Omaha, Nebraska – April 03, 2023 – As of yesterday defending champion, Martin Fuchs (SUI), had not arrived so it was the Swiss rider’s popular groom, Irishman Sean Vard, who presented Leone Jei, the horse with which Fuchs won team gold and individual silver at the FEI European Championship in Riesenbeck (GER) in 2021.
Vard talked about the 11-year-old gelding, and the part he personally plays as Team Fuchs prepare for this big week ahead.
“Always at Championships and big events Leone Jei has stepped up even though he is still young and inexperienced. He’s quite a hot horse so we try to keep him cool. For him the bigger the tracks the better he jumps and he was sensational in Geneva in December. After that he had a few weeks off while we were on the Sunshine Tour, and he was just hacking and doing conditioning work, and then he jumped at the Dutch Masters in ’s-Hertogenbosch (NED) where he finished fifth and gave a fantastic effort.
“We took him to Gorla Minore in Italy last week where he jumped three 1.25m tracks, but he’s always in shape, he’s a great horse for us and has done fantastic things and naturally being title defenders we have a really great feeling with him”, Vard said.
So how does it feel putting in all the preparation, knowing once Martin gets onboard it’s all out of his hands?
“It’s all very much in my hands until the horse goes through the start beams. It’s a team effort. Martin isn’t here yet, he had a late flight so I’ve ridden the horse five times already”, said the Irishman who rode up to international level himself before deciding to become a top groom.
“I know how Martin rides the horse and the way I’ve ridden the last few days is exactly the way that he would have done. I know how to replicate what he does when I have to at shows like this where I fly ahead with the horse. He can arrive and the horse is 100% ready to jump. It’s a good feeling knowing that he trusts me to do it, and it’s also a good feeling knowing that I’ve played a huge part in it until he goes through that start beam”, he explained.
So what about Leone Jei’s character? “He’s a fantastic personality but he’s a bit of a hot-head sometimes, it’s all about managing his energy levels. He’s a big horse and sometimes he can be too fresh so it’s a delicate balance between doing too much and too little. Especially after driving from Switzerland to the plane in Liege (BEL) and then quarantine after coming here over the last few days. He’s very nice and very easy to be around, and he has filled big shoes since Clooney (Fuchs’ legendary former ride) retired.”
There’s no shortage of powerful opposition to the defending champion however, and it’s all to play for when the action gets underway for real on Wednesday night.
Source: Press Release by Louise Parkes for FEI – Fédération Equestre Internationale
Photo: © FEI / Christophe Tanière
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