Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping (2024)

(Photo: Rolex Grand Slam / Thomas Lovelock)

Congratulations! You are the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping live contender, how are you feeling ahead of The Dutch Masters?

I am excited and looking forward to competing at The Dutch Masters. My position has changed significantly since the CHI Geneva as I was not one of the favourites going into the competition. I was considered a young rider who was trying to gain experience in those classes. I went there with the mentality of wanting to give it my best shot, and so it was an unbelievable result for us to win the Rolex Grand Prix at the CHI Geneva. We will never forget that class, that day, or that show. It was, and will always be, an incredibly special moment for us.

We are now heading to The Dutch Masters, I think our position has changed a little bit. I would not say that I am one of the favourites, but people have higher expectations of us now. We are going to try to be as competitive as possible, and the goal is to try and win again.

It will be my first time competing at the show. I have heard only great things about it – all my fellow riders love the show, so I am excited to go, and even more excited to be going there as the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping live contender.

Reflecting on your win in the Rolex Grand Prix at the CHI Geneva – how special was this victory to you?

It was something very special. Probably even more special as the CHI Geneva was one of the main focuses of last season, and we planned our year around it. Before the CHI Geneva, I competed for two months in Mexico.

We did not take United Touch S to Mexico, we left him at home and made a training programme for him and his rider and groom, Naomi. She kept him in very good shape whilst we were gone for two months. I came back home for only two to three weeks ahead of the CHI Geneva. We fine-tuned the preparations as much as possible in those weeks and felt like we were in a good position ahead of the show. I took United Touch S with me to the show as the rest of my horses flew directly to Wellington, Florida from Mexico.

It was an unusual show for the team, as we only competed in two classes, the first qualifier for the Grand Prix and the Rolex Grand Prix itself. It felt like a long week – I prefer to be busy. I like having a couple of classes a day, or at least a couple of horses so you can do flatwork in the morning and jump in some classes in the afternoon.

On the day of the Rolex Grand Prix, United Touch S felt very good. We had a good warm-up and I think that luck was definitely on our side. We were clear in the first round, and then in the jump-off I told myself that we had nothing to lose and that we should give it a try. We felt extremely lucky, happy, and honoured that it worked out.

United Touch S is an incredible horse – can you tell us a little bit more about him?

United Touch S is an incredible horse. I have never, and probably will never sit on a horse with that much scope again. He has unbelievable scope and a big canter. He also has such a will to jump and a powerful take-off – it is a very special feeling being able to ride him. I am very thankful to his breeder and owner that I get the chance to ride him.

In the beginning, we had a couple of issues with the more technical lines. I had to figure out a way for the technical courses to suit his stride as it is so big. It is hard for him to shorten his stride, but he gets better and better, and we are still trying to improve!

To start with I found myself overthinking my way of riding with him and with the courses and lines. I would always try to stay with the normal lines that were in the course plan. If it was a short seven strides, I would try to do a short seven. However, we figured out that it was easier to do one less stride. It took a while to figure out how to make the courses suitable for him. I would say that we grew together and developed into a strong team.

United Touch S helps out a lot and I try to do the same from my side. I try and make a course suit him whenever possible, for example, making a tighter turn or doing one less stride. I know his strengths and weaknesses, and I try to ride the course with that knowledge.

What is United Touch S like at home?

When you are in the ring with United Touch S, he is quite tense and sensitive – he also has a lot of blood. When we are not competing, and when he is in the stable area at a show or at home; he is really relaxed and very calm. He is a chilled horse, he is a stallion but does not really act like one, so you can ride next to mares without a problem. He behaves very well and is a very hard worker. As I said, we are working on his stride. We do this work maybe three or four times a week, the other times he does other work such as hacking. Working on his stride is hard work for him, but he enjoys it and likes to improve. I can really feel that he recognizes the improvements himself and that he likes the process and hard work that is necessary to improve.

How have you been preparing for The Dutch Masters? Do you feel any extra pressure knowing that you are the live contender?

We have not changed our preparations too much. In my eyes, a bit of extra pressure is good – it gives us more focus. We have been focusing on The Dutch Masters since the CHI Geneva and we have tried to make a good plan for the show.

I will not be bringing United Touch S with me to The Dutch Masters but I will be bringing another of my very good horses, Cepano Baboulet. The arena in ‘s-Herteogenbosch is smaller than at the CHI Geneva, and I think that it will suit him better.

He [Cepano Baboulet] competed in Mexico at the end of last year and has been in Wellington over the last few months. I have competed him in three shows, mostly in Grand Prix qualifiers to ensure that he is fresh ahead of the show. He flew over to Europe last week, and is staying at our stables in Germany. From there we will travel to ‘s-Herteogenbosch together.

Can you tell us about the other horses in your string? Do you think that any of them have the qualities to win a Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Major?

I am very lucky. I have a very good string of horses such as United Touch S and Cepano Baloubet. Cepano Baloubet won classes at the CHIO Aachen last year, and he jumped in the FEI Nations Cup™ at the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament in Calgary. Last year, I viewed Cepano Baloubet as my second horse as he was only nine-years-old. It was a great experience for him to compete at the big shows and to jump the Grand Prix qualifiers and the FEI Nations Cup™. Now he is a year older and is ready to step up to the to the next level. He has jumped in several 5* Grands Prix, but they were on the smaller side when compared to the Rolex Grand Slam Grands Prix which are the biggest in the sport. He has not jumped on that level before, but won two 5* classes last year, so I am very confident that we can be competitive.

