showcase Geneva in the best possible light. The City of Geneva has been delighted to support this event for several years. Like all major events, the Competition also generates economic and tourism spin-offs.


The Geneva International Horse Show (CHI Geneva) is one of the biggest sporting events of the year. What are the positive impacts of CHI Geneva on the city in terms of the economy, job opportunities and business investments?

I think we need to look at this from a global perspective. Hotel occupancy rates in Geneva were exceptional in the first half of the year, and the current trend remains positive. The CHIG is bound to contribute to this. The media spin-offs from the Competition also helps to strengthen Geneva's international image, with long-term economic effects. The CHIG is a highly competitive event with riders of a very high calibre. It therefore resonates with the 'Geneva' brand: a city that cultivates precision and excellence in the eyes of the world, notably through its watchmaking industry.


How does the event benefit Geneva's equestrian community and young people?

This is an important aspect. The link between elite and amateur sport is fundamental, and I place it at the heart of the sports policy I am pursuing in the City of Geneva.  Public access to horses and riders helps to link these two poles. For volunteers and equestrian enthusiasts, it's also an opportunity to discover another facet of their sport. All the elite riders were once amateur riders. The CHIG is also a way of inspiring new vocations and encouraging the next generation of riders.


How are the CHIG organising committee and the City of Geneva working together?

The City of Geneva is in close contact with the organising committee to ensure that everything runs smoothly. This competition is recognised as the best horse show in the world, and it has won this prize 10 times, which is proof of its excellence. As far as the City of Geneva is concerned, we renew our financial support every year through a multi-year agreement. We want the people who come to see the competition to have an unforgettable experience, and we want foreign spectators to take advantage of the event and to visit Geneva.


In your opinion, has the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping, which is part of CHI Geneva, had a positive impact on the global recognition of Geneva? 

I think that this positively contributes to the reputation of Geneva, which is known for its watchmaking and its close historical connections with the watchmaking world. CHI Geneva continues this tradition. More generally, this link between business, sport and civil society is essential to the city's appeal.


Rolex is heavily involved in CHI Geneva and the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping in an official capacity. In your opinion, how much of an impact does Rolex have on Geneva and global sport? 

Rolex is a very important company for the City and the Canton. Let's not forget that if we can deliver quality services in Geneva, it's thanks to large companies like Rolex that are present on our soil and that generate income and employment. Rolex is also very involved in the city, in sport and in culture. Geneva owes a lot to Rolex.

(Photo: © CHI Genève) (Photo: © CHI Genève)


The Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping returns to the picturesque city of Geneva for the final Major of the calendar year, the CHI Geneva. From Wednesday 6 – Sunday 10 December, the show will host five-days of top-level sport and entertainment for over 40,000 spectators.


Sporting action starts early on Wednesday 6 December with national Show Jumping classes. Introduced last year, these classes provide the chance for amateur riders to compete in one of the most prestigious Show Jumping arenas in the world. Furthermore, these classes also provide competitors the opportunity to qualify for Credit Suisse Coupe du Jockey Club, which takes place in-front of a packed out crowd on Saturday 9 December.


International 5* Show jumping classes begin on Thursday, with the highlight being the Trophée de Genève, which provides riders their first chance to gain one of the 40 available spots in the prestigious Rolex Grand Prix. Thursday also welcomes the first of three Under-25 competitions – the CHI Geneva has always placed an emphasis on providing young riders a chance to ride in one of the biggest atmospheres in the sport, and this class will showcase the next generation of top Show Jumpers.


Friday provides a stellar line-up of classes including the 1.55m Prix des Communes Genevoises, the final chance for combinations to qualify for the show’s pinnacle class, the Rolex Grand Prix. The Indoor Cross-Country presented by Tribune de Genève, will also be held on Friday, and sees some of the world’s best Eventing riders gather in the electric atmosphere at the Palexpo. Often likened to the Nitto ATP Finals in tennis, Friday evening will welcome the 22nd running of the Rolex IJRC Top 10 Final. In this innovative and globally renowned event, the world’s top 10 ranked riders compete against each other, over two rounds, to be crowded champion.


This year, the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping is celebrating its 10-year anniversary – and as part of the year’s celebrations, the CHI Geneva will be hosting a special ceremony for Rolex Testimonee Steve Guerdat on Saturday 9 December. The recently crowned individual FEI European Champion, has competed in all of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Majors since the launch of the initiative at the CHIO Aachen in 2013. This impressive feat has meant that the Swiss rider has taken part in 34 Majors – showcasing not only his consistency at the very top of the sport, but also his ability to repeatedly produce horses to this level. This ceremony will honour all that Guerdat has achieved and done for his country. In front of a packed out Main Arena, the Swiss crowd are sure to make this a memorable moment for the rider.


Sunday is set to be a true spectacle of top level of Show Jumping, with the Rolex Grand Prix, the final Rolex Major of 2023, taking centre stage. Once again, Gérard Lachat will design the course for 40 of the best horse and rider combinations in the world. All eyes will be on Swiss rider Martin Fuchs – not only is he the current Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping live contender, but he is also the only rider to have ever won consecutive editions of the Rolex Grand Prix at CHI Geneva (2019 & 2021). Will Fuchs finish the year having broken yet another record and become the only rider to have won three Rolex Grands Prix at the venue, or will another rider start their Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping quest?


(Photo : Beeld Werkt) (Photo : Beeld Werkt)


Leone Jei – ‘It takes one horse that can make all dreams come true’

The story around the KWPN-bred gelding Leone Jei (Baltic VDL – Dara x Corland) is filled with emotions. His breeder Gijs van Mersbergen passed away before he could witness the success of Leone Jei under the saddle of Martin Fuchs. His birthname Hay El Desta Ali was found on the internet by his breeder.


It started with Pardous

Maartje van der Velden is the granddaughter of Gijs van Mersbergen. From a very young age, Maartje was involved in her grandfather’s breeding business. She recalls: “My grandfather purchased the Peter Pan daughter, Pardous, as a young mare, and she became the foundation mare of the line. She was always a special mare – she was a gentle, quiet mare, but you could see her blood coming through when something was about to happen. She was also very gentle with us when we were little. We could connect with her foals. My first memory of Pardous is when I was six-years-old and she passed away when I was 16-years-old, and so I basically grew up with her [Pardous]. I think she passed her character on to her offspring – most of them were easy going and showed a lot of willingness to perform. The mother of Leone Jei, Dara, was a bit of a different story. She had a lot of character, not in a bad way, but my grandfather didn’t let us as small children go in with her alone. I personally never saw Pardous jumping, as she was also only used as a broodmare with us so it is hard for me to say what she has passed on to her offspring. My grandfather was a real fan of the Holsteiner-bred stallion Cardento, he used him seven times for Pardous.”


Cardento competed with the Swedish rider Peter Eriksson at 1m60. They participated at the 2002 FEI World Equestrian Games in Jerez de la Frontera and the 2004 Athens Olympic Games. Also in two FEI European Championships: Arnhem in 2001 and Donaueschingen in 2003. He sired several top horses like Catch Me Not S and Katanga vh Dingeshof.


Maartje van der Velden continues about her grandfather’s stallion choice: “My grandfather liked the way Cardento and Corland performed in the sport. He liked the way they jumped. The cross with Pardous and Cardento worked. My grandfather bred four horses from this cross that jumped at 1m40 and higher. The gelding Impossible Dream jumped at 1m55 under the saddle of Kelly Arani. Impossible Dream was very sweet as a foal, he grew up with the other foals and was always very curious when we came into the field. It was also very important for my grandfather that the horses had a good character. As we were allowed as children to be with the horses, he really emphasised that the horses had to have a good character. He wanted to be able to trust his horses completely. The combination between Pardous and Corland resulted in the mare Dara, the mother of Leone Jei.”


“Dara is the exception in this story, she is quite a hot character. We were not allowed to just be with Dara, he [my grandfather] had to be with us. She has also passed that ‘hotness’ on to her offspring. We can proudly say that what she produced with Leone Jei is a truly exceptional horse - she is indeed the most special mare in this line. Dara and her mother Pardous were together for a few years with their offspring. My grandfather bred about five or six foals a year. He also bred dressage horses for a while, but his heart was with showjumping. That gave him much more excitement and he thought it was very special that the horses were able to jump the high fences. We also watched every big competition. He really liked the sport. Unfortunately, I never went to CHIO Aachen with my grandfather, but the plan is that I will go to next year’s Paris Olympic Games with my grandmother. We would also like to watch Leone Jei at another Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Major, that would be very special – this year we went to The Dutch Masters. I keep the whole family informed about where Leone Jei is going to jump or his results. I try to keep track of all the horses from this line that my grandfather bred. I also have a mare whose grandmother is Pardous. This mare, Chantal, jumped at 1m30 under the saddle of Koen Leemans. Pardous sadly passed away, so that is why we have decided to use Chantal for breeding. My grandfather sold Dara, so Chantal was the only mare left that he had. She had her last foal in 2019, sadly my grandfather passed away before the foal was born. Ad van Hal helped us a lot in that year, he was my grandfather’s best friend. We might start with breeding again with Chantal, but I really had a hard time selling Chantal’s last foal because they were the last foal my grandfather bred. Chantal is also very special to me; she has been with us her entire life except when she was with Koen Leemans.”


Leone Jei

Maartje van der Velden continues about Leone Jei: “My grandfather always liked Baltic VDL. He thought that Cardento was not a good match for Dara and that is why he decided to use Baltic VDL. Breeding is always a bit of a gamble, but it worked out well. We really liked how Leone Jei was as a foal and we used Baltic VDL again and that became the mare, Idara. She is now in the USA, owned by Dark Horse, funny enough Martin Fuchs competed with her in the USA at 1m45. She was purchased first by Team Fuchs who sold her on to Dark Horse. Idara was not as hot as her mother and Leone Jei.”


