Tales from Tokyo: the amateur eventer who’s ridden for three nations – and speaks five languages

  • Nicolas Wettstein is not your average Olympic event rider. For starters, he classes himself as “completely an amateur” – he is the general manager of a small pharmaceutical distribution company in Geneva, Switzerland.

    “I’m very thankful for my managers to allow me to come to the Tokyo Olympics, and to my 30 employees who are supporting me at home,” he says. “We will have our next sales meeting in August and I’m really looking forward to telling them my [Olympics] story.”

    So how does Nicolas juggle a high-flying full-time job with his Olympic eventing?

    “Big sacrifices,” he says. “Competitions are my holidays and I work my horses before going to work so wake up at 5am. Then I do fitness or cardio after work.

    “I have thought about riding as a professional and there are positive and negatives. But my parents were also amateur riders who worked full time, and so I have this as an example,” he says, adding that he enjoys being the owner of “my horse, my house, my truck”, and not depending on others, as well as knowing he has an alternative career to fall back on in future.

    Nicolas Wettstein’s Olympic ride is Altier D’Aurois, an 11-year-old gelding owned by Nicolas along with his father Frank and mother Monique Deyme, and Nicolas explains that he is really aiming him for the Paris Olympics in 2024, and that he is still green at this level.

    “He is a hard worker, who always wants to do his best,” says Nicolas, whose position on the leader board dropped to 43rd after an early run-out on the cross-country. He was nonetheless delighted with the remainder of the horse’s round.

    “I bought him aged seven as an amateur showjumper and I think he had gone through some difficult times. He’s not the most naturally strong or talented like my other horses, but they are a little more complicated in the head. This horse really trusts me and I feel him saying, ‘Thanks for giving me a chance’.”

    Nicolas Wettstein: a rider of the world

    It would be easy to assume that Nicolas rides for Switzerland. And indeed he once did – but Nicolas’ sporting nationality is far from simple. Born in Switzerland to a Swiss father and French mother, who was born in Algeria when it was a French colony, he grew up speaking both French and Swiss German, and rode for France in pony and junior showjumping.

    He then switched discipline to eventing as he entered the young riders division, and also changed his nationality to ride for Switzerland. He competed at the young rider eventing Europeans in 2002 under the Swiss flag, and continued to represent Switzerland for almost 10 years.

    “Just before the 2004 Olympics in Athens, I met a girl from Ecuador,” he explains. “We married two  years later and after five years of marriage my wife was thinking about becoming Swiss, but I was thinking about becoming Ecuadorian. I had been many times to Ecuador, and really fell in love with the country. I met a lot of riders there, and started to do clinics there, and I found a mentality and culture that was really speaking to me. The nature there is amazing – the people are so nice, and I got a feeling there that I never really had in Europe.”

    Nicolas changed nationality in 2011, and has represented Ecuador at the 2015 and 2019 Pan-Am Games, the 2014 and 2018 World Equestrian Games, the Rio Olympics in 2016, and now the Tokyo Olympics.

    “At the beginning it was difficult – some of the Swiss didn’t take it so well, and some in Ecuador took it well and some didn’t. But after 10 years I now feel completely accepted [as an Ecuadorian rider]. I have a complete Ecuadorian support family.”

    It stands to reason that Nicolas is proficient in several languages – he speaks German, Swiss German, French, English and Spanish. Add that to the fact he is an Olympic eventer with a senior job outside horses, and you have one very high achiever.

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