A 62-year-old one-horse amateur rider who has been eventing for 45 years was part of Switzerland’s victorious Nations Cup team this week — on a horse who has survived a splintered knee and came within hours of being put down owing to colic.
Beat Sax, a full-time chemist, and 14-year-old warmblood Secret IV topped the podium in Pratoni del Vivaro on Sunday (15 May), alongside teammates Robin Godel (Grandeur de Lully), Nadja Minder (Toblerone) and Melody Johner (Toubleu de Rueire).
Beat told H&H he took part in his first event, at novice level, when he was 16 or 17.
“I came last!” he said. “Then I went back the next year and won.”
Beat, who has only owned five horses, describes himself as “200% an amateur”, working 50+ hours a week and doing everything himself, including driving the 1,000km to Italy for the Nations Cup.
“I have a break during the day, when I do my horse, and I do everything in the stables,” he said. “It’s amazing to have that time with my horse, in the fresh air, and clearing my head for the next part of the day.”
Beat bought Secret as a four-year-old — he has produced all his horses from a young age — but with no great ambitions for the horse’s future.
“I was 52 and I thought ‘I’m too old for eventing now; I’d like a horse just for fun and for smaller competitions’, then two years later, he came 17th in the six-year-old championship at Le Lion, and that was the career for him!
“To start with, he was a bit crazy; he had his ideas about what he was doing and I had mine, and I was often sitting in the sand, but we came together and he’s the best horse I’ve ever had.”
Secret has overcome huge issues; when he was seven, part of his kneecap splintered off when he got stuck on an oxer. An operation was successful and X-rays looked good but he was still lame. Thanks to osteopath and biomechanics expert Stefen Stammer, the horse eventually came right.
“It’s a wonder; no one thought it was possible that he could come back to how he was but he’s better,” said Beat. “It’s amazing.”
The combination enjoyed more success but in 2019, Secret suffered from a severe bout of colic and needed surgery. This was a success but afterwards, when attempts were made to feed the horse, his intestines were not functioning. For 10 days, vets struggled to get Secret’s bowels to function and Beat was told it was time to say goodbye.
“He’d lost 100kg and his stomach wasn’t working,” Beat said. “It really was a day before he was going.”
But Olivia Rudolf, a vet experienced in alternative medicine, helped save Beat’s “heart horse”. She massaged his spine and gradually, the intestines started working again. After a long period of rehab, they were back out, and catching the eye of the Swiss team coach.
“Pratoni was absolutely amazing,” Beat said. “In March, I won a CCI4*-L, which was the biggest thing I’d done in my life, my first four-star win. But this, with a team, some 30 or even 40 years younger than me as I’m the old guy, was absolutely great. My heart was overflowing.”
Beat now has hopes of returning to Pratoni to represent his country at the eventing World Championships, in September, for which he has qualified.
“It would be a dream come true,” he said. “As an amateur and at my age, it would be amazing; I can’t explain. But for me, every event is a dream. I go and have fun and have a good time with my horse, and for me, that’s the important thing. This is my life and Secret is my life too.”
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