“We always had to laugh about Leone Jei’s birthname. My grandfather called him Hay El Desta Ali – we told him to choose a normal name, there are so many nice names with an ‘H’. My grandfather searched the internet for a nice name with an ‘H’ and came out with ‘Hay El Desta Ali’. Eventually, we found out that it meant something like ‘it is what it is’. So, in the end, it was a special name after all. As a foal, he was just as hot heated as his mother. He had a super character, but he also showed a lot of blood especially when he got started under saddle. The first rides under saddle were an adventure. Koen Leemans had difficulties with Leone Jei in the beginning but they built up a partnership. Plus, now he [Leone Jei] really knows how to use the blood he has. The way he carries his tail is exactly the same as he did as a young horse - it is typical for him. Due to the friendship between my grandfather and Ad van Hal, Ad purchased Dara. We still had Pardous and Chantal at the time as broodmares – there were not many mares that were being used for breeding. I know I have a very unique mare here.”


“This line has for me and my family a lot of emotional value. My grandfather tried to follow where his horses went. It is very special to see the development of Leone Jei with Martin Fuchs. The success that Leone Jei has is always something that he dreamed of. He always said that it only takes one horse that will make all dreams come true. Our grandfather used to sit behind his computer and find all the information about his horses and look at all of the information on stallions. He went to many different stallion presentations, stallion competitions, etc. We never dared to dream that Leone Jei would become the horse that he currently is. We owe all the success to the Peter Pan daughter Pardous. My grandfather passed away shortly after Leone Jei was sold to Martin Fuchs.”


Ad van Hal

Gijs van Mersbergen travelled with Ad van Hal frequently. It was actually the plan to have Leone Jei’s mother, Dara, compete in the sport, but that turned out to be too expensive. So, van Mersbergen sold the Dara to Ad van Hal after she foaled out Idara by Baltic VDL – the full sister of Leone Jei. Ad van Hal recalls: “I always passed the field, where Dara was when I came from work on my bicycle. I thought one day she would be mine. One time we drove together to the KWPN stallion approvals in Den Bosch and I asked van Mersbergen if I could buy her. He mentioned a price and it was so high that I said please stop the car, this has to sink in. I have tried several times to buy her and eventually, I did. I always had a good relationship with van Mersbergen. I am still very sad that he passed away. I went to many shows with him. I saw Leone Jei several times as a young horse under the saddle of Koen Leemans. He was really passionate about the equestrian sport.”


“I bred seven foals out of Dara. The first foal I bred by Harley VDL was supposed to be only one foal, but she gave birth to twins – luckily all three survived. The year after, Dara had another filly by Harley VDL that I sold to Belgium, but she passed away when she was only one-year-old. She has a four-year-old stallion by Colman and a three-year-old stallion by El Barone 111 Z. As well as a two-year-old mare by Verdi TN that I would like to keep, this year she had a full brother to Leone Jei. I sold Dara to Mares of Macha, they wanted to use her for ICSI. I have one daughter out of Dara, and they offered me a lot of money for Dara, and I could not resist it. Dara is a mare that is quite long and stands well in her frame. She has a good character, but she is also very sharp. It was this combination in her character that I liked. She was always the first in the herd of horses, she has a lot of blood. Van Mersbergen already bred several good show jumping horses out of this line. That was also one of the reasons that I purchased her. She had an interesting damline. It was actually a very short performance line, not much is known about the line. However, I was at the mare approvals with van Mersbergen in Esbeek when Pardous was young. They had to free jump and around the free jumping arena a fence was built about two meters high. I said to van Mersbergen watch this she is going to jump out and he thought I was crazy. Guess what, she jumped the line and then jumped over the two-meter-high fence that was supposed to keep the horses in. She didn’t even touch it.”


Ad van Hal also reflects on how difficult it is to judge a mareline that does not have many generations in the sport: “Breeding today is only about horses that have been in sport. This line did not have much sport in the damline, but the ones that made it to the sport were very good. Today ICSI is becoming more and more popular, but it is not known if five full brothers and sisters will all perform well in sport.”

Every mareline starts at one point. The story of Leone Jei started with the mare Pardous. The passionate breeder Gijs van Mersbergen took great care and pride in finding the right crosses for his mare.


The victory in Spruce Meadows through the eyes of the breeder

Maartje van der Velden says: “I watched Martin Fuchs’ and Leone Jei’s victory the day after with my grandmother. We try to watch every competition live but this was a bit too late due to the time difference. I have watched it twice because I did watch the livestream. It was so exciting, especially when they had a touch on the first fence! It was unreal to watch how Martin put his arm up when jumping the last fence. I was overwhelmed with a proud feeling. It is very special that a horse like Leone Jei was born in my grandfather’s stables. I always connect with Leone Jei’s old rider Koen Leemans. We are all part of this story.”



Earlier this year, the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping launched an exciting new Podcast series titled ‘Rolex Grand Slam Talks: ‘Through the Groom's Eyes’’. The series delves into the world behind the horse and rider, shedding light on the often-overlooked heroes - the dedicated grooms working tirelessly behind-the-scenes of top-level Show Jumping.


The podcasts, which are released quarterly ahead of each of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Majors, are available to listen to for free via Spotify. Much like a caddy in golf, or a mechanic in Formula One, the grooms play a vital role in the success of their horses and riders. This series of podcasts aims to educate listeners on the importance that these individuals have on the sport that we all love!


Thus far, two podcasts have been released. The inaugural episode featured Virgine Casterman and Lee McKeever who work with American rider McLain Ward. The duo, who were both vital in the victories that Ward had in the Rolex Grands Prix at CHI Geneva 2021 and The Dutch Masters 2022, spoke about their special relationship with the sensational mare HH Azur and their careers to date. The second edition of the podcast focused on Rolex Testimonee Daniel Deusser’s groom, Sean Lynch. Sean, who has worked with Deusser for nearly 10 years has had numerous successes with the former World No. 1.


Deusser commented on the crucial role that Lynch had on his successes: “Sean is incredible – I trust him 100% with the horses. He spends more time with them than I do, and the relationship between the horses and Sean is amazing to see. For him it is not a job, he lives for the sport and the horses. Sean initially came to work with us as a freelance groom, initially for just one or two weeks but he ended up staying! The relationship between a groom and rider is crucial to be successful, and I feel incredibly lucky to be able to work with him.”


Sean Vard will be the feature of the next instalment of ‘Rolex Grand Slam Talks: ‘Through the Groom's Eyes’’ which will be released in the build-up to the final Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Major of the calendar year, the CHI Geneva. The Irishman, who grooms for Swiss rider Martin Fuchs, comes to the CHI Geneva as part of the Live Contender team, following Fuchs’ victory in the CPKC ‘International’, presented by Rolex at the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament this September. With victories in the Rolex Grand Prix at the CHI Geneva in 2019 and 2021, plus a close second-place finish in 2022, Fuchs is sure to be a favourite to win the 2023 edition. Vard will talk about the incredible horses that he has looked after over the years including Clooney 51 and Leone Jei, as well as his career and how he ensures that his horses are in peak condition going into major competitions.


For the latest information and podcast release dates follow @rolex_grand_slam on Instagram, and to listen to previous episodes click here.


Georgia Ellwood (Photo : Madeleine D. Bergsjø)


Can you introduce yourself, tell us who you work for, and what your role is?

My name is Georgia Ellwood, and I am Harry Charles’ show groom. 


Can you tell us about the horses that you have and what their characters are like? 

In Harry’s team, we have around nine horses – they are all different ages and have different levels of experience. Romeo 88 and Balou Du Reventon are our older and more experienced horses. Balou du Reventon is an absolute gem – he is the yard’s favourite at the moment. He is a stallion but does not act so at all – he is so sweet. We call him the old grandpa of the yard. 

On the other hand, Romeo 88 is more of a handful than him [Balou du Reventon]. He is quite grumpy but can also be very affectionate at the same time. He wants the attention once he has it – he changes his mind. 

Sherlock is one of my favourite younger horses. He is the most lovable little thing that you could ever come across. He is cheeky and very sweet, and he gives everything when he is in the ring which is so nice to see. I am sure that Harry would agree with me that he is a little trooper. 

We also have a younger horse who is eight-years-old called Bandit, and he is very special. His show name is Dunroe Quality and he is incredibly scopey – he is like a spring. He is very cool but comes with some challenges. He loves to test me on the ground, but he becomes a different horse when Harry rides him. He is one of the best young horses that I have ever seen. I am hoping that in the future he will continue to develop, and I really think he will be something very special to the sport of show jumping. 

All the horses have different characteristics; you definitely have to spend some one-on-one time with them to get to know them.


How special is it to be part of Harry Charles’ team?

It is truly exciting to be part of Harry Charles’ team. At Heathcroft Farm, we are part of the family, not just a groom. Peter [Charles] trusts us and that means a lot to us. He is extremely involved in the yard but at the same time, he likes us to have our independence. It is a lovely yard to be a part of. The family is amazing to us, which helps us love our jobs. They are just so nice to be around. 

I have been with Harry for four years now and I have noticed a significant difference in his riding. He is such a chilled person to be around. At the same time, when he is at the bigger shows, he wants to do well and so he sometimes places pressure on himself. I try and remain calm and quiet to help him out. 

Harry is a perfectionist and after working here it is clear to me how hard he works. He is one of the hardest-working riders that I have ever seen. He wants it so much. 


You recently won the British Showjumping ‘Groom of the Year’ – what did that mean to you?

When I first started in the sport, there was a division between the riders and grooms. Whenever a rider won a class, the spotlight was placed on the rider, the horse, and the owner but recently, in the past year or two, the grooms have come to be recognized. This is great and makes a difference. We work so hard behind the scenes – there are so many people in the teams behind each of the riders and their horses including trainers, farriers, vets, and business managers, and everyone’s role is vital, as we work in a team sport. 

