‘A week after I started riding, I decided to become a showjumper’: meet young rider preparing for one of world’s toughest classes

  • On Sunday (11 September) one of the toughest showjumping classes in the world, the CP International presented by Rolex, takes place at the CSIO Spruce Meadows Masters, Calgary, in Canada.

    The competition boasts one of the sport’s richest prize-funds ($3,000,000), as well as acting as one of the four legs of the Rolex Grand Slam of Showjumping, so it’s no wonder that an elite field of top showjumpers have descended on the historic venue this week.

    One key competitor is young German showjumper Gerrit Nieberg, the current live contender for the Rolex Grand Slam of Showjumping following his spectacular win at CHIO Aachen with Ben 431. This will be the 29-year-old rider’s first visit to Spruce Meadows.

    “The Rolex Grand Slam is so traditional and unique,” says Gerrit, adding what a “real privilege” it is to be the live contender. “In our sport, there are so many shows each year and the Rolex Grand Slam is definitely a highlight as it consists of four of the best events. Everyone would love to be a winner at one of the Rolex Grand Slam events. It is viewed as a really important initiative among us riders and within the sport.

    “It has always been a dream of mine [to be a live contender] and I have always looked up to the other riders who have achieved this. After my victory in the Rolex Grand Prix [in Aachen] it took a week or so to sink in that I am the live contender!”

    Gerrit Nieberg: working hard to ‘achieve this dream’

    Becoming the new live contender for the Grand Slam has also opened up a wealth of opportunities for Gerrit – after Spruce Meadows, he hopes to continue his bid in Geneva in December.

    “This was something that I had not originally planned for because, due to my previous world ranking, I would not have been able to get into these shows,” says Gerrit, who is currently ranked 80th. “Now that I have a chance to compete at these shows, I want to do my best and give everything to continue this momentum.”

    Gerrit is the son of double Olympic gold medallist Lars Nieberg, but only started riding when he was 13.

    “Before this and growing up, I was more interested in other sports like soccer,” he says. “However, I did grow up with horses because of my parents, so there were always horses around and I decided to give it a go one day.

    “My love for showjumping developed quickly and one week after starting to ride, I decided I wanted to become a professional showjumper. From that moment on, I was working and training hard every day to achieve this dream.

    “My dad was the person who inspired me most when I was young due to all his experience and success. My dream has always been to be as good as he was, and still is, and maybe even a bit better one day! I still really look up to him in terms of who he is and how much he works each and every day. Although he is not showing competitively anymore, he is still riding every day at home. His motivation and support for everything that I do is unbelievable and very inspiring.”

    Top horse Ben 431: ‘He is always fighting for you’

    Spectators at the London leg of the Longines Global Champions Tour will have seen Gerrit Nieberg in action with his top horse, the Aachen-winning 11-year-old Ben 431 (Sylvain x Quincy Jones), who he describes as “really over-motivated”.

    “Occasionally, it can be quite difficult to handle him and keep him calm, but that is also a really positive thing because it means he is always fighting for you and trying to do his best at times,” he says. “He is tireless – for example after three rounds at CHIO Aachen, he was not tired and would have been able to do another one or two rounds. After the victory at Aachen, he also understood that he had done something special. There were lots of media commitments and so he received lots of attention – even more than before. Now he is always looking out of his window for more attention, so I think he feels like a superstar!”

    Gerrit is quick to credit his team for his success.

    “My team is hugely important – it’s not just me and Ben,” says Gerrit, who is based at the stables of former German showjumper Hendrik Snoek, who owns most of his horses. “We are in the ring together for 80 seconds but there is so much work that goes on behind the scenes. The whole team play a key role in enabling us to have success in those 80 seconds in the ring. Often everyone only talks about the rider and the horse, but there is so much more to it. All the others are just as, or even more, important. They are the true unsung heroes.

    “Success is what keeps me motivated,” he adds. “It is important to have a goal. I absolutely love riding, but I don’t know whether I could do it without the element of competition, the shows and something to work towards. I am working as hard as ever to enjoy more moments like this.”

    Gerrit Nieberg is joined at Spruce Meadows by a host of other top riders including Peder Fredricson, Henrik von Eckermann, Martin Fuchs, Scott Brash, Steve Guerdat, Kent Farrington, Daniel Deusser and Harrie Smolders.

    All the tracks will be designed as always by course-builder Leopoldo Palacios, who has earned a great reputation for setting challenging yet fair tests for the world’s best horses and riders.

    Horse & Hound will be bringing you all the action from the Spruce Meadows Masters tournament, both online and in next week’s magazine, in the shops on Thursday, 15 September.

    You may also like to read…

    Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday, is packed with all the latest news and reports, as well as interviews, specials, nostalgia, vet and training advice. Find how you can enjoy the magazine delivered to your door every week, plus options to upgrade your subscription to access our online service that brings you breaking news and reports as well as other benefits.

    You may like...