The ice-cool showjumper talks to Martha Terry about staying positive through lockdown, his Olympic hopes and what drives him to success
If Scott Brash likes eggs, I’ll bet he’d cook them sunny-side up. Known for his ice-cool nerve in the ring, he’s cheerful and positive in conversation, especially when discussing his horses’ characters. Talk about lockdown, and he refers to “differences” rather than difficulties – putting his own frustrations into perspective. Mention the Olympic postponement and he focuses on the bright side of being able to build his top-flight string. Self-belief, allied with hard work and dedication, underpins his whole career.
“If you believe enough that something will happen, I think it can happen,” he says. “If you’re negative, it won’t. I’m a strong believer in that.”
As the curtain falls on a discombobulated year, all thoughts turn (again) to the Olympics. Scott already has one Olympic gold medal in his trophy cabinet, but he’s gunning for more, harking back to the halcyon days of London 2012, when the record-breaking career of his great Hello Sanctos really took off.
“Individual gold is a big goal, as well as another team gold,” says Scott. “Some of the best days of my life were jumping on the team with Nick Skelton, Peter Charles and Ben Maher that week in London. We had a great atmosphere thanks to Rob Hoekstra [chef d’equipe] and the team, and those days are moments that will live with me forever – I’d love to experience that feeling again one day.”
Critics may say Britain’s efforts in championships and qualification have been erratic, but with team gold and individual gold in the past two renewals, the Olympics have been fruitful – Scott believes that can continue.
“There are some really strong nations right now but I feel Britain can be one of those if things go the right way,” he says.
“I was glad it was postponed and not completely cancelled, as that would be devastating for all athletes and fans around the world. The Olympics is something we’ve all been working towards for years and is the pinnacle of any sportsperson’s career. I’ve got my fingers crossed it goes ahead next year and have firmly put that goal in my head, and tried to spend the time wisely to have my horses in as good a shape as possible for next year.”
Scott’s patient approach could reap dividends in Tokyo. He missed out on Rio due to Hello Sanctos and Hello M’Lady being ruled out through minor injuries, but helped secure Olympic qualification with the latter at the Rotterdam Europeans last year, having been off the championship circuit since the World Games in 2014. His meticulous preparation and desire to do the best for the sake of his beloved horses is paramount.
“I wouldn’t call it a break but it takes time to produce the horses to that level, and I will never ask the horses to compete in a championship if I don’t feel they are ready,” he says. “Also things can go wrong in the development towards a championship – horses are not machines, and like all athletes can get injured or not be ready physically or mentally for a championship. Sadly that can mean missing some years.
“I love representing Great Britain and there is no more rewarding feeling than putting in a great performance for your country,” he adds. “But having said that, I know what it takes to go well at a championship and only wish to represent our country when I feel we can put our best foot forward.”
One benefit of the delay has been the increased strength in depth of his string. While his established stars Hello M’Lady and Hello Forever could still be in the Olympic shake-up this summer at 15, the extra 12 months brings another younger horse into the fray – though Scott is naming no names.
“I feel in a very fortunate position to have a great string of horses; we have a few contenders for Tokyo,” Scott says. “The postponement has brought another one of my horses into consideration as I wouldn’t have felt he was ready last summer, but to have an extra year under our belts to develop the partnership has been a great help in his case.
“It takes a very special horse to have all the ingredients needed to be able to jump the Olympics. To be honest, you can have an idea but until they are actually in the ring, being competitive on the biggest stage, then you don’t know that they are. The special horses thrive under the atmosphere but also need to be developed in the right way to be given the best chance.”
Cue another positive take on a negative situation – lockdown. In a normal season, Scott would be jetting around the world every weekend, whizzing back for just a couple of days a week to work on the horses back home near Horsham in West Sussex, where he’s been based since moving from his family home in Peebles, Scotland, five years ago.
“[The lockdown] was difficult to start with because we had worked very hard for some time to have a number of horses all fit and at the top of their game ready for the season ahead,” he says. “We had many different goals in mind for each horse, so when those goals vanished, with horses ready to go and a situation that is out of your control, it was frustrating. However, when I felt like this
I gave myself a shake, as when you see the health and economic effects that everyone is facing it was a stark reminder of how lucky I’ve been.
“So yes, 2020 has been an extremely different year for us, as I’m sure it has been for everyone,” he adds. “I’ve been home more than I’ve ever been, but I hope some positives will have come from this time at home.
“It gave me more time to work on some younger horses and a project which I have thought about for a long while, but never had the time to do. I hope it will be something that everyone who owns a horse can take something from.”
Scott’s not spilling the beans on this one yet either, but watch this space in early 2021.
The emphasis on spending time with his horses is integral to Scott’s success, since a childhood rushing back from school to ride his first pony, Minstrel.
“Horses are my life,” he says. “I think they appreciate you spending more time with them and they give you more in the ring when it counts. I think the connection you have between you and your horse is so important to be successful.”
One of the aspects he highlights about his partnership with Hello Sanctos – “the horse that made all my dreams come true” – is this sense of connection.
“He’s clever, brave and always goes the extra mile – he’ll jump higher than he’s even capable of,” says Scott. “You don’t get that connection in too many horses, he could feel everything I’d ask of him; he just knew. He’s a special, special horse.”
Sanctos and Scott’s Global Champions Tour grand prix winner Ursula (rising 19 and 20 respectively), still live at Scott’s yard, turned out together.
“I could talk about them forever and I’m sure I will; they made my career and I wouldn’t be where I am today without them,” he says.
“They go out in the field every day together. We tried a couple of times to let Ursula have her own foal but she never took so we have a few embryos from her. We will give her one last shot at having her own foal as I think that’s what she’d want, but if she doesn’t take next year then we will not force it. What’s meant to be will be.
“They owed me nothing, but it was difficult to know when they wanted to retire,” Scott adds. “Certainly it’s taken them time to adapt. I think for a year after, in their minds they still wanted to be out there doing the sport, but now I feel they are very happy in their life.”
Scott’s prolonged success on the world stage has done nothing to dim the enormous sense of gratitude to his horses, for being able to “live the dream”, and to the owners of his “Hello” string, Lord and Lady Harris and Lord and Lady Kirkham, whom he describes as “like family”.
“I would be lost without them, and not just because of the horses, but our relationship – we speak every day about anything and everything,” he says. “I find the horses, but they know a good horse when they see one.”
Scott believes his owners bring out the best in him and he clearly thrives under the pressure to produce results.
“I can get nervous with other things that I don’t feel comfortable with, but luckily not in competing,” he says. “For people who do get nervous when competing, stay confident in what you know and forget about all the razzmatazz going on outside the ring. Your horse doesn’t know they are jumping for a gold medal or a grand prix. It’s just another course to them, so ride them how you know is easiest for them to jump clear.”
Whether it’s the final leg of the Rolex Grand Slam – which Scott remains the only rider to have won with his victory in 2015 aboard Sanctos – or training young horses at home, Scott is equally focused.
“What drives me are the horses and goals we set,” he says. “I love producing horses and trying to find and produce the next superstar to fulfil their potential.”
Which is why, last week, while many riders were relaxing round the Christmas tree, Scott was hard at work on the yard.
“Over Christmas I muck out and look after the horses,” he says. “I have an amazing team and they work hard all year round; I feel it’s the time of year they should be with their families and friends and having a break, more so from me than the horses!”
Ref: Horse & Hound; 31 December 2020
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