Swiss Hero, Steve Guerdat, steals the show in the Rolex IJRC Top Ten Final
The Rolex IJRC Top 10 Final always promises to bring top class sport, with the world’s best riders competing for the coveted trophy, and this year did not disappoint. It was a home win for Swiss hero, Steve Guerdat aboard Alamo, who thrilled the crowd with a gasp provoking round in the time of 39.75 seconds. Sweden’s Henrik von Eckermann was close behind but could not shave the milliseconds needed off the former Olympic champion’s time. Team World Champion, USA’s McLain Ward and his stunning mare Clinta, produced a textbook round to claim the third podium spot.
Did you find it hard waiting for the final result?
Steve Guerdat: Yes, it is sometimes very hard to wait, especially when you have such a good line-up of riders still to go behind you. Each time a new person started their round I was getting more nervous and was hoping we could keep the lead. I was very happy with my ride tonight, it feels amazing.
When did you decide to enter Alamo for this competition?
Steve Guerdat: I planned Alamo for this final a while ago, I took him to Paris last week mainly to prepare him for this competition. He is a bit of a nervous horse, so I wanted to give him more time in the ring to help calm his nerves. I had a really good feeling with him in the warm-up ring, he was really listening to me, so I decided I had to give it everything in the jump-off. Alamo responded to me so well in the ring and road beautifully, I am just so proud of him.
Can you talk us through what you were thinking during the jump-off?
Steve Guerdat: I knew that Alamo is very good jumper and is quick on the ground. He has a huge drive and jumps forward, so this jump-off course really suited me. My turn to the wall was not perfect, so after the double I thought, I have to give this a real go! I saw an even bigger stride to the second last fence and my horse really helped me here. I then decided to speed up further and left one stride out on the last, Alamo was just amazing, but I was relieved there were no more fences as I don’t think I would have been able to hold him anymore!
How does it feel to equal Rodrigo Pessoa’s record of the greatest number of wins at the CHI Geneva?
Steve Guerdat: Rodrigo was an idol of mine when I was younger, so to know, today, that we share the same number of victories in Geneva feels incredible and is very pleasing to hear!
Behind the stable door with: Joanne Sloan-Allen, owner of Suma's Zorro
What was going through you mind when Sameh won in Spruce?
It was really funny actually because I didn’t know he had won, it looked like Sameh was second and I couldn’t see the gate because I’m really small. So, I was asking everyone ‘did he win?’. I eventually found out he did and just couldn’t contain my excitement and emotion. The second round was unbelievable, I was in tears because it was everything we had worked for. It was everything Zorro had worked for. All her life people had said she has no scope, but now competing in this 1:70 class, surely people cannot say she has no scope. I’m so happy for Sameh, we have been on a long journey and I felt this was his year.
How did you celebrate afterwards?
We had soup and got on a plane! We were on such a high but then we had to get on a plane to go straight to Tryon. Then Sameh lost his medal, so that was a drama. We got home, and his suitcase hadn’t arrived at Dublin airport. So, I said, ‘good job I put the medal in your hand luggage’ and he went very quiet. Sameh told me he had put the medal in the case because it was too heavy to carry. Two days later, still no suitcase and we were leaving for Tryon. Sameh said, ‘what are we going to do?’ So, I put it on Facebook and everybody clubbed together to share it, and eventually someone found the suitcase. It was only the week after that we had a yard party for everybody, but we are planning a Christmas celebration after this show.
What is Zorro’s personality like?
Zorro is the perfect pony. If you only ever had one horse, it would be Zorro. She rides like an angel, she’s sweet, she’s kind. She has a couple of quirks – she hates vets and she hates being clipped but she is the kindest, sweetest horse. She just wants to win, she believes she can jump anything. I got her as a foal at three-months-old and she came into the yard at six months, she got off the trailer when she arrived, trotted up to a five-bar gate and popped it. She has been amazing since.
What did you see in Zorro at such a young age?
There was a dsale, selling mares around 14-15 years ago, when we were just starting our green programme in Sycamore. I saw this little mare and she kept popping and popping. I said to my parents that we needed to buy her. The jumping technique she has now is the same she had when she was three months old. She just looks like a little star and she always has been.
Can you talk about your premonition before Spruce?
Sameh and I usually don’t differ in opinion, we work so well together. But he really wanted to go to the WEG, which was after Spruce. We initially agreed we wouldn’t be able to do both but one day I had this dream that Sameh had gone to Spruce and won, so I woke up and told him he was going to Spruce. Sameh disagreed, but I believed we could do both, there were enough days in between and the mare was really fit, I thought this was her year and so she had to go. I told Sameh he would be so disappointed if he had a fence down in Tryon and he hadn’t gone to Spruce. At the end of the day it’s part of the Rolex Grand Slam, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, which you must take. Even the morning of the class, I said to Sameh, ‘this is your course.’ It was meant to be.