I have another very promising 10-year-old called Cydello, he is a new horse to me. We have very high hopes for his future. He is probably the opposite of United Touch S, he is small and tiny, but just like United [Touch S] he has an unbelievable want to jump, he is very motivated and clever. He has a different manner and style but his brain and will are similar. We have high expectations, he is still quite green and inexperienced but I think that he can compete at the top level.

The Dutch Masters, like the CHI Geneva, is an indoor arena – do your preparations differ for indoor shows than outdoor?

In general, our preparation remains quite similar. Before the CHI Geneva with United Touch S, I jumped him indoors and I practiced some shorter lines to get him used to them. However, the arena at the CHI Geneva is larger than a lot of the outside rings that we compete in. It is not a typical indoor arena.

For The Dutch Masters, logistically it is not going to be possible to compete Cepano [Baloubet] in an indoor show since he has been in Florida and there are no indoor shows. We are lucky enough to ride outside in great weather – it is one of the main reasons why we are here, as it is better for the horses. I have never jumped Cepano Baboulet in an indoor show, but I am not worried that it will make a big difference to him. Our horses are very experienced and as soon as they get into the ring, they know what their job is and remain focused on the fences.

If you have a less experienced horse, they can quite easily get overwhelmed by the crowds. They are usually much closer to the arena, and the atmosphere is very different from an outdoor show, so the horses can feel this. At an indoor show, the atmosphere is more intense, but the experienced horses are used to this and know that they need to focus on their job and do not get easily distracted by everything.

How important is your wider team, for example, grooms, vets, etc. in your success?

They are so important – everyone plays a vital role. If you take one person away it causes trouble. It does not guarantee that you will win one of the Majors, but without the foundation that the team creates there would be no chance of performing successfully at the highest level of the sport.

A large amount of responsibility lies on the grooms; Felicia is my show groom who comes to all of the important shows. She will fly with me from Wellington to Germany. If I compete in a training show, she might not necessarily be there, but she only misses only one or two shows a year.

At home, in Germany, I have great and reliable team members. Here in Wellington, we currently have a new girl, Maggie, who is not as experienced but she does a great job. Whenever we go to a show, she remains at the home base to take care of the horses that are not showing that week. We travel back and forth – it is only ten minutes away from the show so we can be there a lot.

In Europe things are a bit different as the shows are located a couple of hours away from home, or sometimes not even in Europe like the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament in Calgary. Therefore, we need to have a good team at home that know the horses, can ride the horses well, can lunge well, and who also have a feeling for the horses. They need to be able to recognize slight changes in their mood. We always want to be a step ahead – sometimes if you only recognize issues when everyone else can easily see them, then it may be harder to treat the horse, than if you recognize the warning signs early. That is what we are aiming for and that is why we need very good people. We want to provide them with the best care possible.

We work with two very good blacksmiths. One called Christian Götz who does the older horses, and Manuel Black who is also very good and does the younger horses. Whenever we struggle with a horse, we have two individual opinions, but they both really respect each other.

Our vet, Shane Fouhy and Ulli Laegetakes very good care of our horses. Theyhavethe same philosophy as us, which is to ensure we are a step ahead of the horses. We do not wait for a horse to be lame to react, we always make sure that our horses are as sound as possible. I think that is incredibly important if you want to compete at the very top of the sport.

The horses need to be as mentally sound and prepared as possible. That is why I say that there is a lot of responsibility that lies with the groom. They need to know when a horse needs to be worked more or if they need more time in the field or even a hack in the forest.

We are convinced that the brain and the mental health of the horse is a big part of a horse’s performance. There are a lot of different things to think about and to be on top of, I am very lucky to have a great team – it would be impossible to do it without them. There is a saying‘it takes a village’and I think that is so true.

The Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping is celebrating its 10-year anniversary – how big an impact has it had on the sport?

You could not think about the sport without the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping – it is the top of the sport alongside the Olympic Games and the World Championships. The riders who attend The Dutch Masters, the CHIO Aachen, the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament, and the CHI Geneva, are the best in the world – out of the top 30 ranked riders in the world there always going to be 25 or even more of them competing there.

You have the best riders in the world competing with their best horses, and everyone is able to win the class. It is very competitive and tough but it brings the level of our sport to another level. After competing at those shows last year, I always came back stronger and gained a lot of experience. It was a great opportunity to watch how the best riders warm up their horses, or how they walk the course. Sometimes it would be very small details, but for someone like me who is less experienced, I learned so much.

How important do you think sporting Majors, such as the CHIO Aachen or The Championships, Wimbledon are in sport?

I think they are very important. For example, I am not very big into tennis or golf, but I still know about the Majors and I know when they are on. Maybe people would not watch the whole tournament but they are interested in the result. I think they also provide the understanding that whoever wins a Major is one of the best in the sport at the moment, or at least has to beat the best in the sport. For someone who is not really into that sport, it is a good indicator to see who is at the top of the sport.

If you weren’t a show jumper, what would you have been?

I would have been a farmer on my grandfather’s land.

What is the best piece of advice you have been given?

I think the best piece of advice that I have been given is to keep going. There are a lot of failures on the road to success, but use them and learn from them. It is also important to not be afraid of failure or to lose. If you do fail, then learn from it and try to do it better next time.

I told myself this when I went into the jump-off at the CHI Geneva. I don’t think it was the safest clear round I have ever done, but I saw the chance to win. If you risk something it often pays off, and if it doesn’t you can learn from your mistake.

Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping (2024)
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