Congratulations, on another great result at the CHIO Aachen – how pleased were you with Killer Queen VDM’s performance?
I was incredibly pleased with Killer Queen VDM’s performance. The Rolex Grand Prix at CHIO Aachen is one of the biggest competitions in the world. For many years, Killer Queen has showed me that she can be very present at all of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Majors, especially at Aachen. She won two years ago at Aachen (2021), she was fourth there last year (2022), and second again this year – I could not have asked for more! Of course, I could have gone a little faster this year to try and win, but I thought we still put a lot of pressure on other riders in the jump-off, and Killer Queen gave her all and her absolute best on the day.
How do you feel about returning to the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament as last year’s champion?
I am really looking forward to it. Before 2022, I hadn’t jumped at the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament for a couple of years, because I didn’t really think I had the right horse. Of course, I wanted to compete well last year, but I did not go to Spruce Meadows with the expectation to win the CPKC ‘International’, presented by Rolex. However, Killer Queen felt excellent in the ring, she likes the big grass arena, and jumped well enough to win.. So, this year I am going to Spruce Meadows with hope and a dose of confidence, considering she has already very jumped well at Aachen this year.
Obviously, I cannot really rely on, or expect to do well, just because the last couple of years have been good, but at least Killer Queen likes the arena in Calgary, and she has been there before. I think she is on good form right now, and I am very much looking forward to going back to Spruce Meadows.
Please can you tell us a bit about how the horses travel to international shows such as Spruce Meadows? How do you ensure the horses arrive in the best possible condition, ready to compete?
Most horses fly to events like that, and basically go in ‘containers’. The containers are essentially double box stables, so it is a similar environment to what the horses are used to travelling in when they go by truck from show to show here in Europe. Even if the journey is a little longer compared to the closer shows, we have never really had a problem with the horses when travelling by plane; it is quieter, and the horses can relax more in the bigger stable box, either by standing or lying down, so it’s not really a big deal for them. Being in the air is also a little smoother for the horses compared to travelling by truck.
Apart from that, I send my groom, Sean Lynch*, to travel with the horses every time. Sean knows the horses inside and out – he spends more time with them than I do and so I’m actually not worried about the travel to Spruce at all. I know Sean has everything under control, and the flight company takes really good care of the horses.
The course there is often considered one of the toughest in the sport. How do you prepare yourself and your horse for the challenge?
To be honest, you cannot be 100% prepared. The difference with Spruce Meadows is that the jumps are slightly old fashioned, in the sense that in Europe we jump a lot of skinny jumps that are a maximum of three metres wide, whereas in Spruce Meadows, a lot of the poles are five or six metres wide. That means when going into a jump, the horse gets a totally different impression due to the combination of the height of the fences and the wing width.
A lot of the shows in Europe are on smaller sand arenas, whereas Spruce Meadows is a big grass arena, which creates a totally different situation for the horses. In the last couple of years, Spruce Meadows have bought one or two new jumps, but the jumps are slightly historical because some of the fences you jump there nowadays are still the same, even after 20 years. They are very impressive jumps. The course designer at Spruce Meadows, Leopoldo Palacios, mostly builds courses there and he knows the ring inside and out, he knows exactly what can distract the horses and what is difficult to jump. He also includes a few natural jumps, which you don’t see at many shows anymore, like a double water jump. This makes the whole Spruce Meadows package very, very special – because it’s something you don’t get anywhere else in the world.
How important is your wider team, for example grooms, vets etc. in your success?
When it comes to success, I think the wider team are just as important as the rider or the horse. Of course, you need to be a very good rider and you need to have an excellent relationship with a quality horse, but it is just as important to have a strong team behind you – a team who takes care of the horses at home, and a groom who knows the horses backwards, so they know what could be wrong after seeing only the smallest sign of unusual behaviour. I think when looking at everything together, it’s very difficult to say who is more important, but it is so important to have a strong team including the grooms, the vets, the physios and for example, someone who rides the horses and trains them when I am away at shows. So, to have success, you need the whole package. I am lucky, because I’ve got a very good team.
What do you think are the attributes that a horse and rider must have to be able to win a Major?