Winning the Groom of the Year award was amazing. It was great to be recognized – we all put in so much hard work and the hours are long, so having that recognition meant the world to me. 


How did you get into grooming and what advice would you give to someone who wanted to get into the industry?

I have always been interested in horses. I used to ride ponies a lot and compete in British Show Jumping competitions for a while. As I got older, I began to recognize that I was probably not as good as some of the other young riders, so I decided to switch to grooming and I got a job when I was 15-years-old mucking out stables. It escalated quite quickly for me to my first full-time job as a show groom. 

I enjoyed the fact that I was still part of a team and got to ride. Being around a rider who competes at the top shows definitely gives you a buzz. My advice for the younger generation is that being a groom is hard work and it is tiring. But when something clicks and goes right – it is just an unimaginable feeling. Just keep working hard and the results will show. 


What is the best part of your job?

Winning plays a massive factor in this. I also enjoy having a new horse and learning about them or working with a younger horse and watching them develop. When they get older, and they jump in their first Grand Prix – it is a lovely feeling. I definitely feel proud to be part of this. 


How much do you enjoy coming to the Majors – The Dutch Masters, CHIO Aachen, the Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament, and CHI Geneva? In your opinion, what sets them apart from the other shows?

I really enjoy attending the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Majors as they are so well organized. They have not just thought of the riders, but they also focus on the well-being of the horses. As a groom, this is so important for us. The grooms are treated and viewed the same way as riders, and that is one of the nicest things. The atmosphere at the Majors is incredible. CHIO Aachen is one of my favourite shows to attend. The Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Majors are definitely some of the best shows in the world.


The Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping is currently celebrating its 10-year anniversary – how big an impact has it had on the sport?

I have not been around for long enough to see the change from the very beginning, but I do think that the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping has had a significant effect on the sport. It has opened doors for young riders, and grooms and provided access to different types of venues. All of the Majors are amazing. They are so well organized and hosted in great locations. They have raised the level of the sport. The Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Majors have had a significant impact on the grooms, they have really recognized us and enabled us to have a say on things. 


What has been the proudest moment in your career?

I have so many moments in my career that I am proud of. A lot of these moments are with Harry. I would say when we won team bronze at the FEI World Championships in Herning, Denmark. He [Harry] jumped an amazing clear round on the final day to secure the medal. Another highlight was the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on the first day when Harry jumped clear. I was immensely proud. 


What is the grooms’ community like? Do grooms support one another?

As grooms, we do not get a lot of time to socialize outside of the shows. All of the grooms are extremely close – we are a big friendship group. We see each other week in and week out so you form great friendships. It is a nice community of people.

It is a very supportive atmosphere as well – if you need help or are struggling, someone will come and help you. There is not a bad person in the grooming community. We are all very lucky that we have one another and that we support each other as it can get slightly overwhelming at some points. 


JOANA SCHILDKNECHT (Photo: YRA / Fabio Petroni)


What are your goals for the rest of this year, and what are your plans, dreams and ambitions for 2024?

My goal for the rest of the 2023 season is to compete in the Under-25 class at the CHI Geneva, and to compete in some 1.50m classes to qualify for the Swiss Championships next year. My first goal for 2024 is to compete in the Under-25 class in Basel. For the rest of 2024, I would like to compete for the Swiss team in 3* competitions. Hopefully, I will be able to achieve some great results at those competitions.


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

Some of the proudest moments of my career thus far have come from representing Switzerland in Nations Cups over the few past years. I am also very proud of medals that I won competing at the Swiss Championships. Competing at numerous Junior and Young Rider European Championships have been a highlight for me – although I have never medaled, I am proud of myself for having qualified for them and to have represented Switzerland.


Tell us a little about your current stable of horses and their personalities…

I currently have four older horses that compete in the bigger classes, and I also have five younger horses who are aged from five to seven-years-old. I always train and build them up myself from a young age to when they hopefully compete in the bigger classes.

One of my top horses is Catrina J; I competed her at the last two Young Rider Europeans. Victor Nn and Napoleon C are also two of my more experienced horses – with them I had my first 1.50m placements this year, and competed in a number of 2* Grands Prix and 3* shows.


At what point did you realise that you wanted to become a professional show jumper?

I knew that I wanted to become a professional show jumper from a child. My parents had a small stable, so I grew up around horses and my love for horses grew from there. The connection that you can create with a horse is extremely special and one I have always loved. I knew that I wanted to be around horses constantly and wanted to compete at shows.


You were part of the Rolex Young Riders Academy, can you tell us about the Academy and how it has helped you.

Being part of the Rolex Young Riders Academy was extremely special, it was one of the best things that has happened in my career thus far – I had an incredible time! Everything we learnt was interesting, and the connections we made were amazing. We learnt from experts in the equestrian industry, including vets, as well as having business and economic seminars. It helped me a huge amount and provided me with a huge amount of confidence. 


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 watching the Formula 1 Championships. I support Red Bull who are dominating this season.


As a young rider. What does the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping mean to you? How positive do you believe the Rolex Grand Slam is for the sport of show jumping?

I think that the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping is incredible, it brings together the most elite Grands Prix held at the most historic shows. Every rider aspires to compete in the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping. It is something special!


As a Swiss rider, what does the CHI Geneva mean to you, and how special is it to compete there?

The CHI Geneva is considered the main indoor show in Switzerland and therefore it is incredibly special to ride there. The facilities at the CHI Geneva are unbelievable; everything is so organized. The atmosphere there is amazing – I have never been to another show that compares to the CHI Geneva.

I love having the opportunity to ride with the best riders in the world. I also watch them in the warm-up arenas – you can learn do so much from doing this!


The Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping is currently celebrating its 10-year anniversary – how big an impact has it had on the sport?

The Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping has had an important impact on everyone in show jumping – from the trainers to the horses to the riders. I am too young to been aware of all of the changes, but over the last few years I have really seen the positive impact that the initiative has had.


Who has inspired you the most throughout your career? Is there one rider you idolise?

I am truly inspired by Steve Guerdat and Martin Fuchs who are fellow Swiss riders. I train with Thomas Fuchs, and sometimes I am able to train with Martin which is very special.


What is the best piece of advice you have been given?

The best advice that I have received is that it is you should always listen to your horse, and to not want too much from them. Some horses take longer to develop, and therefore you have to be patient and work with them to get the best result.


(Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Tom Lovelock) (Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Tom Lovelock)


Often considered to be one of the toughest and most prestigious show jumping competitions in the world, the CPKC ‘International’ Grand Prix, presented by Rolex held at the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament was once again a true spectacle of the world’s best equestrian talent. In total, 34 combinations from 12 nations, including five of the top 10, took on the typically massive course designed by Leopoldo Palacios.


CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament is the third Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Major in the calendar year and the second to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping.


The first round consisted of 17 fences and 12 combinations and was a true test of stamina, skill, and bravery for both horses and riders. It was third in the ring, Angelie Von Essen, who produced the first clear round of the class with her Selle Francais gelding Alcapone des Carmille. At the halfway mark, only four riders had finished the course faultless, including home favourite Tiffany Foster, who set the ‘International Ring’ alight with a foot-perfect round.


Disappointment came for the newly crowned FEI European Champion and 2021 winner of the class, Steve Guerdat, who was one of 10 riders in the class who faulted at fence 12. Shocks also came as some of the class favourites did not proceed to the second round including World No.4 Ben Maher, winner of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping, Scott Brash, and Dutch rider Harrie Smolders.


With the 12 top riders from the opening round proceeding into the next round, those who could produce a fast-four fault round would stay in contention for one of the sport’s most coveted prizes. Such riders included Canada’s Erynn Ballard and Egypt’s Nayel Nassar. In total, five riders cleared the technical course, including Rolex Testimonee Martin Fuchs who impressively jumped a portion of the course with only one stirrup after a huge jump from Leone Jei over the Canadian flag planks.


After a short break, the sold-out crowds waited with bated breath to welcome these incredible combinations back into the sun-bathed arena. Combinations returned in reverse order from the first round, with any combinations that tied on scores after this round proceeding to the jump-off. Only one rider on four faults from the opening round put pressure on those who carried forward zero faults, this was Mexico’s Andres Azcarraga, who looked pure class, breezing the course inside the time limit of 77 seconds. To the delight and cheers of the fans, Tiffany Foster was first to jump a double clear, and set the standard for the remaining three riders. Rolex Testimonee, Martin Fuchs, a double Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Major winner ensured that there would be a jump-off, meanwhile heartbreak came for the last to enter the arena, Fuchs’ fellow Testimonee Bertram Allen, who faulted at CPKC triple, meaning that just two would jump-off.


Anticipation was heavy in the air with Canadian fans hoping to have their first home victory since Captin Canada’s [Ian Millar] victory in 2014. Foster produced a respectable round with just one down in a time of 44.45 seconds. As the striking grey, Leone Jei, walked through the clock-tower you could hear a pin drop. The Swiss rider flew across the ‘International Ring’, with the scopey grey showing all of this talent, to cross the finish line clear in a time of 43.58 seconds and take the victory in this prestigious class.


Speaking of his victory, Fuchs commented: “It is unbelievable to win here at this historical show – I have always wanted to win this class. My dad competed here a number of times and never won. He told me that I would have to win for us both and I am so pleased that I have been able to do so!”


The new Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping live contender, continued: “Leone Jei is incredible – he is such an amazing horse with so much talent! I have always thought he was the horse that could win this Grand Prix. It has been a perfect end to a perfect week! I haven’t had a single fault on any of my horses this week – it has been a dream come true.”


