According to Stephex Stables' owner and founder Stephan Conter, hiring Daniel Deusser was the best decision he made during the last two years. And it's not hard to understand Conter's enthusiasm. Deusser – described by his boss as extremely talented, incredibly driven, organized and severe – holds all these qualities. In addition he has a boyish spark in his eye and a sense of humour that makes it very hard not to find it fun being around him; during our interview Daniel makes us crack up in laughter at least a dozen times with his stories. "Daniel is always in search of perfection and puts the bar really high. It is almost impossible for him not to score because he does not leave anything to chance. He deserves this," Stephan says of the huge success his German stable jockey has experienced over the last year.
Although Daniel's family was always involved in horses – with his father riding, his grandfather and uncle owning an old farm that over time was turned into a stable with fifty boxes, and indoor and an outdoor, basically all of it – it was not only riding on young Deusser's schedule. "During my time in school I always did different sports; BMX, tennis, ping pong, swimming. I tried everything and went for competitions everywhere every weekend. I even did the BMX regional championships," Daniel says – and it quickly becomes clear that he had a competitiveness to him already as a kid. It was the riding that stuck with him though, and after school Daniel decided to do it fulltime.
A little over a decade later, Daniel is one of the best riders in the world – currently he is rank ten on the Longines Ranking after going from win to win in 2013. Of course this didn't happen with the help of fairy dust or in the blink of an eye – for Daniel it was all about hard work from he started out at Siegfried Herröder's stable at nineteen years old back in the summer of 2001. There Daniel stayed for about half a year until Siegfried recommended him to Franke Sloothaak who was looking for a new rider at the same time as Herröder went there to try a few horses with Daniel. It was also through Siegfried Herröder that Daniel another four years later would end up at Stal Tops in The Netherlands.
Franke Sloothaak's yard would quickly prove to be the place were Daniel would get his basics that in many ways would be his foundation for the success he now is experiencing. "Franke's was the first place where I actually was in contact with what I would call real riding – if I can say it that way," Daniel explains. "Before I went to Franke, I did a lot of clinics here and there and had a few different trainers – but nothing like what I would experience with Franke. From him I learned the basics about training, riding and making a plan for the horses – and also about managing the young horses and their schedules to make them better. I did a lot of dressage work there, which I learned so much from," Daniel tells of his time there that lasted from the beginning of 2002 until May 2006.
"Franke's riding was unbelievable," Daniel tells and it's obvious he has great respect for his first mentor. "Sometime he couldn't even explain what he was doing on the horse; he has this natural thing – he gets on the horse, closes his legs and you can just see the horse going relaxed. You never see Franke fighting with a horse! And it never mattered what kind of horse it was – if it was big and strong, small and hot – Franke just needed a saddle and a bridle, and maybe two wings and poles. He didn't need all these poles in front and behind, or left or right – he was just unbelievable!"
An important lesson learned while working for Sloothaak, was according to Daniel "to always try to stay quiet." Daniel explains how his boss, whenever he tried to explain or teach his pupil something – for example on a difficult horse – never came back the next day to ask him if it was better or not. Franke always waited three or four weeks for the results of what he told Daniel. "Franke had absolutely no stress," Daniel smiles looking back.
When Daniel went to Jan Tops, it quickly became a reality that his life would change. "I was used to going to shows, but mostly in Germany – and now and then some bigger ones. When I came to Jan that became very different," Daniel laughs and tells how he got to Stal Tops, stayed for five days and then went straight to St. Tropez to show for two weeks with a bunch of different horses. "There was absolutely no period of starting up; it was just like 'ok, you are here – go'. I jumped the horses one time before they left, and that was it," he smiles.
For the experience, it was some super years for Daniel in Holland with amazing shows and access to top horses. "In the beginning I had so many good horses," Daniel says. "In addition to Air Jordan Z [the horse Daniel won the vice-champion title on in the World Cup Final in 2007 in Las Vegas], I had horses like Upstilon, Pristanna and Vonka to ride – it was like a dream. I went to my first show with Upstilon three or four days after I got the ride on him, that was in the end of September 2006 – and he was seventh in the Grand Prix I then rode him in. Then I took him to the World Cup shows in Oslo and Helsinki, he was second in Oslo and won in Helsinki. He followed up by being second in the World Cup in Stuttgart, and he was fifth in the Grand Prix in Paris!"
At that point it was not so much about learning the way of riding anymore Daniel explains – but more about gaining the knowledge on the logistics and the planning on how everything works as to for example on how to send one group of horses to one location, other horses to another location, how to move the horses and training them at the same time. "All in all it was a lot more planning. With Franke, if a horse was not good one weekend you were likely to stay at home the next – but at Jan's you then just swopped horses and took another one and if the horse in question was good again he would go instead in two weeks. Now this is all normal for me, but at that time it was like 'wow' – with all the different shows and horses," Daniel tells. "But the tempo and the schedule also had a downside. As long as I had the results it was fine, but to keep on doing that program without the top results took a little bit too much out of me. You really need top horses to do the kind of program I did, and in the end I didn't have that anymore," Daniel explains on parts of the reason to why he gradually decided to leave Tops to do something else.
