You won last year’s CP ‘International’, presented by Rolex. Does that give you more pressure going into the Major on Sunday?
There’s always pressure in each Grand Prix you jump in, but the higher the stakes the higher the pressure. I personally like the pressure, especially when you have a horse like Suma’s Zorro underneath you, as you know she’ll give her best every time, so that takes a bit of the pressure off. I’m very grateful for her that I can go into such big Grands Prix and not really have that pressure on, knowing I just have to do my job.
What are your expectations going into Sunday’s CP ‘International’, presented by Rolex?
My expectations are always high, but in show jumping nothing is ever guaranteed. I love my job and I love my horse, so one thing is sure – we’re going to give our best shot in the CP ‘International’, presented by Rolex on Sunday.
How has Suma’s Zorro been since last year’s epic win in the CP ‘International’, presented by Rolex?
We’ve had a bit of an up and down sort of year. Suma’s Zorro didn’t really winter too well; she’s a mare that likes a bit of sun and a little bit of heat, so the winter was not so good for her. About a month ago she started hitting form again. She jumped well in the CHIO Aachen Grand Prix, and I’m really looking forward to Sunday, as I believe she’s hitting form at just the right time. I don’t want to jinx it, but I have a good feeling about Sunday!
Can you tell us a little bit about Suma’s Zorro’s character?
She’s a stubborn mare and I refer to her as a stubborn red head – very fiery, and you always have to get on her good side, otherwise you have no chance. But I’ve now known her for eight years, so you could say she’s now like my best friend in that I know everything about her, and she knows everything about me. I know one thing for sure: I cannot go against her and I need to get her on my side. But she’s a fighter and she always demonstrates that fighting spirit for me, and I feel very fortunate for that.
Other than Suma’s Zorro, which horses have you brought to Spruce Meadows?
I’ve brought a 10-year-old gelding called WKD Exotic, a stunning looking horse. I haven’t had him a long time, maybe just under a year, and I’m just trying to figure him out. He’s done some great things and I’m looking forward to working with him for the rest of the week.
What drives you and keeps you going?
I really love what I do, and I call myself lucky every day, because for me, horses give me an incentive to wake up every morning. Horses are like human beings and you need to treat them like individuals, which means that your mind is always working, and I like that. Figuring out what’s best for each individual horse is a real challenge. I have a fantastic relationship with my teammate, Joanne Sloan Allen. We bounce ideas off one another, and that keeps me motivated. I have a very competitive nature, so every class I compete in I try to win, but in show jumping you lose a lot more than you win, so when you do win you really appreciate it. A moment like Spruce Meadows last year is something I’ll never forget, and when I do go through dull moments, I think back to that win, which gets my spirits back up. Show jumping is a very interesting sport and very much a lifestyle, and that’s why I love it.
What do you love most about Spruce Meadows?
All the people who work here do everything with a lot of pride. From the organisers to the showground to the atmosphere and the crowds; when I come here, I feel as though I need to fight a little bit more to get a good result because everybody does everything with so much passion. I just love the place; I call it Disney for horses. Everything is there, including incredible stabling and so many grass fields. And the organisers have held on to their traditions through the generations, which nowadays is a hard thing to do, particularly with the modernisation of the sport. The organisers of Spruce Meadows have a vision, which they’ve stayed true to, so I have to say hats off to them.
If you weren’t a professional in equestrianism, what would you be doing?
I studied medicine so I guess I’d be a doctor!
For you, how has the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping enhanced the sport?
It’s enhanced the sport in every way. I just look at the start list at this show and I see the world’s best riders and horses. So much money has been injected into these Majors and their individual profiles have been amplified hugely; but for me, it’s not about the money or the material side, it’s much more about being part of the four biggest Majors in the world – Geneva, Aachen, Spruce Meadows and the Dutch Masters – which are all supported by Rolex. When you go to a Rolex Grand Prix, regardless of whether you’re jumping for €3 million, €1 million, or €500,000, you want to win it, even if there was no prize money at stake. If you win it, your name goes down in history, and sits alongside some of the biggest names in the sport, such as Nick Skelton, Eric Lamaze and Eddie Macken, and other riders of that world class standard. It’s a dream for every rider, and I feel so lucky that I, a young rider from Egypt, can stand here today and say that.
Source: Press release from Rolex Grand Slam
Photos: © Rolex / Ashley Neuhof