The Rolex Testimonee added: “He [Leone Jei] jumped incredibly in the first round – so well that he jumped me out of the saddle over the Canadian flag planks, and I lost my left rein and stirrup. I tried hard to get my stirrup back but had to jump three or fences before I could get it back. After the first round we had a discussion about changing his bit as he was so keen, but my dad told me that we shouldn’t do this and that I should just ride better!”



(Photo: Spruce Meadows Media) (Photo: Spruce Meadows Media)


Please you tell us about your role and what it entails?


My name is Tommy Wheeldon Jr. and I am the head coach and general manager of Cavalry FC. I have been with the team since its inception – we launched in 2018. I first met Linda [Southern-Heathcott] at the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ in September 2017, and first pitched the idea about professional soccer on the ‘International Arena’ during a course walk.


Before joining Cavalry FC how much did you know about the sport of show jumping?


Interesting, I had been to Spruce Meadows to watch my stepdaughter, Tatum, compete several times before we launched the team. She is very passionate about equestrianism, as is my wife. When I first met my wife, my stepdaughter was competing regularly, and so I learnt about the sport from them initially. Funnily enough, we had attended an event with the Calgary Flames Family Foundation, and my stepdaughter was invited to ride on what is now at ATCO Field. I remember it being a big deal for her.  So yes, I have been around horses a little bit, it was fortuitous that received an invite to join a fellow friend of mine to ‘The Masters’ in 2017.


Have you found any similarities between the sports?


There are definitely similarities between both sports. They are two sports of details. They are both about relationships; if you think about the rider and the horse – they have to trust each other, and it is similar in football your players have to have trust in the tactics, the strategy and the training.


The layer of detail in equestrianism that is required is astonishing – one error in a 60 second round could cost you the win. This is also the case is soccer, as in a 90-minute game, one error could affect the result. These are both sports of fine margins.


The utmost professionalism is needed in both sports. For example, if you look at a show jumping, and the training and care that is taken after a horse it is so impressive. This also transcends to soccer in the way that our players are taken care of – from their diet to the way that they train. There are a lot of crossovers.


Equestrian has the Majors as does Tennis and Golf, what would you consider the four Majors of football?


Wembley Stadium has to be high up on the list as one of the four Majors of football. I would say the New Camp Stadium, although I have never been there. They are renovating it now so it will definitely be a special stadium to go to. Also, the Estadio Azteca in Mexico, I remember going there to watch the 1986 World Cup, and the stadium being packed. The last one would have to be the San Siro stadium in Milan, Italy.  This is when I fell in love with football during the 1990 World Cup. I have had the chance to visit the stadium and it was such a wonderful place.  


Having experienced both football and equestrianism, what do you think they can learn from each other?


Equestrianism carries such a regality in the way that people dress and carry themselves – there is a reason why Rolex is involved in the sport. This is also the case with tennis for example with The Championships, Wimbledon.


I think what soccer has brought is, is that you have the same elegance when you enter Spruce Meadows but with a different fan experience. So, you get the same environment, but different experiences, which is pretty unique, especially for a place like Spruce Meadows. On one hand you have the ‘International Arena’, where riders are trying to win a Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Major where everything is quite quiet. Then you have ATCO Field where the crowd is much louder: from the first whistle to the last one, so it is really unique.

The other thing in terms of the performance is that our players now wear these GPS vests. This enables us as coaches to have a data point to see how hard the players are training and to see how fast they are running. I always speak to Ian Allison about this and ask if you would be able to monitor the horses and if they are overtraining or under training. It is always a fine margin with the detail. The use of technology could be an interesting crossover. I realise that there are timing gates but it would be interesting to monitor the health of horses as well.


Being located at a venue such as Spruce Meadows, where they keep innovating to get better, how does that motivate you and your team to keep improving?


I think Mrs. Southern-Heathcott said it best, this is a place of excellence that goes above and beyond. I think it defines what Spruce Meadows is. When you walk through the gates into Spruce Meadows, you feel the excellence. I have always been a believer that when you are at the top of the game, you change the game. I think, week in week out, year in year out, the Southern family and the Spruce Meadows leadership team are always trying to add another layer of excellence. It is just amazing to be part of this.

What we have tried to do on the soccer side is to be motivated to try and be the best. We are currently at the top of our league. I think we have won the most regular season points out of any team, and this  is the environment we have created. We have sustained the best winning record over five years, when we play at home. The environment that the team plays in is always key to performance and that is what Spruce Meadows has created.


Have you ever watched the CPKC ‘International’ Grand Prix, presented by Rolex here, and what did you think the atmosphere and level of competition were like – how this compare to when you play your matches?


Yes! I was invited as my friend was a Vice President of Telus and he invited me to meet Ian Allison and Linda Southern-Heathcott. The first thing that I said to Linda was how great the grass was! Soccer is a game has always been played on beautiful grass. Unfortunately in this country, you have to play on a lot of artificial surface but Spruce Meadows has the natural grass. So similar to Wimbledon, we pride ourself on that.


My follow up question to Linda was have you ever thought of playing a sponsored match? I noticed all the Rolex clocks, the WestJet signage – there were numerous respectable brands, and to me it looked like a soccer stadium. Linda asked how heavy my athletes were, to which I replied around 50-90kg each, and she said well our horses are 1,200 pounds so I am sure we can take 22 players on here, no problem.


It was just a passing comment at the time, but my friend had a meeting with her the following week, and he mentioned how there was a professional soccer league coming to Canada. Linda wanted to know the purpose. They have always been a family driven by purpose, and the purpose of this was  to help Canadians, and it just lit a match with her, as that was exactly how equestrianism was built by Mr. and Mrs. Southern. They decided to build a pathway for Canadians when there was not one in show jumping. Nowadays, Canada is competing in the Olympics, because there are places to come like Spruce Meadows that strive to be the best. So when the same message was given about helping Canadians, the family was inspired by it.


Regarding the atmosphere, the first thing I noticed was the glamour of it all, it is definitely a first-class venue. The intensity is what surprised me because I was expecting the crowd to be polite with only clap quietly. The anticipation was what really surprised me – you hold breath for the length of the round, and then when there is a clear round, everyone just lets out this sigh of relief. I thought that was incredible because I have not experienced anything like that in all the sports I have experienced and played.


During the summer, Spruce Meadows hosts both football and equestrian events, are there people that go to both – do you notice a cross over of fans?


I think that there is a cross over of fans, you can come to the same location and experience something totally different. There are people that have been to the Spruce Meadows International Christmas Market that have not been to  ‘The Masters’. Similarly, there are fans that attend a Cavalry FC game that have not experienced the equestrian events. I think that now people see Spruce Meadows as a destination. Now, I think people visit the grounds for the day and end up catching some of the high-performance show jumping before a football game so it is definitely starting to amalgamate.


Spruce Meadows has had a long history with the horse – Cavalry FC is now  five years old, how have you seen the sport grow here and how to you hope it grows over the next five years?


I think that we have stayed true to the original purpose of creating a pathway for Canadians to reach the highest level in the sport. Within our five years of the club, we have seen four players compete in the Canadian national team. This opportunity would not have happened if the club had not existed. I think the next goal will be for us to create a unique and world class soccer experience. Over the next 10 years, and especially with the 2026 World Cup coming through the US, Mexico, and Canada, I think that the game will continue to evolve in terms of participation but also in terms of interest of an audience spectacle.

Much like in equestrian where the horse and rider compete, fans often only see the players on the pitch, but there is so much going on behind the scenes that makes the players, can you tell us about your team.

It is interesting because just recently I was nominated as manager of the month in our league. In my opinion, it is an award for all the staff and the players that are committed to our process. This is turning up on time early in the morning to have a team breakfast to build camaraderie, to placing emphasis on developing our technique, to the physiotherapists that ensure that our athletes remain healthy, to our sport scientists who develop our tactics. There is so much behind the scenes that leads to our success. Our supporters also play a part, this season we had a very slow start to the season where we have had five ties in a row, but they still support us. I think it is a record that we have not won for five games, but we have also not lost. It was quite bizarre.

When the team is doing well, the players get the accolades and rightly so, but when the team is not doing well the coach is questioned. It is the only environment, I think, where the work that you do throughout the week is judged on the outcome of a 90-minute game. All the work you do behind closed doors is all in preparation for what the fans see on the weekend.



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


Can you please explain your official role and what this entails?


I am the course designer here at Spruce Meadows, and I have been working here for over 25 years. To be a good course designer you need to have a lot of experience in the sport, and you need to be able to create brilliant competition through your courses. I have a fantastic team that helps me and ensures that we provide the best course possible.


To ensure that the level of the sport continues to grow, it is vital that the horses are looked after, and so it’s a fine line between what is achievable for the horses and riders and what will push the sport forward.


What is so special about the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament?


I consider Spruce Meadows to be my home, and I consider the Southern family to be my family. I have been working here for over 25 years and in my opinion, there is nowhere quite like it. The team is extremely special, and the level of detail and planning that goes into the event is incredibly impressive.


As a course designer, there can be a lot of pressure to build a great course that lives up to the standards of Spruce Meadows, but the team here places their trust and confidence in my work.


The CPKC ‘International’ Grand Prix, presented by Rolex at the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament is often considered to be one of the toughest courses in the world, what makes it so unique?


As a course designer, you have to consider a number of factors including the height and width of the fences, the time allowed, the layout of the course, the design of the fences, and the slope of the ring. It is important for us to focus on all aspects and ensure that a balance is achieved – this is what makes a good Grand Prix – and it is a balance that I think we have achieved here at Spruce Meadows.


We [course designers] can be compared to choreographers – we want to ensure that the class is a true spectacle for those who are watching. We try to get the balance right for everyone, from the horses and riders to the fans.


In the past, I have designed courses for the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney and the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. In my opinion, the course for the CPKC ‘International’ Grand Prix, presented by Rolex, here in Spruce Meadows is bigger and harder than the Olympic courses.


