Rolex Grand Slam Riders Watch
The summer Rolex Grands Prix Season
As the countdown to the next Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Major continues, with the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ taking place from 8-12 September 2021, there is no shortage of Rolex Grands Prix action to whet fans’ appetites in the build-up.
For three weeks from 23 June will be the Rolex-supported Knokke Hippique, featuring horses and riders at all levels, from the future stars in the Young Horse competitions, to world-class international jumping, with the CSI3* Top Series Grand Prix taking place on the Sunday of each week. The Rolex Grand Prix took place on Sunday June 27th and was brilliantly won by Jérôme Guery aboard Quel Homme de Hus.
On 1-4 July, attention will turn to CHI Royal Windsor Horse Show, taking place in the private grounds of Windsor Castle. Reigning champion of the Rolex Grand Prix, Henrik von Eckermann (SWE), will be returning to the famous Castle Arena to defend his title; however, he will face stiff competition from Rolex Testimonees, Steve Guerdat (SUI) and Kent Farrington (USA), also former winners of the prestigious competition. The Rolex Grand Prix was eventually won by Briton Ben Maher and his exceptional gelding Explosion W, with Guerdat finishing a brilliant second with his gelding Venard de Cerisy, and fellow Testimonees Martin Fuchs (SUI) aboard Clooney 51 and Harry Charles (GBR) with Borsato finishing in third and sixth places respectively.
Show jumping returns to Chantilly Racecourse from 8-11 July for the Masters of Chantilly, the highlight of which will be the Rolex Grand Prix on the final day. This ground-breaking new event – which sees Rolex join as Title Sponsor and Official Timekeeper – will take place in front of the Château de Chantilly and its Great Stables, and is set to be a spectacular four days of competition.
For four days from 30 July, the Val-Porée Equestrian Center will host Jumping International Dinard CSI5*, which culminates with the Rolex Grand Prix on Sunday 2 August. Located a stone’s throw from the sea and recognised for requiring precision and technicality, Jumping International Dinard is a popular show on the international show jumping circuit and is once again set to host the world’s best horses and riders as they vie to take the Rolex Grand Prix Ville de Dinard title.
Meet the Next Gen with:
What have you been focusing on recently, and what are your plans and goals for 2021?
My plan for this year is to compete in five-star shows. I haven’t been able to compete at that level in over a year now. My first show is actually this week, Knokke, which includes 2*, 3* and 5* classes. So, definitely one of my first goals is to ride at a 5* level, to have a solid performance and actually be competitive at this level. I would really like to have a few Rolex Grands Prix finishes and to get placed – that is definitely a goal for this year.
For the 5* class, I will be taking my number one horse, Davidoff de Lassus – nicknamed Dave – and Dawa de Greenbay. In the 3* class, I have Univers du Vinnebus and Dolitaire Chavannaise. These are my four good horses at the moment.
I haven’t really shown much since I got back from Wellington, where I spent the winter. I’ve done a few shows, but my main goal was to get everything ready for Knokke, to make sure we’re all geared up for the week ahead. I have high hopes for it because I have worked hard to be in top form. For the rest of the year, the aim is to be competitive. I feel a lot faster since I started working my new trainer, Eric Lamaze, who I began training with at the beginning of May, so I am excited for this new chapter and to see where it goes.
Which horses are you most excited to be competing with this year?
I am excited to show my first horse, Davidoff. I haven’t been able to show him at all because he’s been injured since last November. He has been out for nearly six months, so it's definitely exciting to have him back, as now I’ll be able to compete in bigger classes again. He is a very special horse to me, he’s a big bay gelding and he’s super comfortable to jump big fences on and he’s also super scopey. He has the best character, just like a gentle giant. Every day he is super fresh, there’s not a single day where he’s quiet. He has all the energy in the world, so he is without a doubt one of my favourites.
I also have a few eight- and nine-year-old’s that are stepping up, who I’m excited about showing, such as Dawa. He is a nine-year-old and I’ve had him since he was seven, and he is showing some real promise. He did his first 3* show in Florida, jumping bigger classes, and he was really good, so I’m excited to see him step up this year. I think he is going to be a Grand Prix horse, as he is very confident and scopey, which makes me incredibly excited.
