When did you think that Martin had what it takes to reach the top?
When he’d finished competing in the Juniors, that’s when I realized he might have the potential to reach the top. At the beginning, it was more my wife who went to the shows with him, I did go a few times, but he fell off multiple times and so I stopped going! He always wanted to be a showjumper, at the age of 11 or 12 he competed in a few shows on an old Grand Prix horse from Renata, which 18 or 19 years-old at the time. He started to win a few competitions and that’s when I saw the potential he had.
What qualities does Martin hold that have allowed him to get to where he is now?
His connection with the horse is truly amazing, he’s very calm, he doesn’t get nervous. His fundamental skills, which he learned from dressage lessons are very good, which have helped him become the rider he is today.
When Martin won the Rolex Grand Prix in Geneva, it was obviously an emotional occasion, what was going through your mind at the time?
I remember the feeling when we realized that Martin had won the European Championships, the whole team was so emotional, and we started to realize something special was happening. Geneva was also special because everyone was there to support him, and it meant a lot to Martin to win such a big class in his home country.
You won at The Dutch Masters in the 80s, do you think Martin can follow in your footsteps
Yes, I think I did win there! What I hope will happen and what will actually happen might not be the same thing, he definitely has a good chance, Clooney 51 looks really fit. He hasn’t jumped since Prague, so he’s had a nice break, and kept fit so he’s in a good position to do well at The Dutch Masters.
The arena at The Dutch Masters is quite small compared to Geneva arena, how do you adapt your preparations?
The horses are used to competing in many different arenas, I don’t believe it will have much of an impact on Clooney, he is used to varying conditions. A little bit of luck is always needed, the horse needs to be in top form. This will only be Clooney’s second show since Geneva, so it’s difficult to predict how he will perform, considering this, he’s in great shape, but in reality, we need everything to come together.
Do you get nervous watching Martin compete?
To be honest; not really no. The horse has done so many clear rounds so far, in the jump-offs at the end of course I get a little bit nervous, but the horse is really incredible, so overall, I’m not particularly nervous. I have confidence in my son and in Clooney, I don’t believe it’s necessary to be nervous anymore.
Obviously, you’re a world-renowned horse dealer, how did you find Clooney and the other horses for you and for Martin?
Over the years, I have built up a network of good friends and great contacts, who when they see something special, they get in touch. We have also gone to see so many horses it’s not the case that you find a horse like Clooney every year, as he is such a special horse. You need a bit of luck on your side, which we’ve had.
When you first saw Clooney, did you think that he was going to be the star that he is now?
At the beginning, when we first saw him, we thought he was a very nice horse, we weren’t thinking that he was a star from the beginning. However, when he won the Swiss Championships as an eight-year-old, we realized that he was a very special horse with a unique talent.
Obviously, Martin has done so much already at such a young age, what are your hopes and dreams for him, what would you like him to achieve?
I’m really happy with what he’s done so far, his career has been exceptional, he has already won a lot more than I did, although I do think it is a little bit easier for him. The equipment nowadays is much better, he can also go away to a show without having to worry about who is taking care of the horses. We have some incredible staff at the stables, who do an amazing job of looking after the horses, his mother takes care of all the paperwork, all of this allows him to really focus on the riding and the shows.
How has the sport of showjumping changed since you started your career compared to Martin now?
There are many more top riders competing in today’s competitions, it’s incredible how much the sport has improved. When I went to shows, sometimes we just had normal horses, nowadays, you need top class horses in order to be even be in contention. When I was competing, this wasn’t the case, you could win with an average horse, however, nowadays the only classes that are interesting are the really big ones.
What was the proudest moment of your career when you were jumping?
I’d say the proudest moment of my career is probably becoming the trainer for the two best riders in the world. I won a lot of classes as a rider, but I never won any of the top classes. My brother and I, especially when were at the beginning of our careers, we had to take care of a lot more things than those who compete nowadays, we had to run the stables ourselves. We couldn’t always concentrate purely on competing, there were many other responsibilities. I think that this is one of the reasons why I retired from competing so early on in my career, because there was too much take on.
Training Steve and Martin, I don’t need to be there every day, but with the big shows and the championships I’m there and I try to calm them down a bit. Overall, we have found a great balance between being a trainer, a father and a friend.
It must be quite interesting, because Steve and Martin are such good friends, but then they’re battling for the world number one spot, is there quite a friendly rivalry between them?
The rivalry between them is great, it makes them both train and compete harder, because they both want to be World no.1. Of course, they compete against each other, but they are still good friends. Steve and Martin both want to win, but if they come second and the other wins then they are still happy because they are so close, they support each other fully. Inside the ring, they’re competitors, but in private they’re very good friends. Sometimes, there is a bit of jealousy, but that is natural, it’s a good thing to have when you’re competing to be the best.
The funny thing is, when Martin became World no.1, he called me and asked me “what’s it like to be the trainer for the number one rider in the world?” I replied saying “I’m used to this” What he should have asked was “what’s it like being the father of the world number one”.
Lastly, if you didn’t work in the showjumping or equestrian world, was there any other career path that you could see yourself doing?
Working in the equestrian industry is all we’ve ever known, we started an apprenticeship and then started dealing horses. Martin is a horse man through and through, I don’t think I’m too bad either, there isn’t another career path I could see either of us doing.
Source: Press release from Rolex Grand Slam of Showjumping
Photo: © Alban Poudret via Rolex Grand Slam of Showjumping