Can you please give us some insight into the course? 


It is a very testing course. In the first round, there will be 13 fences with one triple and double, and in the second round there are 12 fences with one triple and double again – it is a lot of jumping. The spreads and the height of the fences will be very big as well! Here at Spruce Meadows, we have a collection of fences that come from every Olympic Games and Major championship since 1974, so the course always looks amazing.


During the CPKC ‘International’ Grand Prix, presented by Rolex, here at Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament, I use fences that have not been jumped during the previous classes for example; the double of Liverpool’s, the dry ditch and the water jump.


The Grand Prix is a different type of course from the Nations Cup course which is more classic. In my opinion, the CPKC ‘International’ is more demanding on the horses and riders, and the purpose of this class is to emphasise the impressive skills of the horse and rider combinations and provide great sport for the fans.


How important is it to have the best riders competing here at Spruce Meadows?


In this year’s edition of the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament, we have six out of the top 10 riders in the world competing. The event attracts the best in the world, and this allows me as the course designer to be creative when testing the level of the horse and riders. The course needs to be challenging, especially the second round. In the second round, the 12 best riders from the first round compete; they really are the crème de la crème of the sport, and with this level of talent, I can truly test them with my course.


The line that contains the double Liverpool will be challenging – it is a special feature for the CPKC ‘International’ Grand Prix, presented by Rolex, here at Spruce. Whilst I like to use this feature every year, I differ it slightly year on year. It is my job to come up with new and innovative ideas for the course each year – which is not easy!


The Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. How positive has it been? 


I have seen a change over the last 10 years. Rolex has helped the sport exponentially – all of the best riders in the world aim to ride in these Majors. It is truly remarkable to have the world’s best riders competing to win these Majors.


At Spruce Meadows, we had the privilege of witnessing Scott Brash being the first and only rider to achieve the incredible feat of winning the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping back in 2015. That was a such memorable and incredible day – it is something that I will never forget.


The Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping has definitely added another level to the sport. In my opinion, there is nothing more important than the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping in the sport.


Do you have a highlight in your career?


I have experienced a number of special moments in my career, but the one that stands out is when Scott Brash won the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping here at Spruce Meadows in 2015. It was truly incredible – the audience and riders were all rooting for him and wanting him to win. The atmosphere that day was something I have never experienced before!


What advice would you give someone starting in the sport as a course designer? 


My piece of advice is to love horses and to be truly passionate about what you do. You should always try to continue to learn about horsemanship as it helps you progress in the sport. I monitor the emotions of horses, analyse statistics, and observe what occurs during the show. You shouldn’t enter into this business in the hopes of being rich and successful, but you should enter for the love of the sport. It is my passion for the sport that has brought me here today.


Behind the scenes

Wednesday - Thursday - Friday - Saturday

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


On the second day of the 2023 edition of the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament, 42 of the world’s best horse and rider combinations took on Leopoldo Palacios’ stunningly designed course in the hopes of securing their place in the pinnacle class of the show, the CPKC ‘International’ Grand Prix, presented by Rolex. 


The iconic International Arena, which has played host to numerous historic moments in the sport, including Scott Brash’s incredible Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping victory in 2015, was beautifully bathed in the late summer sun. First to enter the arena, Ireland’s Conor Swail, who claimed this class last year, set the standard for the remaining combinations with a perfectly judged clear round. It was only five horses later that the newly crowned FEI European Champion and Rolex Testimonee, Steve Guerdat, ensured that there would be a jump-off as he mastered the technical course aboard the impressive gelding Albfuehren’s Maddox. 


The world-class field truly impressed the knowledgeable Canadian crowd with a total of 15 riders clearing the 1.55m, 12 combination course faultlessly. The elite list of riders included the winner of the ATCO Cup earlier in the day, Martin Fuchs, and Britain's Matthew Sampson, a regular winner at the venue. The crowd also were thrilled to see Canadian riders Mario Deslauriers and Erynn Ballard finish the first-round fault-free.


Three combinations elected not to return to the jump-off, meaning that 12 combinations proceeded to the jump-off. Entering the ring in the same order that they jumped in the first round, it was second to go, Switzerland’s Steve Guerdat, who jumped the first double clear of the class in a time of 44.27 seconds and set the pace for those to follow. However, fourth into the arena Richard Vogel with the big striding stallion, United Touch S, eclipsed Guerdat’s lead with a time of 43.07 seconds. The pressure was then on the remaining competitors to match the time set by the young German rider. America’s Natalie Dean came closest to taking the title away from Vogel, but eventually crossed the finish line in a time of 43.63 seconds to take second place. 


Speaking on his victory Vogel stated: “I feel amazing! My horse jumped incredibly – I think he really likes the ring here. He jumped superbly in the first round and gave me a great feeling in the jump-off. The size of the arena here suits him very well, he has so much scope and such a big stride so I can leave out strides without ever chasing him. We tried our best and luckily it was enough to take the win.”


Commenting on his plan for the CPKC ‘International’ Grand Prix, presented by Rolex, the German continued: “I was planning on competing him in the class tomorrow to get him used to the ring, as it is his first time at Spruce Meadows. The arena here is so unique – you do not get the opportunity to ride in one like this very often! He felt so confident and jumped so well, so now I have to decide if don’t jump him until Sunday or if I stick to my original plan.”



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


How has planning been going for this year’s event?


The planning for the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament has been going extremely well. We have had several capital projects that we undertook and these are now all completed. The place looks beautiful and we are ready for the world to join us.


Is there anything new that the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament has introduced this year? Will you be doing anything special to mark the 10th anniversary of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping?


We have introduced new seating for our guests, with new seats on the East Side. We are currently building a restaurant that will not be ready until 2025 as it is still under construction. We have put in tables and seats in the West Grandstand, have been working on the footing, and have introduced new footing in the warm-up ring for the international horses. We also have a new tunnel, and have put in drainage for the warm-up footing. There has been lots of things happening and changing!

The main business for Spruce Meadows is the horse, and our show jumping events, but our venues are built to be versatile. We host business meetings along with business council meetings, tours and a large Christmas market. We were ranked fourth in the world for our international Christmas market. We have indoor tournaments as well as a big dog show in the summer where 3,000 dogs compete. At Christmas time we have a beautiful drive-through light program, so people can drive the venue and enjoy the beautiful holiday lights.  

On Sunday during the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament, we'll be doing a tribute to the horse and to the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping as well as launching the CPKC ‘International’, presented by Rolex.


The Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping is celebrating its 10-year anniversary. How has the initiative positively impacted Spruce Meadows as a show?


The Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping has impacted us immensely through the collaboration of such a wonderful partner, Rolex, but also with other venues. It ensured that we continually push ourselves to be better and to create new opportunities. As organisers of the four Majors, we are all aligned as far as any safety protocols and on the treatment and welfare of the horses. We all have an ESG program, and create ESG reports.  I think overall, we were leaders in the space before, but we are even stronger now with the partnership because we are all working together.


What has been your personal highlight from the first 10 years of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping?


My personal highlight which is near and dear to my heart is Scott Brash winning the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping, because it happened at Spruce Meadows. What remains the most memorable to me was that as he came down the last line, which is the double of Liverpools beside the end gate, all of the riders were out watching and cheering for him. That was a really special moment because riders do not always cheer other riders on due the nature of competitions. In this case, they really, truly wanted him to win.


What is your advice to someone who wants to get into the sporting events industry?


The best advice I could give is that patience is key; nothing is built in a year or two years, you have to stay committed. Patience is key when you are working for excellence, but you cannot achieve this in a couple of years; you have to have the patience to continually try to improve, and then you will eventually see success. So, I think patience is the one word.


For you, as well as the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament, what are the key components that make a successful sporting event, or sporting major?


Teamwork. You have to have a strong team with you and around you. You need to be able to  successfully communicate what the vision is, but it is the teamwork that helps you be successful.

So here at Spruce Meadows, we have 95 full-time employees. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we lost all of our office staff but we have a full complement of office staff again, and they are doing a fabulous job.


Like the tennis legends Nadal, Federer and Djokovic, who have dominated the tennis world and its Majors, how important is it to the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament to have the best in the world competing at your event?


Well, obviously it is of most importance to have the best horses and riders competing here. The challenge for Spruce Meadows is always the calendar. For example, this year when the flight came over from Europe with the horses, it conflicted with the FEI European Championships. Sadly, that means that some of those horses are not able to compete. But this year, we still have six of the top 10 in the world coming here to compete. I believe that if we can continue to offer the best, then we will continue to see the best come.


The CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament, is often considered to be the leading equestrian venue in North America, how do you ensure that you continue to innovate and adapt to ensure you maintain this status?


For us, we look at four stakeholders, and we try and improve the experience for at least one of the stakeholders every year. Our stakeholders are the sponsors, the media, the athletes, and the fans. In terms of improvements, it may be redoing the skyboxes for the sponsors, changing the footing for the athletes or offering unique experiences for the fans. If we continue to attract the top riders then the media will continue to write and report about them, which is also very important.


Do you and the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament organisers take inspiration from any of sport’s other major competitions, e.g., in tennis or golf?


We absolutely do take inspiration from other major competitions. It is slightly different over here in North America than compared to in Europe and England as we want to vie for the front page. So, it is important for us to understand who is on the front page, is it football or is it the US Open right now? That is what we are vying for, so we have to continue to create great stories for the media to report on.

Additionally, we travel the world, not only to show jumping events but to tennis, golf, and Formula One events, to observe what they are doing to continually improve the experience for the fans. It is very important for us and we take one group and try and improve their experience each year.



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


Can you introduce yourself, tell us who you work for, and what your role is?