I then have one more nine-year-old mare called Ma Belle. She is also one of my younger ones that is really stepping up to 2* and 3* events. She is a bit greener than the others, but she is going to be a really nice mare, so I am excited for her, as well.
I am also looking forward to showing my stallion, Univers. I have had him for three years now. He is my partner to jump the bigger classes on and has jumped a few 5* Grands Prix with me. I actually have a very good squad for this year, so I am excited to start showing and really trying to be competitive with all of them.
How positive do you believe the Rolex Grand Slam is for the sport of show jumping?
I think the Rolex Grand Slam is a really important series in show jumping. It is very prestigious, and it includes four big events, which is an amazing opportunity, if you can get to go as a rider. Equally, I feel that they are giving younger riders more of a chance to be able to compete at these shows. I was able to ride at Spruce Meadows in Calgary in 2019 for the ‘Masters’, and that was an incredible experience. It was really exciting, and I got to jump the Grand Prix, which was amazing. You cannot compare it to any other show. I feel the same about Aachen, which I haven’t ridden at yet, but whenever I go, it’s always astonishing, so the fact that they give younger riders the experience to ride there is really cool.
Watching Scott [Brash] win the Rolex Grand Slam must be motivating for the riders that do all four events. He received a big bonus, so there is an incentive to get good results and perform well in all four events. It has a positive impact on the sport, and those shows are really the ones that we riders work hard for, in the hope that one day we’ll be competing there.
What have you learnt over the course of the last year, about yourself and just generally, and what positives will you take?
One thing that I have learnt about myself over the past year, is that I want more than anything to succeed in this sport. Especially this past year, when I was in Florida and the shows started again, I had a really rough few months, where it didn’t go too well, which isn’t a nice feeling. So, I feel that I have come back and I’m giving 100%, as well as working really hard to be successful for the rest of the year.
Over the last few months, it’s made me come to the realisation that I need and want to do everything to be successful in the sport. I have also learnt to appreciate the good moments more, because there are ups and downs, just like in any sport, and sometimes the good moments are taken for granted. For some riders, there are more ups than there are downs; however in my case, I experience far more downs, so it is important I learn to appreciate when I've had a good round or a good result and remember to take it all in.
Regarding the pandemic, with shows not happening and the world slowly coming to a standstill, I learnt to appreciate the smaller things, like spending more time with my horses and spending more time at home with my family – those two things are really important to me.
Breeders Uncovered with:
William Funnell, founder & breeder at The Billy Stud
What’s your earliest equestrian memory?
My earliest equestrian memory is riding a tiny little black Shetland pony when I was very young, probably about four or five. I was lucky enough to be brought up on a farm in a place called Challock just above Ashford in Kent. As a farmer’s son, we were always around animals, so I was brought up around ponies and horses. Generally, I had a very charming upbringing being in the countryside with animals.
What has been the proudest moment of your career so far?
I think representing your country at team events have been great. Team gold at the European Championships in Herning [in 2013] was a big moment, as well as the Hickstead Derby. As a child, I used to watch the Hickstead Derby, so when I won it, it was a big deal for me. I've been lucky enough to have been in many Nations Cup teams, which will be amongst my top proudest moments.
The partnership between horse and rider is clearly very important – is that something you're looking for when you sell to new owners?
As a stud, it's very important to see the horses that we breed go on, which is always difficult, because sometimes the best riders don’t have the most money. It’s important that we try to find a balance. There's no point in selling the top Grands Prix horses to an amateur; it's vital to try and match the whole thing, as we are trying to get the most exposure we can out of a good horse, and to be able to do that, they need to compete with good riders.
Can you share some behind the scenes insights into what it's like at The Billy Stud in terms of your setup?
I think we are in an ideal scenario. My business partner, Donal Barnwell, does all the foaling and everything up until the horses are three year olds. Then they come to me and we break them. We assess performance, we assess their jumping and their potential, and we try to market and produce them to the best of their ability. We also work out the best time to market specific horses.
