You are returning to ‘s-Hertogenbosch as the Rolex Grand Prix defending champion, does this make you feel added pressure?
No, not really. I suppose I now know that it is possible to win, but I am probably going to be competing on another horse, so there is less pressure than if I was riding Elektric Blue P. In our sport it is different every time you enter the ring, so that makes me feel less pressure.
Which horses are you planning to bring with you, and which one will you ride in the Rolex Grand Prix?
In the Rolex Grand Prix, I will either ride Eic Coriolis Des Isles or Elektric Blue P. Eic Coriolis Des Isles has been competing at Vejer de la Frontera, and is in very good form at the moment. I will also bring two younger horses with me to The Dutch Masters. I like to bring the less experienced horses with me, so they can be introduced to a show with more atmosphere – it is a very important part of their education.
Do you prepare for an indoor event differently to an outdoor one? Can you tell us the main differences?
I think that it really depends on the horse. Some horses need a little more training before they go to an indoor event. The most important thing for jumping indoors is that the horses are confident, especially as they have to jump fences right next to the fans, and the fences come up far quicker than in an outdoor arena. They also need to be used to jumping large oxers into the corners, so at home I like to practice with smaller exercises in the corners. We have a small indoor arena, so we like to prepare the horses for the indoor events in there.
The spectators at The Dutch Masters sit very close to the arena, does this affect the horses or make you more nervous?
Again, I think it depends on the horse. However, usually the horses that we jump in big classes such as the Rolex Grand Prix are used to having the fans very close. In my opinion the atmosphere that the spectators create is very special, and I believe the horses can feel it. I always say that when a big crowd is behind you, it gives the horse wings.
How important is your team at home to enable your success?
My team is unbelievably important. It is crucial to me that I have a good plan with each of my horses I plan for the long-term development of the horse over several years, not just one show at a time, and without a great team this would be impossible. Everyone is involved in this plan, from the home riders, the farrier and the grooms. We think about what we want to improve with each horse, and how we can best work together as a team to achieve this.
I always say that our sport is more of a team sport than an individual sport, because without the team, I would not be able achieve anything. The home riders do the majority of the training with the horses as I am away competing so much, for example before The Dutch Masters, I will ride the horses that I am taking on the Sunday before we leave. I cannot change anything big, so the horses have to be perfectly trained and prepared to go to s-Hertogenbosch.
What qualities do you look for in a home rider?
We are always looking for good people. The people that have a good attitude, live for their job and think about the horses as soon as they wake up and when they fall asleep. I have learnt that it is not important how much experience someone has when they start, because so long as they are truly interested, they will learn quickly, and it will be easy for them to grow. This is because it is not a job to them, it is a passion.
Which of the four Majors that make up the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping is your favourite to compete at and why?
I like each one – they are all so special in their own way. You really cannot compare them against each other, not even CHIO Aachen and CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’. Of course, they are both held in big grass rings, but the course building and fence design is completely different.
The one thing that is the same for all of the Majors, is that they have the toughest courses in the world. They are the most challenging, and therefore have the biggest prize money in the sport – they are the shows that every rider wants to win the most. At each of the Majors, there are more of the top-ranking riders than at the Olympic Games – it is something very special to be a part of.
Does the challenge of competing against the world’s top riders motivate you?
Absolutely. You learn so much competing against the best riders in the world. Even just watching them ride in the warm-up is so inspiring and motivating.
Which horse and rider combinations do you see as your biggest competition at The Dutch Masters?
It is a hard question as there are so many incredible combinations, but I think Martin Fuchs and Chaplin will be on top form. They won the World Cup™ at Lyon together, and I think Martin has been saving Chaplin for this competition, so I think they will be a very hard combination to beat. He has an amazing team, and he knows how to deliver a great performance at these important shows.
The sport has changed so much in the last 15 years, you used to only be able to name about three horse and rider combinations that could win – now there are about 20 who could win the Rolex Grand Prix at The Dutch Masters.
Do you ever have any downtime?! If so, what would you choose to do?
I try and spend it with my family – I have three children and I love spending time with them. If I have a bit more time off, I like to do some sport, I find that very fulfilling.
What do you enjoy most about being a professional show jumper?
I enjoy that there are so many challenging situations. It is not only just competing well in the ring – it is creating the right plan for the horses, getting a good team together and having great owners. There are so many things that have to work out in the right way in order to succeed, to me this makes being a professional show jumper very interesting.
What is your advice to younger riders who are just starting out in their respective careers?
Always stand up again!
Aside from show jumping, do you follow any other sports e.g., tennis or golf?
Unfortunately, I do not really have enough time. It is not that I am not interested in following other sports, but when I do have time off, I enjoy spending it with my family. They play lots of sport, so I watch them instead.