My name is Kerry Finch, and I have been working with John Whitaker for five years as his travelling groom.


Tell us a little a bit about your journey to the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament


We flew over to Calgary after competing at the Brussels Stephex Masters in Belgium. We stayed at Helena Stormann’s in Eschweiler for five days after Stephex, before travelling onto Canada. My journey to the airport only took an hour which was great – I arrived there at 3.00am to check on the horses before they flew. After that, I travelled from Brussels to Paris to catch our flight to Calgary, and we arrived two-and-a-half hours before the horses landed to ensure that everything was okay.


How important is the whole team – vets, farriers etc. – in ensuring the success of the team?


It is extremely important – there is definitely a strong team aspect, as without everybody pulling together and doing their job, we would not be successful. It is vital for every team member to constantly coordinate with one another to ensure that everyone is kept in the loop. Everyone plays a crucial role in ensuring the health and wellbeing of these horses; it is not just the people who attend the shows, it’s also everyone that remains at home.


Can you tell us about the horses that you have brought with you and what their characters are like?


We have brought three horses with us to the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament, and they are Equine America Unick du Francport, Sharid, and Green Grass.


Unick du Francport is very special in his own way and very quiet. You cannot be sharp around him, you have to remain quiet as he is quite a sensitive horse in that respect. At the same time, he knows what he wants, and does what he wants. If you are hand grazing him and he sees a spot of grass that he wants, he will head there and will not go where you want until he gets his way. Otherwise he is a really easy horse to look after.


Then there is Sharid, who travels with him [Equine America Unick du Francport] – they have travelled together for nearly three-and-a-half years now. They know each other really well and have a habit of whinnying after each other but they do not stress out if one has left the stable. Sharid is another lovely horse to look after; he loves to sleep. You know that something is not right when he does not go back to bed after breakfast to sleep on the floor! He is definitely a gold medallist when it comes to sleeping. He can be a bit sharp when John gets on him so I have candies available to help settle him. He has become so used to this routine that now he just stands there looking at me whilst expecting a treat. Horses learn very quickly.


Then there is Green Grass, he loves food and rolling! All the horses are lovely; they all have different personalities. They are spoilt really!


What are the facilities like for both yourself as a groom and the horses at the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament?


There is no other show that can compare to the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament in the world. CHIO Aachen is an incredible show that is brilliant to attend, but Spruce Meadows enters a whole new level. There is so much space in the stables, and paddocks that we can turn the horses out in – everything is incredibly clean and tidy. They also provide shuttle services for the grooms which makes life easier. The organisers have provided areas where we can hand walk the horses, and we are not restricted to certain areas. The facilities are just top class here at Spruce Meadows.

There is no other show in the world that will go above and beyond what they do. I have attended the show in the past when it has snowed, and straight away they began shovelling the show by hand. I was also here in 2005 when it rained for two weeks straight – I have never seen anything like it. They were proactive by pumping water off the main rings. The ground held up so well so we were able to still jump on it. When you have a problem they sort it – it is truly one of my favourite shows!


How much do you enjoy coming to the Majors – The Dutch Masters, CHIO Aachen, Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’, and CHI Geneva? In your opinion, what sets them apart from the other shows?


I have actually been doing this job for nearly 30 years, and I have never actually attended The Dutch Masters, however CHI Geneva is a beautiful indoor show, and CHIO Aachen is just incredible! All of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Majors go above and beyond. They set up areas where the grooms can get coffee and other similar things as well, and if there is a problem they do everything they can to help solve it.


How special it to be part of John Whitaker’s team?


I initially joined John Whitaker’s team as a freelance, and I was only supposed to be with him for a month but I never left. Previously, before joining John, I worked for Michael [Whitaker] for 13 years. I also worked with Billy Twomey for six years. It is really easy working for John; everything is really old school and simple. If you find a bridle that works for a horse, you do not change it. My horse has had the same bridle for the last three-and-a-half years – that is kind of how it works. Things are simple, and if there is a problem we just deal with it. Everything is just really old school. We are not into having horses treated every six weeks but if they need treatment, they will receive it.

John is 68-years-old now and he does not stop when he is back at home. He is up in the morning tacking his own horses up and riding them. Afterwards, he then looks after the cows and the hay on the farm or anything that needs mending or fixing on the farm.

He is really humble; nothing goes to his head. If anyone approaches him for an autograph, he will always stop and talk to them for five minutes. It is never too much for him.


What qualities do you think that John has that has meant he has been so successful for so long?


John does not give up; he just keeps going. There is no determination to out prove anyone or anything; it is just the way he is. He is someone that gets on with it, and who continually keeps going. I think the day he stops will be the day that the world does not have a John Whitaker. Age does not define him!


Five years ago, John bought Equine America Unick Du Francport who was quite the character. He was difficult and would stop and spin when things upset him. John did not have a Grand Prix horse at that time, Argento was at the end of his career, so we were not entering into the big competitions. Afterwards, it was two years of grafting, doing all the tours and the county shows in order for Equine America Unick Du Francport to settle down. John was determined, and kept on going until the penny dropped.  If you look at them now, they are unstoppable. In the last few years, they have formed quite the partnership.


What advice would you give to someone who wanted to get into industry?


A lot of people come into the industry for the money but it is important to be passionate for the job and not look at the hours of it. It is as difficult as it sounds; you are there for the horses. It is a way of life and not just a job. You have to put your heart and soul into it for it to be done properly. It is not easy!

You cannot think that you are better than anybody else. The mantra should be that if you do not know, you should ask for help.  A lot of younger grooms that come in today that do not want to take advice from the older grooms – but they should be like a sponge learning from everyone around them. I learnt from doing exactly this. The first time I flew to Spruce Meadows, I had never flown with horses before – I was only 20-years-old and I learnt from all of the other grooms around me.


What is the grooms’ community like? Do grooms support one another?


Overall, it is a supportive community. This year, in Spruce Meadows, there are 16 of us from Europe and we all arrange together what time we get the shuttle to do night checks. Some people only have one horse here, and they are always happy to help out those who have a few! It is the simple things that are important. For example, I have asked someone to help me during the Nations Cup parade. Everyone is really helpful, and this is very important in the grooming industry. 

Steve Guerdat (Credit : Rolex Grand Slam / Ashley Neuhof) Steve Guerdat (Credit Photo : Rolex Grand Slam / Ashley Neuhof)

CSIO Spruce Meadows 'Masters' - Rider Watch


The Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping returns to the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament from 6-10 September 2023, with the CPKC ‘International’, presented by Rolex, taking place on the Sunday – acting as a fitting finale to a thrilling five days of sporting excellence. The show will welcome some of the world’s best horse and rider combinations to what is often regarded as the leading equestrian venue in North America, located in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Calgary.


Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping – Rider Watch

The CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament this year will host a world-class line up, all of whom have the CPKC ‘International’, presented by Rolex, set in their sights – the third Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Major of 2023.

One of the favourite’s for taking this year’s win is the defending champion, Daniel Deusser, who finished in second place in the Rolex Grand Prix of CHIO Aachen earlier this summer, by just 0.61 seconds, aboard the magnificent Killer Queen VDM. Deusser has already experienced victory on the North American circuit this year, having had a successful run in various CSI5* classes part of the Winter Equestrian Festival at Wellington International, Florida.

Deusser is one of six Rolex Testimonees competing at the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament, with World No.4 Martin Fuchs leading the way. The Swiss has shown his class for many years, with successes including winning consecutive Rolex Grand Prix at CHI Geneva in 2019 and 2021, winning the FEI World Cup™ Final in 2022, and more recently jumping a double-clear to help secure the Swiss team win in the Mercedes-Benz Nations’ Cup at CHIO Aachen earlier this year.

Fuchs’ Swiss teammate and fellow Rolex Testimonee, Steve Guerdat, will also be making the journey to Canada, looking for a repeat of his 2021 performance, where he claimed the prestigious CPKC ‘International’, presented by Rolex title. Guerdat has not missed a Major throughout the 10-year existence of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping.  Kent Farrington was second to Guerdat in the 2021 CPKC ‘International’ presented by Rolex, and is looking to go one better, two years on. As a regular at the Calgary venue, Farrington and his team of horses have the advantage of knowing the arena and most importantly, how to win there – having already picked up three wins in CSI5* classes at Spruce Meadows this summer.

British rider, Scott Brash, will undoubtedly have fond memories of this venue, due to it being the place where he made history, becoming the first – and only rider to date – to win the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping in 2015, after sealing his third consecutive Major win in the CPKC ‘International’, presented by Rolex, a class he went on to win again in 2016. Brash will also be joined by London 2012 and Tokyo 2020 Olympic teammate, Ben Maher. Maher, who won individual gold in Tokyo, suffered a shoulder injury at the beginning of the year, but bounced back remarkably quickly to secure a second-place finish at his first big show back, in the Rolex Grand Prix at the Royal Windsor Horse Show. Maher has gone on to have a brilliant 2023 season, with his most recent success story being the part he played in the winning FEI Nations’ Cup™ team at Hickstead in July. Also part of that team, and joining Brash and Maher in Calgary, will be John Whitaker, one of Britain’s most decorated riders, having competed in 39 World and European Championships, as well as on six Olympic teams in his long and remarkable career.

The home crowd will be delighted to welcome several Canadian riders to the stage, with many hopes of bringing the CPKC ‘International’ Grand Prix, presented by Rolex title home resting on the highest-ranked Canadian rider, Tiffany Foster. Foster has already had two CSI5* wins at Spruce Meadows this summer, showing she knows what it takes to deliver in the grand arena. Other Canadian challengers include Amy Millar, whose father Ian was the last Canadian to win the Spruce Meadows Major on Dixson in 2014, as well as Erynn Ballard and Mario Deslauriers.