On average, over the last few years we’ve had 100 pregnancies per year, with a lot of them done through embryo transfers where you have about a 10-15 per cent absorption rate. We will have 80-85 foals and end up with 70-80 three year olds that come to us in the spring. We have seven or eight riders, including Pippa and me. We have four arenas including an indoor school and a couple of grass arenas, so we can do quite a lot at home before we have to spend money to take them to shows. We’ve got a couple of different courses and jumps, so we can educate the horses well at home.
What is your main ambition with your career and breeding horses?
Riding wise, I’m coming towards the end of my career. It would have been lovely to have got to the Olympics this year with a horse that we bred. I only jump home-bred horses, but to get in the top 30 in the rankings on home-bred horses is probably something that no one else has achieved. I would say that I’m the sole rider that exclusively rides their own home-bred horses, so that’s an achievement I’m very proud of. It would have been lovely to ride a home-bred in the Olympics, but you never know, hopefully I’ll have one more opportunity. I get as much pleasure watching somebody else ride, so hopefully, we can breed good enough horses to place them with the right riders, to see them competing for medals at the Olympics and at other championships in the future.
Are there any of your home-bred horses at the moment that are with other top riders that are really excelling?
Yes, there are several in Europe and America. Pippa, my wife, rode a home-bred in the eventing at the Rio Olympics. We’ve had horses that we’ve bred compete in all sorts of championships, but I don’t think we’ve got anything with us to throw at the Olympics this year.
Which home-bred horses are you most proud of?
I think Billy Congo, who won team gold at Herning. I think he was the leading stallion in the GCT for money winnings – one year he won £300,000 on the tour and I won a 5* Grand Prix with him. I also won the Hickstead Derby with his son, Billy Buckingham.
Aside from breeding, what are your other ambitions and aspirations?
I believe that what we’re currently doing, we can always do it better. I don’t want to get any bigger, but we can definitely do things better and constantly improve. We’re learning all the time and I wish we could have had the horses and the knowledge that we have now 20 years ago.
Are you mentoring anyone?
Yes, both Pippa and I are mentoring Joe Stockdale, the son of the late Tim Stockdale. I give a hand to Joe, and he’s had some great moments this year, jumping double clears in the Nations Cup. It gives me a lot of pleasure watching him compete.
Great Britain has some very talented young riders coming through, including Jack Whitaker. There was a time where I jumped championships with Nick Skelton, John and Michael Whitaker, and I was the young one out of the team. I felt young then, but now with Nick [Skelton] retiring, I am starting to feel old when I go to shows. But it's really nice to see those kids with their parents. Teamwork is a big part of show jumping and definitely something I've enjoyed over the years.
How positive do you believe the Rolex Grand Slam is for the sport of show jumping?
Scott Brash won the Grand Slam, which was fantastic. To be able to win it is a great achievement, particularly when riders are able to manage their horses so well. There are so many different scenarios that make it difficult, so for it all to come together is an incredible feat, particularly to win those top competitions against the best riders and horses in the world. To pull that off in those selected events is incredibly impressive. The horse and the rider have to be at the very top of their game, so to be able to peak right at that moment is a massive accomplishment.
The Rolex Grand Slam has incentivised a lot of riders, but it's very individual. It brings attention to those top competitions. I think the Rolex Grand Slam is very good for show jumping, and it’s great that those four fantastic venues are part of it. Those shows have always been the most difficult places to win at, and the fact that there's such a big prize pot at the end of it obviously makes it something that everybody wants to achieve.
Have you got a favourite out of those four Majors?
I think Aachen and Calgary are very special. I've always been more of an outdoor arena kind of person, and I do think the balance of the Rolex Grand Slam – with Geneva and The Dutch Masters being indoor – makes it a whole lot more enjoyable. Personally, I've always had more success outdoors, and enjoyed it more, so those would be the two for me.
Who's been your biggest inspiration throughout your life and your career?
I think John Whitaker has always been someone I've looked up to. Seeing John riding and the way he is with his horses has always impressed me, he’s always been a great horseman.
What is the best piece of advice you've ever been given?
John [Whitaker] once told me that if the basics are right, then the rest comes together. A lot of the time we overlook the simple things.