A remarkable story: When Belgium’s Jerome Guery bought Rio-bound Grand Cru van de Rozenberg a little over one-and-a-half-year ago, the now-10-year-old gelding was jumping at 1.20m-level with Thomas Verkinderen in the saddle. Fast-forward to August 2016, and Grand Cru van de Rozenberg is headed for the Olympic Games.
When World of Showjumping visited Guery at his home in Sart-Dames-Avelines, Belgium in the autumn of 2015 – Grand Cru van de Rozenberg was getting ready to compete at the CSI2* Autumn Mediterranean Equestrian Tour in Oliva Nova, Spain. Still, back then the blue-eyed chestnut gelding was jumping at 1.40m level with the occasional 1.45-class and there was no talk about him being an Olympic candidate.
Guery however, had the Olympics on his mind – just with another horse. “My idea was not to go to the Olympic Games with Grand Cru,” smiles Guery. “Last year at this time, Papillon Z was in really good form and my original plan was to give everything to secure an individual spot with him for Belgium and then keep up the good results to push so that Belgian Equestrian Federation would nominate us for Rio. I really wanted to receive the chance.”
Returning from Oliva in November 2015, Guery started to step up Grand Cru alongside Papillon Z – bringing him to a few five-star shows. “We brought Grand Cru to Stuttgart, La Coruna and Mechelen – and he jumped really good. Then, after being clear in all his classes in Basel he was third in the five-star Grand Prix in Bordeaux. When we moved outside again at the Sunshine Tour, Grand Cru just continued and finished second in the four-star invitational Grand Prix. I took him to Miami, and again he jumped clear so I started thinking a bit differently than my original plan,” Guery says about how Grand Cru quickly developed into an Olympic candidate and sealed his Rio-application with a win in the CSIO5* Grand Prix of La Baule in May.
Even for his rider, Grand Cru van de Rozenberg’s quick rise has been a bit of a surprise. “Back when we found him, Grand Cru was jumping the 1.20m-classes and would sometimes get a bit too careful and quite sharp. I did honestly not expect him to develop so quick and nice. I bought Grand Cru with my friend Alexander Oancea so that we could do a little business together, but we got a lot more than we expected out of our investment. Now we have an Olympic horse,” Jerome laughs.
As to his own expectations for Rio, Guery says; “I know my horse is still a bit green, but he has all the capacity. The thing with him is that he can be a bit sensitive and shy on the first day, but he jumps better and better every day. With the Olympic-format where you start on scratch on the last day that could be an advantage, so if I make it to the final – which of course is my main goal – I know he will be better than on the first day.”
Jerome Guery has made both himself and his horse ready in the best possible way, and his preparations for Rio started long before is actual nomination. “I was so motivated, that already early in the spring I managed my horse as if I was already selected to go to the Games. Two months ago I decided to get the help of Henk Nooren, he has all the knowledge of what a big championship like this takes. We changed a bit in my management, what I was feeding my horse and some details in the flat work – and it worked out really well. Sometimes, Henk also goes on Grand Cru and flats him for me. I really want to do the best I can for me and my horse to be good in Rio,” Guery tells.
It takes a lot to get to the Olympic Games, and Guery is quick to acknowledge his team: “My team at home is so motivated for me, and I have so much support from them – I am really lucky with my staff. Also my vet and blacksmith have been fantastic in their follow-up. Then there is of course my wife Patricia, who has had to live with me through all this – I have not been the easiest as I was so nervous as to whether I would get the spot to compete!”
Making it to the Olympics is a childhood-dream come true for Guery. “I dreamt about this when I was a child. The Olympic Games are special; the world’s best athletes from so many different sports all together – also with the athletes’ village. I am really excited about it!”
For Guery, the road to Rio has been – and still is – about part-goals. “First it was about securing one individual spot for Belgium. Then it was about actually securing the nomination of myself and Grand Cru. Now, my goal is to be in the final – a medal is not my first objective. But, you know me; I am a fighter and I always do my best – if I reach my goal and I get to the final I will give everything.”
“And, one thing I know is this: It will be Grand Cru’s first championship, but definitely not his last.”
Text © World of Showjumping by Jannicke Naustdal // Picture © Tiffany van Halle.
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