The European presence at the show will be headlined by World No.3 Harrie Smolders, who has secured podium placings in many esteemed competitions this year, after getting off to a strong start by claiming the CSI5* Nab Bliksembeveiliging Prize at his hometown Major show, The Dutch Masters, back in March. Smolders finished in second place at the FEI World CupTM Finals in both 2022 and 2023, firmly cementing his name in the pool of riders with the upmost talent. Another one to watch is Pieter Devos, winner of the Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Major in 2013. Devos, named Rider of the Year in Belgium in 2020, was part of the bronze medal winning team at the Tokyo Olympic Games, so knows how to ride in pressurized circumstances.

The Irish flag will be flown by Darragh Kenny and Connor Swail, as well as Rolex Testimonee Bertram Allen. Top 10 rider Swail has had recent success at Jumping International de Dinard in July, where he won both the Prix du Conseil Departemental d’Ille & Vilaine and the Prix L’Eperon – Charles de Cazanove. Allen has also had a successful season to date and having won two CSI5* classes at the Dublin Horse Show earlier this month, he will be travelling to Calgary with high levels of confidence.

Course designer Leopoldo Palacios will undoubtedly set a challenge for the horse and rider combinations competing in the CPKC ‘International’ Grand Prix, presented by Rolex this year. The field of competitors is set to be comprised of some of the very best, and it is sure to be a spectacle to watch them battle it out in the ultimate quest to become the next Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping winner.



The CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament will once again welcome the world’s best horse and rider combinations to Calgary, Canada for five days of intense show jumping competition from 6-10 September 2023. Based in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, Spruce Meadows is considered to be one of North American’s premier equestrian venues. Spectators attending the show will  not only experience spectacular scenery but thrilling competition, alluring shopping, and inspiring entertainment.

The CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament will be the second Major to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping, with celebrations beginning at CHIO Aachen in June, exactly 10 years after the first Major took place. Within this, the focal point of the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament, the CPKC ‘International’, presented by Rolex, the third Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Major of 2023, will provide a fitting conclusion to five days of sporting excellence.

Aside from the world class show jumping on display, the Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament provides spectators with various different activities to keep everyone entertained. The beloved MARKT will be featuring again, providing a great opportunity to purchase everything from fine art to equine products. One can easily be enthralled and captivated whilst browsing the stalls of the 150 vendors attending.

Throughout the week, the Blacksmith World Championships will take place in the Behind Equi-Plex arena. The daily competitions are a brilliant opportunity to witness the great skill, precision and accuracy required through the categories of forge work, blade-smithing, and wielding. In addition, equine inspired demonstrations and live entertainment will take place daily, varying from a live tutorial held by Jonathan Field on the topic of Horsemanship, to demonstrations held by Canadian, Pia Formuller, on Grand Prix Dressage, and Vaulting demonstrated by the Diamond Willow Vaulting Club. Prepare to come away amazed and full of knowledge!

Furthermore, there will be opportunities throughout the week for members of the public to be able to visit members of The Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians) Mounted Troop, The Musical Ride of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment and The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery, both situated in the East and West Meadows.

Wednesday will see the start of the 5* jumping classes, with both the Cardel Homes Cup and the TELUS Cup being held in the spectacular International Ring, which has benefitted from an ungraded grandstand for the 2023 event. The TELUS Cup provides the first chance for riders to qualify for the prestigious CPKC ‘International’, presented by Rolex on the Sunday.

Friday celebrates once again the fans favourite: the WESTJEST Evening of the Horse. This spectacular performance will dazzle fans with appearances by the Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians) and The Musical Ride of the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment, with the Tourmaline Oil Cup and ATCO Electric Six Bar providing top-class international show jumping. To add to the occasion, the skies of Calgary shall be illuminated by a crescendo of sound and colour, with live music and fireworks during the finale.

Saturday 9 September will be a showcase of passion and teamwork with the BMO Nations’ Cup. The team format competition will see the world’s best show jumpers come together to represent their countries, with eight nations going head to head over a possible two rounds of competition.

The CPKC ‘International’, presented by Rolex will take center stage in the International Ring on Sunday 10 September. It is considered as one of the sport’s toughest tests, requiring the greatest levels of precision, harmony and bravery from horse and rider. Course designer, Leopoldo Palacios, will undoubtedly create a brilliant challenge that will result in a captivating and gripping watch for the crowds attending the show. The competition is expected to be fierce, with numerous former Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Major winners in the field, including last year’s triumphant Rolex Testimonee Daniel Deusser.

Calgary, Alta  Sep, 6, 2022 Preparing for the Masters.  Spruce Meadows Masters. Mike Sturk photo. Calgary, Alta Sep, 6, 2022 Preparing for the Masters. Spruce Meadows 'Masters'. Mike Sturk photo.

Daniel Deusser -  Spruce Meadows 'Masters' 2022 (Credit Photo : Rolex Grand Slam / Ashley Neuhof)

Congratulations, on another great result at CHIO Aachen – how pleased were you with Killer Queen VDM’s performance?


I was incredibly pleased with Killer Queen VDM’s performance. The Rolex Grand Prix at CHIO Aachen is one of the biggest competitions in the world. For many years, Killer Queen has showed me that she can be very present at all of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Majors, especially at Aachen. She won two years ago at Aachen (2021), she was fourth there last year (2022), and second again this year - I could not have asked for more! Of course, I could have gone a little faster this year to try and win, but I thought we still put a lot of pressure on other riders in the jump-off, and Killer Queen gave her all and her absolute best on the day.


How do you feel about returning to the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament as last year’s champion?


I am really looking forward to it. Before 2022, I hadn’t jumped at the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament for a couple of years, because I didn't really think I had the right horse. Of course, I wanted to compete well last year, but I did not go to Spruce Meadows with the expectation to win the CPKC 'International', presented by Rolex. However, Killer Queen felt excellent in the ring, she likes the big grass arena, and jumped well enough to win.. So, this year I am going to Spruce Meadows with hope and a dose of confidence, considering she has already very jumped well at Aachen this year.


Obviously, I cannot really rely on, or expect to do well, just because the last couple of years have been good, but at least Killer Queen likes the arena in Calgary, and she has been there before. I think she is on good form right now, and I am very much looking forward to going back to Spruce Meadows.


Please can you tell us a bit about how the horses travel to international shows such as Spruce Meadows? How do you ensure the horses arrive in the best possible condition, ready to compete?


Most horses fly to events like that, and basically go in ‘containers’. The containers are essentially double box stables, so it is a similar environment to what the horses are used to travelling in when they go by truck from show to show here in Europe. Even if the journey is a little longer compared to the closer shows, we have never really had a problem with the horses when travelling by plane; it is quieter, and the horses can relax more in the bigger stable box, either by standing or lying down, so it's not really a big deal for them. Being in the air is also a little smoother for the horses compared to travelling by truck.


Apart from that, I send my groom, Sean Lynch*, to travel with the horses every time. Sean knows the horses inside and out – he spends more time with them than I do and so I'm actually not worried about the travel to Spruce at all. I know Sean has everything under control, and the flight company takes really good care of the horses.


The course there is often considered one of the toughest in the sport. How do you prepare yourself and your horse for the challenge?


To be honest, you cannot be 100% prepared. The difference with Spruce Meadows is that the jumps are slightly old fashioned, in the sense that in Europe we jump a lot of skinny jumps that are a maximum of three metres wide, whereas in Spruce Meadows, a lot of the poles are five or six metres wide. That means when going into a jump, the horse gets a totally different impression due to the combination of the height of the fences and the wing width.


A lot of the shows in Europe are on smaller sand arenas, whereas Spruce Meadows is a big grass arena, which creates a totally different situation for the horses. In the last couple of years, Spruce Meadows have bought one or two new jumps, but the jumps are slightly historical because some of the fences you jump there nowadays are still the same, even after 20 years. They are very impressive jumps. The course designer at Spruce Meadows, Leopoldo Palacios, mostly builds courses there and he knows the ring inside and out, he knows exactly what can distract the horses and what is difficult to jump. He also includes a few natural jumps, which you don't see at many shows anymore, like a double water jump. This makes the whole Spruce Meadows package very, very special – because it’s something you don’t get anywhere else in the world.


How important is your wider team, for example grooms, vets etc. in your success?


When it comes to success, I think the wider team are just as important as the rider or the horse. Of course, you need to be a very good rider and you need to have an excellent relationship with a quality horse, but it is just as important to have a strong team behind you - a team who takes care of the horses at home, and a groom who knows the horses backwards, so they know what could be wrong after seeing only the smallest sign of unusual behaviour. I think when looking at everything together, it's very difficult to say who is more important, but it is so important to have a strong team including the grooms, the vets, the physios and for example, someone who rides the horses and trains them when I am away at shows. So, to have success, you need the whole package. I am lucky, because I've got a very good team.


What do you think are the attributes that a horse and rider must have to be able to win a Major?


First of all, a horse needs to have the ability to jump the big jumps. We have a lot of competitions during the year, and at most of the shows, the 1.60m competitions take place on a Sunday, towards the end. However, the four Majors are the top competitions in the world, so sometimes, they often go one hole bigger and are 1.65m high, and the jumps are a little wider than all the other shows too. To win a Major, you and your horse really need to have some kind of experience. I think it's very uncommon that a rider with a new horse, or a very young horse, is able to win one of the Majors. Besides experience, you need a horse with a lot of power, because the Majors are always made up of two or three rounds, and you must be able to go faster in the jump-off. The communication between the horse and rider needs to be very well adjusted, which comes with experience.


The Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping is celebrating its 10-year anniversary – how much influence has this initiative had on the sport over the past 10 years?


