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.”
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.
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.