What have you been up to since winning the Rolex Grand Prix at CHIO Aachen in September?
I was very busy the first couple weeks after winning the Rolex Grand Prix at CHIO Aachen. It is something very special to win and very different to winning another Grand Prix. A lot of people wanted to do interviews and photo shoots with me; I really enjoyed the whole experience. But unfortunately, the horses don’t know that I have won one of the best Grands Prix in the world, so we got back to reality quite quickly.
As a German, to win at CHIO Aachen was amazing. Aachen is so special to me, and the crowd is fully supporting you. When you come into the arena it is very loud, but the moment the bell goes, it is silent in the stadium – it is a very special feeling.
You’re the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Live Contender – what’s your strategy building up to CHI Geneva?
I am definitely taking Killer Queen VDM to compete in the Rolex Grand Prix at CHI Geneva. She is my best horse at the moment; however, I would not say she is a traditional indoor season horse. But she jumped in the Grand Prix at CHI Geneva two years ago, so she knows the arena. At the beginning of the week of CHI Geneva I will jump her in a class and see how she feels and decide whether she needs to jump in a bigger class before the Rolex Grand Prix. I will make my decisions according to how she feels in the build-up the class.
Which other horses will you take to CHI Geneva, and which of your young horses are you really excited about?
I have not fully decided yet, Scuderia 1918 Tobago Z had a bit of time off during the summer, as he was injured, but he came back for a couple of shows. He did not jump in the biggest classes over the summer, so I will take him to a show this weekend and see how he feels in a bigger class and then decide whether to take him to Geneva. He will either go as my second or third horse, I will see after this week.
I have two really nice young horses – they are both very exciting prospects for the future. One is a nine-year-old, called Mr. Jones [Scuderia 1918 Mr. Jones], we bought him two years ago as a seven-year-old. We have very big hopes for him for the next couple of years. However, due to COVID-19, he lost a year of experience, as he did not do very many shows, so he is a very young nine-year-old. The second horse is called In Time and I have never actually taken this horse to a show myself. One of our Stephex riders has competed him in the young horse classes, he is only eight but I think I might take him to Geneva. I would like to get some experience on him and get to learn more about each other. I think he has a lot of potential.
The arena at CHI Geneva is quite different to CHIO Aachen, how do you prepare for this?
I haven’t changed anything specifically, but of course coming into the indoor season we train different distances and lines than for the outdoor season. For example, in the indoor season you see a lot of three- or four-stride distances, which outdoor you hardly ever see in a big ring like Aachen, for example. That is something you have to train, but in general most of our horses are well educated and old enough with good experience that you do that one or two times before the indoor season and that is enough. It is more of a fitness programme and they only see the big fences during the shows.
You have a great team behind you, how important is that in order to achieve great success?
Without a good team you cannot be successful, you need a good team that travels with you, one that looks after the horses at home and in the office. To have success when I am travelling almost every weekend, you need to have a big team of people and horses around you and they all need to fit together and work together. The sport is now so complicated and close together, and I travel so much that my team at home is just as important as my athlete in the saddle.
Sean Lynch is my main groom and has worked for me for around seven years. I trust him one hundred per cent, which is very important when he is travelling with our top horses. He does everything with the horses, and he is a very important person in my career. My success would be impossible without him. He loves the horses, it can be a 24-hour job, if something happens to one of them, he is there for them and he is so dedicated to them.
What are your plans, dreams and ambitions for 2022?
As the Live Contender, I hope that I win the Rolex Grand Prix at CHI Geneva and then I can aim to win the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping. Even if I do not win in Geneva, I will still aim to win a Rolex Grand Prix next year. Apart from Scott [Brash], no one has won two or three in a row, so it is definitely a goal for the next couple years.
What has been the proudest moment of your career so far?
Of course, winning the Rolex Grand Prix at CHIO Aachen was a goal that I had for many years, really ever since I was a child. Very close to that success I have to put winning the World Cup Final with my former horse Cornet d’Amour. He was a horse that brought me on to the international stage, and I had my first experiences of championships and success. It is a moment that I put at the same level as winning the Rolex Grand Prix.
Just like tennis and golf, show jumping has its own Grand Slam. Which of the other sporting ‘Majors’ do you love watching, and which is your favourite and why?
I am a very sporty person, so I love to watch any sport. My three favourites apart from show jumping are tennis, soccer, and Formula One. It is very difficult for me to choose just one sport that I love to watch the most. I don’t really have a favourite football team, but a couple of years ago my friend got me really into Borussia Dortmund. I went to see them a couple of times when they were playing in the Champions League. The atmosphere there is incredible, and it is a great sport.
Who has inspired you the most throughout your career? Is there one rider you idolise?
When I was a child and I went to the big shows to watch the world’s best show jumpers, there were only two combinations that I really loved to watch. One was John Whitaker and Milton on the other was Franke Sloothaak and Walzerkönig. I was very lucky a couple of years later that I got the opportunity to work for Franke Sloothaak for four and a half years and I’m still in contact with him. Even though he lives far away from me, he is still a major support to me and gives me advice over the phone. He watches all of my rounds, and I must admit he is a huge part to my success.
What keeps you motivated and hungry for success?
There is just something in me that likes to go a step further and likes to win. As show jumpers, we go to a lot of shows, and there are usually a lot of competitors in the classes, with only ever one winner. So, you do not win all the time, being second or third is not a drama, but when you don’t win you will always re-live the round and wonder what you could have done better. Even though you don’t always win, the motivation on a Monday morning is always there. I learn from what could have gone better, and I see each show as more experience, so that when I go to the next show I will do better.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
First of all, you need experience. You cannot compete at your best when you are young, you must grow up and learn from your experiences. I think the most important thing is patience. This was something that I learnt from Franke [Sloothaak]. He was very quiet and cool on the horse, even if the horse had been very difficult during the week, and he was very patient with it and they always jumped well in the shows. If you are too young and too motivated it can be very difficult. I think it is very important to just be patient and learn from your mistakes in the past. You need to get the basics right, both for yourself as rider and your horse, in order to be successful.
If you were stranded on a desert island, which three items would you take with you?
If I leave my house without my phone, my watch and my wallet I feel very empty – so I would have to say those three items.
Source: Press Release from Rolex Grand Slam
Photo: © Rolex Grand Slam / Ashley Neuhof