I think the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping has changed the sport completely. It is a series that everyone looks forward to, and a series that riders plan their year around so that they can compete at the four Majors. The extra bonus that you are able to win makes it the most prestigious competition of the year. The fact that only one rider has won the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping in the last 10 years, by winning three  Majors in a row, proves how hard a challenge it is and provides a lot of intent and motivation to the other riders to try and win it.


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


It comes with experience and it depends on your goals. For example, this year, we have the European Championships one week before Spruce Meadows. I decided to go to Spruce Meadows because it’s a very big goal of mine to win once again in Calgary, and to also try and win the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping. I've been very close to winning it a couple of times, as I have won two Majors in a row, but there have just been little pieces missing. For example, when I have been too early in the order of the jump-off, or perhaps I was just too slow in the jump-off, so, for me, the motivation is there, and I'm really motivated to try and win the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping, especially with horses like Killer Queen VDM or Scuderia 1918 Tobago Z. From the start of the year, it was very clear I wanted to plan towards Spruce Meadows this year.


The Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping provides a chance for two young riders to compete in each Major, how important is this in inspiring the next generation of top riders?


It’s very important. The Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Majors represent the top of the sport, and even if you don't win a Major straight away, you gain a lot of experience and you can also learn a lot from other competitors in the Majors. I was not able to ride as a junior or young rider in these competitions, so I can only talk about my experience, and that is that the older we get, the more we learn about horses. The older we get, the more we learn about the sport, and how you can develop a horse and get better as an athlete. I think in that way, it's important to be to be part of these competitions as much as you can - I've learned a lot.


Show Jumping is one of the only sports in the world where men and women compete against each other – how special is this?


I think it makes the sport even more interesting, because as a Show Jumping athlete, there is absolutely no advantage or disadvantage in being a man or a woman. It is possible for every Show Jumping athlete to develop a bond with their horse and train them, and an advantage can only be gained through experience, but it’s not down to whether the rider is a woman or a man - it's an equal game, and the fact that we can all do this together is very special. It's a nice sport to do.


Much like The Championships, Wimbledon in Tennis and The Masters in Golf, Spruce Meadows is a Major. What is about the Majors in sport that is so special and why are they so important? Can you compare the similarities between the tennis and golf Majors and show jumping Majors.


I've never been to a Golf Major, but I've been to Roland-Garros for the last two years. If you have never been to Roland Garros, it's very difficult to describe the atmosphere there, but it gets you thinking about the differences between Show Jumping and Tennis, and how you can compare the two. Of course, it's a little different because an individual Tennis match is always about two/four players, and the crowd is either supportive of one or the other. Whereas in Show Jumping, we have a lot of competitors, usually about 40 in one Major. where everyone gets only a little bit of time in the ring, maybe two-and-a-half or three minutes, compared to a tennis player who has maybe two or three hours to turn a match around, in Show Jumping if you lose it in the first 20 seconds, it’s done and you cannot win anymore.


I think what’s special is the history behind the Grand Slams and the Majors, whatever sport it is, whether it’s Tennis, Golf or Show Jumping. I feel proud to be in a generation that is part of the Grand Slams. It motivates you to try and win because of the history, and because of people you admire, maybe who won the Grand Slams 20-years-ago, and now you're able to compete or now you are actually trying to win.


As a youngster I was always a big fan of Show Jumping, especially at Aachen and Spruce Meadows, I would watch on TV and admire those that were winning at the time. The fact that you can take their place now and win one of the Majors is a very big thing, and that makes it very, very important.



*Find out all you want to know about Sean Lynch in our latest Podcast, Rolex Grand Slam Talks: In The Groom Eyes.







Stargold (Photo : Private archive)

The stallion who lives up to his name Stargold

The Oldenburg stallion, Stargold (Stakkato Gold - Charme x Lord Weingard, bred by Gestüt Sprehe GmbH), produced four clear-rounds out of five in the two most important classes at the CHIO Aachen. In the first round of the Mercedes-Benz Nations' Cup, he and Marcus Ehning picked-up eight faults, but in the second round they jumped clear. In the prestigious Rolex Grand Prix, they rode an impressive three clear rounds and, as the last rider to go in the jump-off, set the fastest time, claiming victory of the historic Major. What is the story behind Stargold?

Holsteiner roots

Stargold's pedigree takes us to Schleswig-Holstein, more specifically to the town of Haselau and Hetlingen. It was in Haselau that most of the stallions stood which formed the early generations of the motherline of Stargold. The line was formed by the breeder Hans Hatje from Hetlingen, and has produced top-quality horses for over 40 years. In 1980, Canaris 17 (Calando I - Ditlena x Ladykiller, breeder: Hans Hatje) was born. This gelding had more than 140 placings at 1.40m and above and jumped at 1.55m,all under the rider Holle Nann.

Hans Hatje died about 15-years-ago, and with no children to continue his breeding work, theHolsteiner Verband stallion station in Haselau was taken over by the Lienau family. Although stallions no longer reside at the yard, the legacy remains. Otto Lienau grew up with all the breeders in his area who brought their mares to the stallions at the stud. Looking back, Lienau recalls: "I remember very well the mare Ditlena by Ladykiller xx (born in 1967). She was a very important and beautiful mare. She was selected by the Holsteiner Association to represent the Holsteiner mares at the DLG show in Munich, and they travelled there by train. Her grandmother, Edelia, by Loretto, was also an important mare for this line. At the end of the Second World War, Hans Hatje was forced to hand over his mares to the German army. He was allowed to choose a filly from another farm here in our area. If you look at his line, you can see that from the mare, Norwegen, by Farnese, born in 1976, down to at least Erle, by Omar, born in 1908, were 'made in Haselau'. Contender also played an important role at our stud. He is in the third generation of Stargold. It is a good feeling to see the genetics I know so well in one of the best jumping horses of today.”


Andre Emke explains the story behind the mare, Charmonie, by Contender, the second dam of Stargold: "My parents found the Contender mare by chance at a horse dealer in South Oldenburg. At the time, the Contender mare was in poor nutritional condition and had a foal at foot. When my parents saw the mare with the foal, they took pity on them and took them home with them. After the mare was cared for and nursed at our home, her nutritional condition improved. My parents then decided to inseminate the mare with the stallion Lord Weingard. The decision to inseminate the mare with this stallion was based on the fact that we value the Landadel blood very highly. In addition, the dam's sister (Lady Weingard) was a highly talented show jumper under Markus Beerbaum, which convinced us very much. This foal was a filly, Charme, and is the dam of Stargold. From this line we currently have a direct daughter out of Charmonie, a mare by Stakkato (Stakko`s Girl), with a filly by Conthargos at foot. Stakko`s Girl is a half-sister to the dam of Stargold. She has already produced her first successful advanced (S) level offspring (Quid Primaire-H) as well as several auction foals. We also have two daughters by Stakkato (granddaughters of Charmonie) on our farm. A two-year-old mare by Quidam de Revel and a seven-year-old mare by Quasimodo van de Molendreef (Quantica), who is currently carrying a premium colt by Diamant de Semilly. Charmonie is also the dam of the Hanoverian approved stallion Statis Conti (Stakkato), who is competing at 1.45m with Bronislav Chudyba. Her son, Contenders XC (Concetto I), jumped at 1.50m with three different riders.”

Gestüt Sprehe

Stargold was licensed as a three-year-old and became champion for the jumping stallions at the Munich-Riem Stallion Licensing. The Sprehe stallion then passed his 30-day test with a score of 8.7 for jumping ability. Jan Sprehe remembers: "We were very lucky with the dam, Charme. We bought her from Klatte at the EOS foal auction because she had a good pedigree and she became a very good mare. We were lucky with Stargold too. He was champion of the show jumping stallions at the stallion approvals in Munich-Riem. We started him under saddle. I rode him for a while. Vanessa Meyer started with me as a groom, but she did all his training in sport. I always had a strong feeling about him. I took him over from Vanessa when he was six-years-old and then rode him to qualify for the Bundeschampionat and the Youngster classes. He was always a top horse, he always jumped clear and he was always successful. Tobias Meyer also rode him very successfully – they won several young horse classes and the Bundeschampionat for seven-year-olds. Then Marcus Ehning noticed him and called me. That's how we got in touch. Marcus is of course a world-class rider. I took Stargold to him to try and the rest is history. His sire, Stakkato Gold, has been number one in the breeding index for a long time and ultimately we owe a lot to Stakkato Gold. He has passed on his incredible jumping ability to his offspring. Nine out of ten of his offspring can really jump. He now has several offspring at the highest level! We have always concentrated on sport with Stargold, because sport and breeding are very demanding, however we do still have frozen semen from him.”

Sprehe continues: “Stargold’s full sister, So Charme, also has a lot of quality and is doing well in the youngster classes with Tobias Meyer. The combination of Stakkato Gold and Charme has proved to be a good one, already producing two outstanding horses. It was a certain feeling that we had with this cross and you also need a lot of luck in breeding and training these horses.”

Vanessa Meyer, who was instrumental in the training of Stargold, recounts: "I got Stargold at the beginning of his  fourth year. He had a great attitude to the sport from the start, always over-enthusiastic. Stargold won almost every showjumping competition we entered, and I knew after two or three competitions that he would always be patted on the neck after the last jump to reward his efforts. From then on he always bucked after the last jump – as he still does today. I was certainly no pro and often made mistakes, but he always saved me. We rode our first international competition in Italy and brought home three wins in 1m40 classes in three weeks. Stargold has always been a very special horse to me. Tobi took over with him at the beginning of his seventh year and there was hardly a show where Stargold didn't bring home a winning ribbon. Tobias Meyer still rides his full-sister, who is now seven-years-old."

The last words are for Jan Sprehe: "There's no need to talk about Stargold's qualities, he's one of the best horses in the world with Marcus. We are very proud of him and we cheer with every success! We are also very happy that it has worked out so well!”



Stargold and Marcus Ehning Photo by Tiffany Van Halle

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