On Sunday (20 July 2014), Swiss showjumper Steve Guerdat bids to win the second leg of the Rolex Grand Slam of Showjumping in Aachen. H&H caught up with the Olympic gold medallist to find out how he rates his chances and whether he’s feeling the pressure with a potential €1m at stake.
Q: You will be riding Nino Des Buissonnets, with whom you won the Geneva leg of the Rolex Grand Slam in December as well as Olympic gold in 2012 — was that always the plan?
STEVE: Nino is the horse I need if I want to be able to achieve something in this Grand Slam so I always planned to ride him in Sunday’s Rolex Grand Prix. It’s been in my mind since we won in Geneva to do the Rolex Grand Slam, so I’ve planned the best I can and not to show him too much. He arrives here very fresh and really in-form. I have the whole week to get him ready for Sunday — I’m not going to try to win anything with him until then because I want to give myself the best possible chance in the grand prix.
Q: Which other horses do you have with you in Aachen?
STEVE: I’ve brought Nasa with me as I need her for the other big classes in order to save Nino. We have a Nations Cup and we have the grand prix of Europe on Wednesday — very prestigious classes where we want to be good and you need a horse that likes these kind of shows. So Nasa was planned for here also. After St Gallen she had a long break and she’s very fresh, too, so hopefully she can win something before Sunday. I have another horse called Qui Vive De La Tour. She’s very competitive and has won and been placed in a lot of 1.45/1.50m classes. She’s never been to this level of show, but they need to start at some point. So it’s still a bit of a question mark but she needs experience and she’ll be a useful horse to try to win something with during the week. I also brought my eight-year-old Kavalier for the youngster classes. I believe in this horse a lot so I brought him here to see how he copes in the ring. I believe in the next few years he’s going to be the one that will walk in Nino’s step and maybe one day could win the grand prix here.
Q: You are bidding for back-to-back wins in the Rolex Grand Slam having won in front of your home crowd in Geneva at the end of last year — how did that feel?
STEVE: Geneva was very special for me. Every rider grows because of the atmosphere there but it was even more special for me. It’s amazing what the public gives me there — although sometimes it scares me, because I’ve already had so many successes there, what else can I achieve?
Q: How does it compare with Aachen, possibly one of the greatest venues in the world, where you’re competing this week?
STEVE: Aachen is different, of course, but it is the one show where we don’t just feel like riders — we feel like the most famous football player or tennis player in that ring. The stadium holds 30-40,000 people and it’s the experience of a lifetime experience riding in there — especially on Sunday for the grand prix when the tribunes are full. Before you even start, it makes you proud that you’ve got there and all the effort you’ve done at home pays off. The people in Aachen know what the sport is all about and appreciate the work that you did. It’s a great feeling.
Q: There’s a lot at stake on Sunday for the Rolex Grand Prix — how do you cope with the pressure?
STEVE: Of course there is pressure but it’s the fifth, sixth or seventh time I’ve been in Aachen and every time I feel the same pressure. The Rolex Grand Slam makes it more special — if you can achieve it — but the grand prix is the one you want to win, regardless. Every time I come here I want to do my best for myself and my horses and make sure that, come Sunday evening, I have no regrets — that all the preparation and everything I tried was the right thing to do. I’m going to give it everything. In the end, I have to accept what the sport gives me back. Of course, I need a little bit of luck and sometimes you just have bad days — these are things you need to accept in sport — but I want to be able to wake up on Monday and know that I gave it everything possible. Coming to a show with history, like Aachen and Calgary, where the public carry you, certainly makes me more motivated. For these kind of shows my preparation and motivation is 100 times bigger than shows where you just have a big long VIP tribune down one side and maybe a 100 other riders looking at you.
Q: What is your key to success?
STEVE: You need to be a good rider and you need to have a good horse — a good rider without a horse is not good enough. A good horse with a bad rider is also not good enough to win. I still think that the best riders can get 100%, even 120%, out of a horse but a not so good rider can only take, say, 50% from the horse. But some horses will be better competing at 50% than some who are at 120%. This is why the best riders win at the best shows and I hope the sport stays that way. If you look at the world rankings now, there’s nobody in the top 10 or 20 that shouldn’t be there. It shows good riding still means more than good horses. It would be a big mistake of all the good horses end up in the wrong hands.
Q: If you could take the ride on any horse other than Nino, who would you choose?
STEVE: You dream about all those great horses. Being close to Eric Lamaze, I would have loved to have had a run on Hickstead, but on the other hand I’d like to leave Hickstead with Eric, leave Nino with me, leave Shutterfly with Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum — because our sport is all about a team. I liked Hickstead because he was with Eric, I liked Shutterfly because he was with Meredith. I liked Ratina Z because she was with Ludger Beerbaum. I might not have liked those horses as much if they were with different riders. I like the pair more than just the horse.
Q: Which other horses on your yard are you most excited about?
STEVE: I’m in a very lucky, but a slightly difficult situation at the moment. I have a lot of great horses! My three new ones are Albfuehren’s Memphis, Albfuehren’s Happiness and Albfuehren’s Paille [all previously ridden by Switzerland’s Alexandra Fricker]. Happiness is an eight-year-old who is going to have a great future and Falsterbo last weekend was Paille’s first grand prix for a long time. I also have Zanzibar and Concetto Son, both very talented but inexperienced. So once everything is in place it will be very good but these horses need experience and most of these shows you can only take two horses, sometimes three. So I have to swap them around and find they’re only going to a show every month. So I’m running in every direction at the moment to try to make all these shows so that they can get the experience. It’s going to take another three or six months till everything is in place but I think it will be a very lucky situation for me.
The Rolex Grand Prix takes place on Sunday (20 July) at 2.05pm local time. Don’t miss the full report in next week’s Horse & Hound (out 24 July)