The decision Daniel then made turned out to be a very good one. Stephan Conter – who was looking for a new rider at Stephex as then stable jockey Nina Fagerström was leaving, had heard that Daniel was looking for a new challenge and picked up the phone. Daniel, who didn't really know that much about Stephex Stables, thought that what Conter offered was pretty much the same package that he had had at Tops' and told Conter that he wasn't really that interested. "I wanted something different," Daniel tells. "But Stephan was hard, and he kept on calling. I ended up sitting in his office one evening, and I told him very clearly what I wanted. As my fiancée Caroline does not live too far away from the stable here, there was actually one point where I started thinking that if he accepted my conditions it could be something." And Conter confirms that Deusser was a little hard to get; "The first contact was rather cold, but as soon as he loosened up he revealed himself as a warm and kind person."
So – in the end Stephan and Daniel agreed on the conditions that made Daniel a Stephex-rider and that really put the Belgian stable on the showjumping-map in a big scale. You could say that the rest is history, but really it's not because it's still being written. "What Stephan has now is what he told me that he wanted when we initially started talking; he told me he wanted the sport and keep a few good horses for that. And I was absolutely not asking for any particular horse, I didn't know any of them apart from Mouse and Talent that Nina Fagerström had been riding," Daniel says.
A few months after Daniel started at Stephex in May 2012, he was introduced to what would become his most successful horse to date – Cornet d'Amour. "I ended up riding Cornet after he had been jumping with Pedro Veniss. Cornet was for sale, and came here – a few people came to try it him but it really didn't work so well. So, I started riding him a little and in end of July 2012 I took him to Bondheiden as our first show together. I jumped some small shows on him in the beginning, he was my second horse in Geesteren and in San Patrignano – so I had a little bit time to get to know him and not put too much pressure on him by jumping the big classes."
The reason for this approach was also that Daniel found Cornet to be a bit too careful in the beginning – the horse was just too quick off the ground and went too high. "Cornet lacked a little trust and confidence at that time. So, I think it was a really good thing that he came with as a second horse and that I could use some time on him so nothing went wrong and we had some time to adjust," Daniel explains of the pair's early days together. "The first time I took him as my number one horse was to Calgary in the autumn of 2012, where he was actually not supposed to go. He went straight away in the biggest classes, and it took him until Saturday as he lacked a bit of confidence in that big ring – but on Saturday he jumped a double clear in the Nations Cup." That's also when Daniel got the confirmation he was waiting for; Cornet d'Amour really had it in him.
"Cornet has an amazing head; he wants to jump clear," Daniel says of his beautiful 11 year old partner who's sire is the famous Cornet Obolensky. "What also really helps him is his technique; if it's five centimetre less or more to the fence it doesn't matter – Cornet finds it easier to stretch and shorten that a lot of other horses."
There is little doubt that Cornet is Daniel's all-time favourite; "I grew up with Cornet - he was the one that took me to the championships so he is of course very special to me."
There is more than one star in Daniel's stable though; Evita van de Veldbaile, Mouse and Fyloe vh Clayessenhof are just some of them. The latter – a nine year old gelding by Burggraaf – is described by Daniel as his next big star. "Fyloe will be my next Grand Prix horse. He is quite inexperienced, and has only been with me for half a year – but already won the Championat in Vienna as an eight year old last year. Fyloe is super careful, and very flexible – he moves his body in a way that tells you that he knows were the poles are!"
As to the sixteen year old win machine Mouse – by now a Stephex-pet – Deusser smiles big as he tells us about his quirky character. "During my first months at Stephex, I didn't even ride him – he went on the field and on the race track with the girls in the stable – and I worked with the younger ones. Then one day, he came in and was like 'I'm here!' Mouse knows his ways, and wins almost everything. He is really special to ride, you just kind of steer him around. He is a stiff one, it's really just not so much about normal riding when I am on him," Daniel laughs explaining how Mouse during warming up can just go from trot to stop – refusing to move – if he hears music from the ring following a clear round. "He runs on adrenaline," Daniel continues. "And he is just careful and clever, and knows what to do – in his own way. It will be difficult to find another like him – Mouse is the one that helps all my other horses out by doing great in the speed classes and qualifying the other ones for the big classes. Like in Stuttgart, if Mouse had not done well in the qualifier – well then Evita would not have the chance to jump and win the Masters."
