“There was certainly something different about the atmosphere,” says Scott Brash, looking back on the day he made history eight years ago when he became the first winner of the Rolex Grand Slam of Showjumping.
Scott won CHI Geneva in December 2014, CHIO Aachen in May 2015, and all that was left was to secure the win at the Spruce Meadows Masters. And he did just that with Hello Sanctos on 14 September 2015, taking home €1.3 million (then £950,000).
Last month Rolex celebrated the Grand Slam of Showjumping’s 10-year anniversary by hosting a round table event with Rolex testimonee Scott Brash at the Spruce Meadows Masters, where he discussed the highs of winning, what the Grand Slam has done for the sport, why Hello Sanctos was not necessarily his first pick for that historic day, and what the future holds.
Remembering that Sunday morning at Spruce Meadows in 2015, Scott says he arrived at the showground early to check out the course with no one else around, before riding Hello Sanctos in preparation for the grand prix that afternoon.
“I remember working him in and just knowing that he felt really good. I think he was probably the fittest I’ve ever had him in his life,” explains Scott.
“One of the great aspects of my riding style is that the more important the competition is, the more focused I become. I was certainly very focused on that day and totally focused on what was right for Hello Sanctos. I kept his same routine, because at the end of the day, he didn’t know that he was jumping for the Rolex Grand Slam of Showjumping, to him it was just another day and another course, so we just focused on beating the course.”
And what does the atmosphere feel like when someone is on the cusp of winning the sport’s richest prize?
“There was certainly something different about the atmosphere; I remember all the riders standing at gate while I was entering. Although I was very focused, you could see it and sense it,” says Scott.
“When I rode in, you could hear a pin drop. I don’t think there was much difference in the way my fellow competitors acted, but perhaps it was just a matter of respect such as providing me with more space in the warm-up – no one wanted to be in the way, which was appreciated.”
Scott and Hello Sanctos were the only combination to jump clear in the final round that day and Scott remembers feeling “all sorts of emotions”.
“One certainly was relief,” he explains. “However in a weird sense, one was sadness. My team and I had worked towards the goal of achieving the Rolex Grand Slam for such an extensive period, for it to suddenly be completed, it was emotional.
“But on top of this, I definitely felt excitement, jubilation, joy, excitement – my owners were there as well, my father, my family. It was amazing to have them there to share this great achievement with.
“We have some incredible photographs of that day, as you can imagine, and Hello Sanctos looked a million dollars. It was an amazing day in my career. I remember it so clearly; as an example of just how fit he was, even when we were walking out of the ring, I noticed he had not even broken a sweat, he was in that great a shape.”
But enjoying such highs can also be followed by lows – and added pressure explains Scott.
“After winning team gold at the London 2012 Olympics, and after completing the Rolex Grand Slam of Showjumping, I remember feeling a little low period, questioning what was next – but I think that’s very normal,” he says.
“I actually talked to Bruce Springsteen once about a musician’s career and why things can go wrong sometimes. He said that while performing, one experiences such an adrenaline rush and intense atmosphere, it can be a shock when walking off stage to nothing; there is naturally an experience of a low. I certainly felt this after winning those major events; there was absolute joy and fantastic celebrations afterwards and a couple weeks later, I naturally experienced a low.”
The talent of London 2012 team gold medal-winning Hello Sanctos was unquestionable, but Scott reveals the Quasimodo Van De Molendreef would not have been the first pick for Spruce Meadows that year.
“Hello Sanctos did not like jumping in the arena at CHIO Aachen – not everyone knows that,” explains Scott. “It was the one ring that he felt uncomfortable in. I attended Aachen with him, and while it wasn’t too bad I came out thinking ‘Why did it not go so well?’. I had two down in the grand prix, but it felt like I was riding for my life. I then met Katharina Offel, who rode him when he was younger, and she said, ‘He does not like Aachen does he?’. He had jumped there previously with Katharina and was eliminated. So that joined up the dots for me.
“When I won at CHI Geneva, I had two top horses, Hello Sanctos and Ursula XII. Ursula is made for the likes of Spruce Meadows and Aachen, and if she had been fit, I would have taken her to Spruce Meadows. So, it left me in the position of taking Hello Sanctos or not attending.”
When it comes to personalities, Scott says it was how clever Hello Sanctos was that “set him apart”, and Scott places huge importance on getting to know horses as individuals.
“Hello Jefferson [Scott’s current top horse] has all the attributes that one needs to win a grand prix. He is extremely talented; he is really sharp and strong minded which is great, but he has a busy brain, so he has to come out of the stable a lot more than in comparison to other horses,” he says.
“I have to put a lot of work into him compared with what I did with Hello Sanctos for example. However, Hello Jefferson is more experienced now, I believe as he grows older, he is developing into a better horse. Hello Sanctos, if I’m honest when I first tried him, I didn’t think he had the scope to ever manage Spruce Meadows – that just shows how amazing horses are. When a horse is confident and really trusts a rider, they can succeed and jump fences far bigger than one might think. We had a fantastic partnership and Sanctos really grew into his scope.”
And when it comes to stars of the future, Scott has his eye on a few.
“We are breeding from Ursula XII and a couple of our best mares at the moment, and we have been bringing some mares down to my yard in England from my family in Scotland, to break them in,” he says.
“I have a couple of two-year-old’s currently – and I’ve come away thinking ‘This one could jump Spruce Meadows one day’. This is certainly what I look for when I am trying horses. It could be viewed as a downside as you know the level of horse you need in order to win the big majors, so you can end up being slightly too selective. But Hello Sanctos is the perfect example – it can take time to make a horse, and we had to improve the scope in him from being confident to being experienced.”
Scott to this day remains the sole winner of the Grand Slam title – so can it be won again?
“It can definitely be won again – anything is possible, but everything has to go right on the day. In our sport we are working with a living animal, and sometimes things can go wrong that can be out of our control,” he explains.
“The year after winning the Rolex Grand Slam of Showjumping, Ursula XII was very close. She was second in CHIO Aachen, we won at Spruce Meadows, and came third in CHI Geneva. I remember thinking that we should have won Geneva – it is one of the rounds that still haunts me for losing by such a small margin. I was last to go with four tenths of a second too slow – I have never been so disappointed coming home from a show.”
Scott says the Rolex Grand Slam of Showjumping has been “amazing” for the sport.
“It has been a great opportunity for all the riders, and I think it has really improved our sport. The creation of the Rolex Grand Slam of Showjumping has given us all major goals to aim for during the year. It brings out the best horse and rider combinations, those that are at the top of their game want to be at these majors. We are all very thankful for it,” he says.
“The sport has significant expenses, something a lot of people may not realise, and it can be especially difficult to travel horses around the world. I believe that it is great to be rewarded in that sense for sure. The larger the purse, the higher the interest in the competition from riders and the audience. It attracts the best in the sport. But what I will say, when I was competing for the Rolex Grand Slam of Showjumping, even if there wasn’t a big prize money, I was still desperate to try and make history and to achieve the title.”
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