First of all, a horse needs to have the ability to jump the big jumps. We have a lot of competitions during the year, and at most of the shows, the 1.60m competitions take place on a Sunday, towards the end. However, the four Majors are the top competitions in the world, so sometimes, they often go one hole bigger and are 1.65m high, and the jumps are a little wider than all the other shows too. To win a Major, you and your horse really need to have some kind of experience. I think it’s very uncommon that a rider with a new horse, or a very young horse, is able to win one of the Majors. Besides experience, you need a horse with a lot of power, because the Majors are always made up of two or three rounds, and you must be able to go faster in the jump-off. The communication between the horse and rider needs to be very well adjusted, which comes with experience.
The Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping is celebrating its 10-year anniversary – how much influence has this initiative had on the sport over the past 10 years?
I think the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping has changed the sport completely. It is a series that everyone looks forward to, and a series that riders plan their year around so that they can compete at the four Majors. The extra bonus that you are able to win makes it the most prestigious competition of the year. The fact that only one rider has won the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping in the last 10 years, by winning three Majors in a row, proves how hard a challenge it is and provides a lot of intent and motivation to the other riders to try and win it.
The equestrian calendar is very full! How do you decide which shows to enter and which horses to compete with?
It comes with experience and it depends on your goals. For example, this year, we have the European Championships one week before Spruce Meadows. I decided to go to Spruce Meadows because it’s a very big goal of mine to win once again in Calgary, and to also try and win the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping. I’ve been very close to winning it a couple of times, as I have won two Majors in a row, but there have just been little pieces missing. For example, when I have been too early in the order of the jump-off, or perhaps I was just too slow in the jump-off, so, for me, the motivation is there, and I’m really motivated to try and win the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping, especially with horses like Killer Queen VDM or Scuderia 1918 Tobago Z. From the start of the year, it was very clear I wanted to plan towards Spruce Meadows this year.
The Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping provides a chance for two young riders to compete in each Major, how important is this in inspiring the next generation of top riders?
It’s very important. The Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Majors represent the top of the sport, and even if you don’t win a Major straight away, you gain a lot of experience and you can also learn a lot from other competitors in the Majors. I was not able to ride as a junior or young rider in these competitions, so I can only talk about my experience, and that is that the older we get, the more we learn about horses. The older we get, the more we learn about the sport, and how you can develop a horse and get better as an athlete. I think in that way, it’s important to be to be part of these competitions as much as you can – I’ve learned a lot.
Show Jumping is one of the only sports in the world where men and women compete against each other – how special is this?
I think it makes the sport even more interesting, because as a Show Jumping athlete, there is absolutely no advantage or disadvantage in being a man or a woman. It is possible for every Show Jumping athlete to develop a bond with their horse and train them, and an advantage can only be gained through experience, but it’s not down to whether the rider is a woman or a man – it’s an equal game, and the fact that we can all do this together is very special. It’s a nice sport to do.
Much like The Championships, Wimbledon in Tennis and The Masters in Golf, Spruce Meadows is a Major. What is about the Majors in sport that is so special and why are they so important? Can you compare the similarities between the tennis and golf Majors and show jumping Majors.
I’ve never been to a Golf Major, but I’ve been to Roland-Garros for the last two years. If you have never been to Roland Garros, it’s very difficult to describe the atmosphere there, but it gets you thinking about the differences between Show Jumping and Tennis, and how you can compare the two. Of course, it’s a little different because an individual Tennis match is always about two/four players, and the crowd is either supportive of one or the other. Whereas in Show Jumping, we have a lot of competitors, usually about 40 in one Major. where everyone gets only a little bit of time in the ring, maybe two-and-a-half or three minutes, compared to a tennis player who has maybe two or three hours to turn a match around, in Show Jumping if you lose it in the first 20 seconds, it’s done and you cannot win anymore.
I think what’s special is the history behind the Grand Slams and the Majors, whatever sport it is, whether it’s Tennis, Golf or Show Jumping. I feel proud to be in a generation that is part of the Grand Slams. It motivates you to try and win because of the history, and because of people you admire, maybe who won the Grand Slams 20-years-ago, and now you’re able to compete or now you are actually trying to win.
As a youngster I was always a big fan of Show Jumping, especially at Aachen and Spruce Meadows, I would watch on TV and admire those that were winning at the time. The fact that you can take their place now and win one of the Majors is a very big thing, and that makes it very, very important.
*Find out all you want to know about Sean Lynch in our latest Podcast, Rolex Grand Slam Talks: In The Groom Eyes.
Source: Press Release from Rolex Grand Slam
Photo: © Rolex Grand Slam / Ashley Neuhof