Speaking of Evita; the ten year old Belgian bred mare is the horse next to Cornet d'Amour that has brought the most success for Daniel during his time at Stephex. Evita won two Master classes in 2013; one in Lyon and one in Stuttgart before she went on to take the Rolex IJRC Top 10 Final for Deusser at the end of the year. She has not been in the sport for long though, only three years – as she was a late starter at seven years old due to breeding.
"Evita jumped regional shows here in Belgium, impressing quite a few and Stephan bought her. It takes longer with the mares used for breeding than with other horses, as they are not used to being worked from the age of three or four. So, when I started riding her – Evita's body was not quite ready. She looked careful and scopey, but something usually went a little wrong in between during the course. Evita certainly looked talented, but she was not easy. At the end of her eight year she did the World Cup in Mechelen, and there she had one down – which showed me she had it in her to do the big stuff. Then we took her to WEF, and after this she started to jump with more experience. She always tried, but needed the mileage – and now she has it," Daniel says.
Evita is described by her rider as a little bit of a lady – but an honest and brave one. "She will go into any ring, she doesn't care. For Evita it doesn't matter if she goes straight in the big class or not. Like in Aachen last year, Cornet got a little bit of the better program with the small class on the first day while Evita had to go straight out in the bigger classes. And if she has a fault then, it doesn't affect her at all – so in that way she has a strong character."
Daniel does not only have a very good relationship with his horses, which he obviously cares a lot about – his bond to his colleague Eiken Sato is also a special one. When Daniel won the Top 10 Final in Stockholm, Eiken could be seen jumping around with happiness in Maastricht – clearly very happy on Daniel's behalf. "It would be difficult to have the same relationship with somebody else than Eiken – he has a great mentality. I mean, he had to give away some great horses to me when I arrived here but still he was always happy and so motivated – even though that cannot have been easy for him. Eiken has a fantastic character! He is a very good rider I have to say; sometimes we swap horses so I can see him on mine and give me his opinion," Daniel says. The respect go both ways; "We have a really good way of working together," Eiken tells us. "We ask each other when we need advice, both at home and at the shows. Daniel is also a person that cares about those around him, a quality I really appreciate in him."
The special friendship between Daniel and Eiken, also means a lot to their boss; "Daniel and Eiken are such great friends. The team spirit here is just amazing and I hope this will continue with the arrival of Annelies Vorsselmans, so that I have a solid team of three top riders who will hopefully help each other push through to the top 50 in the world ranking by the end of the year. Eiken and Daniel are not in competition during trainings at home or in the choice of their horses. However, when they enter the competition ring, they ride for themselves and they become fierce competitors," Stephan Conter explains. "I feel very lucky to have had such a team in 2013. This is what I always dreamt about. A few years ago, I already told the press that this was what I wanted most of all and now I have it. It's truly a dream come true: we now have a team and we are able to compete at the highest level of the sport. I am so very proud," he continues.
Before we close off, we want to know more about Daniel's key to success – and how he climbed up from rank 74 in the world from his first day at Stephex to his current rank ten. "I won more," he laughs. "No, honestly – I must say a big advantage was that Hunter Harrison bought half of Cornet – and also Fyloe – so I could keep top horses for the sport. Both horses are easy to sell, and he helped secure them for me," Daniel explains of his other big supporter next to Stephan Conter who he got to know through his good friend Quentin Judge who himself is a rider and married to Harrison's daughter Casey. "Hunter is a big supporter for me, and Cornet has been promised for me until WEG in Normandy – and then we will see."
As to his best memories from his success year 2013, Daniel rates his home results the highest. "Winning the German Championship on Cornet d'Amour was amazing! And to finally be on the team in Aachen was something special, and also to end fourth in the Grand Prix there. When I was ten years old I went with my father to see the Nations Cup there, and then to ride in Aachen yourself – it is fantastic," Daniel smiles while he tells us of his first time at the famous event when Ludger Beerbaum kindly explained him about a distance on a line where Deusser thought the eight strides were long and Beerbaum told him it was short seven. "In that ring everything is different," Daniel laughs.
Daniel is quite different too. In a way he is maybe almost even a little old-fashioned. He's the hard-working type that you don't come across that often anymore. He is willing to put his sleeves up, without the fear of getting his nails dirty. He is a good role model – someone young riders should aspire to be like. So, what is his advice to get to the top of the sport? Daniel laughs, and quickly replies: "Go first to Franke, then to Jan and finally come here to Stephex!"
"Everybody likes Daniel," his colleague Eiken Sato says to us before we leave Stephex. "He is a fantastic person." And after only one and half hours in Daniel's company, we have to say we agree.
Photos by Jenny Abrahamsson and Ken Braddick/Text by Jannicke Naustdal - copyright © worldofshowjumping.com 2014.
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