2021 was a stellar year for you, what are your main ambitions for 2022?
Having won the Rolex Grand Prix at CHIO Aachen, my main ambition at the moment is to win the Rolex Grand Prix at The Dutch Masters in March, as I am in contention to gain a bonus if I win there. So, all of my planning and preparation now is focused on going to 's-Hertogenbosch to try and win the Rolex Grand Prix there.
With the pandemic it is difficult to plan, as many shows are being cancelled, but there are a few shows that I am really looking forward to, including La Baule which Rolex is now a partner of. I have not been there many times because of other Nations Cup competitions or other plans from the German Chef d’Equipe, so this year I am really looking forward to competing there. Of course, I always love jumping at CHIO Aachen, and I would love to win the Rolex Grand Prix there again.
How are you preparing for The Dutch Masters and which horses will you take?
At the moment I am planning on taking Scuderia 1918 Tobago Z. I haven’t brought him out to Florida [to the Winter Equestrian Festival] so he will be fresh for the Rolex Grand Prix at The Dutch Masters. He is a very good horse for the indoor season, and he finished last year in great form. The Dutch Masters is such an amazing show for so many reasons, I always love going there, and the potential Rolex Grand Slam bonus makes me even more excited to return to 's-Hertogenbosch.
Looking ahead to the Majors this year, in your opinion what makes them stand out from other shows?
The organisation of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Majors is phenomenal, the standards are always so high, and the facilities are the best for the horses and riders. Of course, the prize money also sets these shows above the others, which makes them very exciting for everyone; the riders, the owners and the fans of the sport. More fans come to watch the Majors than other shows, and that creates the most incredible atmosphere to ride in. Not many other shows have the capacity for such large amounts of spectators – the stadiums of CHIO Aachen and CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ for example are unmatched, and that definitely makes the Majors stand out from other shows. The Majors also have such rich history and traditions; the best riders in the world have competed at them, and now my generation of riders are part of their history, which makes them so special to compete at.
I think that the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping is absolutely comparable with the Grand Slams in tennis or golf; for example, CHIO Aachen is like the Wimbledon of the equestrian world. The Majors are in amazing locations and have incredible fans; I definitely think as a rider there is a motivation to want to perform your best at these four shows.
Killer Queen VDM is such a talented horse, do you have any new/young horses that will make their 5* debut this year?
I have two very talented young horses here in Wellington competing at the Winter Equestrian Festival with me; Scuderia 1918 Mr Jones and In Time. I have had Scuderia 1918 Mr Jones for about two or three years now, but because of the pandemic I have not done that many shows with him. He is here in America to hopefully gain some more experience so that he can step up to the bigger classes. He jumped in a 1.50m class here the other day, and I think he is ready to make the step up soon. He has a lot of potential, has a very big character and is extremely scopey, so I am really looking forward to his future.
In Time is a nine-year-old mare. I have only done one show with her, and that was at CHI Geneva, but I think a lot of her. She is very scopey, straightforward and wants to be careful. I have only had her for two months, but I really hope she will follow in the steps of Killer Queen VDM and Scuderia 1918 Tobago Z and be able to replace them when they retire from the sport in a few years.
They both need more experience and time to develop before they become the next ‘Killer Queen VDM’ but I think we are in good shape to have these talented young horses coming up. I think with more experience they both could be my next superstars.
When not at shows, how much time is spent training the horses and developing the younger ones?
When I am at home, I like to spend as much time as possible with the younger horses, but I am often away competing. So, we have several very talented riders at Stephex Stables who train the young horses and take them to the Young Horse and 2* shows to develop them. If they show good potential, like In Time did, then I will start riding and competing them when they are rising eight-years-old, and see if they can go up the levels.
How does the winter season differ from the summer season in your preparations?
The winter season in Europe is mostly indoors, so we therefore train mostly indoors. Here in Florida, as the weather is warmer, everything is outside. It is a bit of an adjustment for the horses to come from the cold and jumping indoors to the warm and jumping outside. All the competitions are in outdoor arenas, which are much bigger and there is far more for the horses to look at, so it is harder to make them focus on the fences.
There are a variety of different classes, and I think for horses like Scuderia 1918 Mr Jones and In Time it is very good to bring them out here to prepare them for the summer season in Europe. We now really spread out our summer season for longer, competing in two different continents. Ultimately, the goal is that our horses will be more prepared for the summer season in Europe, and with the pandemic we have lost shows, so it is very important that the horses are still able to get the experience that they need.
There are some really talented young riders rising up the rankings – who would be your future star to look out for?
There are so many, it would be difficult to mention them all. But I am very close to the American rider, Spencer Smith. He was at Stephex Stables last year, and he is here in Florida with us now. I think he is very talented, and definitely one to watch for the future. Another rider who I think is a future star is Jack Whitaker, the son of Michael Whitaker. He is very young, but he has fantastic feel and I think he will achieve great results in the future.
What is your best piece of advice for a young rider who wants to be a professional in the future?
You just have to be patient. I also think you must watch other riders; you can learn so much from watching. Also, every horse is different, so you have to learn to adapt and be patient to get the best out of your horse.
When I was young, I was very ambitious and when I think about it now, I really believe I should have been more patient at the beginning. I used to watch a lot of other riders and see how they worked with their horses and how they warmed them up. I think that is my best piece of advice, you can have the best trainer in the world who can tell you things over and over again, but you have to watch other people to understand why they are doing what they are and how you can do it. Definitely, do not copy anyone, though, do it your own way but just learn what you can from other riders.