To win the Rolex Grand Prix at the CHIO Aachen in front of your home crowd must have been amazing, what was going through your mind?
This was my second Rolex Grand Prix victory at the CHIO Aachen, so I knew already what an amazing reception I would receive if I won; however when it actually happened, the feeling was indescribable and even louder than what I remembered. Each year the crowd gets better and the noise is incredible. I actually think winning the Rolex Grand Prix at the CHIO Aachen is one of the nicest victories in my career and certainly a moment I will never forget.
How did this year’s Rolex Grand Prix victory compare to when you won in 2006?
The first time you win a Major like this is always so special. When I competed at the CHIO Aachen 12 years ago in 2006 I really didn’t expect to win, I was younger and less experienced, so it was a bit of surprise for me! This year I felt like I had a horse who could go the distance, he was feeling good and I knew I had a very strong chance if everything went to plan. They were very different situations and many years apart, but I think both feel equally special.
Can you tell us about Pret A Tout?
Pret A Tout is 15-years-old now, so he has lots of experience as well as such enormous talent. We have won some big competitions together and he is a horse I really believe in. He is very intelligent, very consistent and always knows his job. You put him in the right spot, point in him in the right direction and he will do his best for you every single time. We really put our trust in each other and it often pays off.
At the CHIO Aachen, when we entered the arena for prize-giving, I could just let go of the reins and wave to the crowd, as Pret A Tout is so relaxed, he knows he has done his job and can just enjoy the atmosphere – I think he enjoys the crowd and receiving the prizes more than me! You can see in his body language he really loves it.
How do you produce a talented horse like Pret A Tout?
You need to have a big support network behind you, producing a top Grand Prix horse does not come down to one person. It starts with the groom, the riders at home and the programme you put together with your team. The horse needs to be focused but also needs to be happy at home in order to learn and develop. I do my best to form a strong bond with all the horses, it is so important to build their trust and develop the partnership.
You have had a long and very successful career, how has the sport changed with the introduction of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping?
I think Rolex have chosen four of the best shows in the world to form the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping. All four Majors have the best atmosphere, footing, stabling conditions – all the assets that create the best environment for the riders and horses.
The introduction of the Grand Slam created a big step-up for our sport, it has helped it to grow and develop and also creates a whole new element for spectators, it certainly makes it more exciting!
You weren’t sure whether you would be able to compete at CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’, how did you make your final decision?
With the FEI World Equestrian Games™ being so close to Spruce Meadows, I didn’t want to make any decisions without consulting my team, but now we have had discussions and have decided we have the horses to make it work. The Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping bonus system was a big pull for us, as if we don’t attend Spruce Meadows our Grand Slam journey would be over and there would be no opportunity to compete for the bonuses at CHI Geneva and The Dutch Masters. The Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping is an exciting journey to be a part of, so I felt we needed to try and make it work. I am lucky to have an amazing selection of horses at home, so we will see what happens.
Which horses are you taking to CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’?
I am hoping to take Cornado NRW and Funky Fred.
Which horse are your hoping to ride in the CP ‘International’ presented by Rolex?
I don’t know which horse I will ride in this class. I haven’t competed at Spruce Meadows for such a long time, so I want to arrive and familiarise myself with the place before making any decisions. I will also see what the weather is like and how the horses are feeling as all these elements can affect which horse I choose.
What has been your career highlight so far?
The biggest highlight of my career so far has to be winning a gold medal at the 2000 Games in Sydney with the German team. It was such a special moment and one I will never forget.
What motivates you each day?
For me, my biggest motivation is not the big shows, it’s not the winning; my biggest motivation is the relationship with the horses. I love working with them, competing with them and growing with them. To build a partnership with a horse, see how it evolves and develops and be on a journey with them is such an incredible feeling.
If you weren’t a professional show jumper, what would you be?
I honestly can’t answer that question. I am so lucky to combine my hobby and my passion with my work.
What advice would you give to a young up-and-coming rider?
I have learnt so much in my career, but I think the best advice I can give is to remember this: ‘most of the faults you accumulate in the ring are due to rider error and not a horse’s mistake. So, when it does not go to plan, you must not blame the horse, you must look at what you as a rider could have done better and that’s the only way you will improve.’
Source: Press Release by Rolex Grand Slam
Photo: © Rolex Grand Slam / Kit Houghton