What’s it like to work with Sameh?
He is amazing, we work so well together. Its hard to find someone with the same ideas and ethos. I wanted to try and get to the top level but do it with the horse in mind, they always come first. It’s difficult when you are a competitor like Sam, to have an owner in the background saying not today. But he believes the horses should come first as much as me. Sameh is a true competitor, I believe in him so much. I believe that if the day is right and the course is right, Sameh will win.
Tell me about your background?
I think horses are in your blood. My mother’s grandparents were in racing, that was in their blood. When we were small my mother took my sister and I riding, my sister gave up early, but I stuck at it. I did a business degree in French at university, then I set up my own stable yard. I was lucky enough to train in England with some fantastic people including David Broom. Then I set my own yard up, I enjoy bringing horses up.
Do you sell your horses on? How do you make a call on which horses to keep?
Sadly, we can’t keep them all, it is very important for us to see our horses go in the right direction and I am very picky about who they go to, we have been very lucky so far, all of our horses have gone to some very good places. We have eight five-year-olds at the moment and we can’t keep them all. Sometimes we keep them based on the gender or the bloodline, we also look at the horses that will suit our system.
Do you get nervous watching your horses compete?
It is harder to watch than to do. When I’m jumping its just me and the horse, but when I’m outside there is nothing you can do, and I have such a feeling of frustration. I jump every fence with Sam and click at each jump, he always tells me to stop! Every fence I am with the two of them, I sometimes think I’ll have a heart attack. Being part of something this special is so amazing.
Do you prefer watching or competing?
Watching is torturous and Sam says the same. When you care so much about what you do and the horses its impossible not to get that adrenaline rush.
How do you think the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping has enhanced the sport of show jumping?
The sense that you get here in Geneva is pride, history and tradition. This is also what hits you in Spruce Meadows, it is a huge high-quality event. They take such pride in their arena and everything else. For me, the fit with Rolex is perfect. When you think about the Rolex brand, it is quality, precision, it is about pride in what they do. For me, the sport of show jumping is an interaction between the two. To have a sponsor like Rolex come into the sport and do the Grand Slam is life changing for people like Sameh and the likes of our yard. We have been pushing and climbing for eight years and getting into these shows is very difficult. To win a Rolex Major has been incredible for Sameh. We were a tiny yard in Northern Ireland, and for us to attend a show like this and be in with a chance, it is such a dream. So, for Rolex to be a part of this dream, is amazing.
Have you competed at Geneva before?
What are your aims and dreams for the future?
Our future is to win the next Rolex Grand Prix with Zorro. We have the Rolex Grand Prix on Sunday and Prague next week, Sameh is in the play offs because he won in Paris. The next couple of months will then be lower key, we will go back to working on our other horses and pushing them, as they have been on the back burner for a little while. In January we want to be in the yard and try to sell some horses then we will go on tour in February and then it all starts again. We are on the road, changing horses all the time and we are enjoying every minute of it, it’s been incredible. If you don’t appreciate it and enjoy it then why would you do it. Sometimes you must stand back and remember how amazing it all is.
Walk the course with: Rolex Grand Prix Course Designer, Gérard Lachat
How long does it take to plan a Rolex Grand Prix course?
I started the planning two weeks ago, we brainstorm a few ideas and map out what we think we want. Then last week I finalised the plan and this week we fine-tune all the technical details and final touches before the build on Sunday.
How many clears do you expect to see on Sunday?
Ideally, we would like between eight – 12 competitors to go clear, however it is sometimes hard to predict how the horses will react to the track.
How did you first get into Course Designing?
I started a long time ago, first assisting at Swiss National competitions and then I progressed to international level seven years-ago. I have been at the CHI Geneva for five years and really enjoy being part of such a prestigious event. The atmosphere is always amazing, and the world’s best horses and riders compete here, so it is a fantastic show to be involved in.
What is your favourite part of the job?
My favourite part of the job is seeing the competitors on the course and hopefully enjoying it. I am always intrigued by the results too, so I look forward to finding out who does well and who doesn’t!
Do you feel extra pressure when building a course for a Rolex Major?
Yes, there is certainly extra pressure when building a Rolex Grand Prix course. The Majors are the biggest competitions in the world and the peak of the season, so you need to get it right and achieve the best results.
Has the art of course designing developed since you first started?
Yes, a lot has changed. The poles have become much lighter, which you have to take into consideration when planning. The riders and the horses’ skill sets have developed and improved, so you have to make the courses more technical to challenge them further and you have to focus on the lines and distances more than ever before.
Which riders do you think have a good chance of winning on Sunday?
It is very difficult the predict who will do well on Sunday. We have the world’s best horse and rider combinations taking part and it is almost impossible to choose between them. From a Swiss point of view, I would love to see Steve Guerdat win, but who knows!