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WoSJ Exclusive; Cayetano Martinez de Irujo – “Without the horse the sport would not happen”

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Cayetano Martinez de Irujo & Eleonora Ottaviani from the IJRC. All photos by Jenny Abrahamsson.The International Jumping Riders Club is the voice of many of the international riders. It was founded in 1977 by a group of 25 international riders; amongst them were David Broome, Paul Schockemöhle and Nelson Pessoa. The goal of the club was – and still is – to promote the image of the equestrian sport in the jumping section to forward the ideals of sportsmanship and fair play.

The club has worked out the formula behind the Rolex world ranking, and they own the Rolex IJRC Top Ten Final –the latter means that if a rider has not paid the membership fee participation in the final is not possible. To learn more about the club’s work WoSJ sat down to speak to the club’s newly elected president Cayetano Martinez de Irujo, also one of Spain’s best riders.

“The club works on a lot of different cases; education of the riders, veterinary issues, categorization and requirements for the CSI shows – and the evaluation of shows to mention some. When we evaluate the shows we consider the stabling, the ground, the courses, the areas for owners and riders and other facilities,” Cayetano explains of the club’s work. “For us it’s important to improve the facilities for the owners. They are as important to the sport as the sponsors of the show. The organizers need to look after the owners, and make sure they can meet up with the riders and their horses. The FEI gave the owners a place in the general assembly, which was a step in the right direction in regards to involving them in the sport. The club also worked hard to make sure that two owners for each participating horse at a show are given accreditation. The importance of the owners being mentioned; I don’t think the horse owners should take part in every decision being made for the sport,” Cayetano explains.

Cayetano in action in Madrid. “In the club we work from the perspective that the horse is a subject, not an object – without the horse the sport would not happen. The horse is the main thing of the entire sport; that is also what separates our sport from others. Showjumping is almost like a mix between art and sports; the natural touch of the horse is so present. It’s powerful!” Cayetano continues; “The sport is of course also depended on the riders, the horse owners, sponsors, show organizers and the FEI. They are also vital for showjumping, but the horse is everything,” Cayetano says. 

The 250 best riders on the world ranking can become members of the club, but as Cayetano puts it; “We have worked hard to get interest around it. Under Franke Sloothaak’s time as president the interest improved though and the club advanced, and it has gotten better and better since. During my first period as president [which started in 1999] – it was still not easy. A lot of work is done to look out for the interest of the riders, and we do a lot of work for the young riders and juniors as well – not only the senior riders – and we need to make the riders see that this part of the sport is as important as the one going on inside the ring,” he says. “Some riders distance themselves from the club in our effort to clean up the sport, but there will always be some cases like that,” the Spanish rider explains.

The newly elected Executive board in the club also consists of Rodrigo Pessoa and Ludger Beerbaum – who share the vice president-title. Steve Guerdat, Ben Maher, Kevin Staut and Max Kühner are also in the board alongside Philippe Le Jeune and Geir Gulliksen. “We have two of the most important riders in history in the board now with Ludger and Rodrigo both serving as vice presidents. I think we have some really strong riders in the board, which is good for the club,” Cayetano continues.

“During my first time as a president I needed to do a lot of convincing to get the riders to join the board. Now it’s easier. This time around three new riders were asked and they said yes, and we have more that would like to get to work,” Cayetano smiles. “During the general assembly here in Madrid 45-50 riders were present, and every team was represented by a rider.”

Vice president of the club Ludger Beerbaum - a title he shares with Rodrigo Pessoa. “The sport belongs to individualists. That’s why it’s so easy just to look at one’s own situation, one’s own horses, one’s own stables… The club works on getting the riders to understand that there are collective benefits as well. They need to balance the individual aspect of the sport with a more general perspective, and that’s not always easy.”

“It was really important for us that Kevin [Staut] got into the FEI Executive Board earlier this year; a big achievement for us. Up to now we have been fighting a little from the outside, but now we are in and we have a good cooperation with the FEI. They need to listen to the athletes, and that’s why Kevin is there,” the Spanish rider explains of the club’s relation to the FEI.

This is Cayetano’s second time around as president for the club; “I have been president and vice president before – for a total period of ten years. I didn’t plan this comeback; I’m going towards the end of my career as a rider – but Ludger came to speak to me about it in Estoril, and I just couldn’t say no so here I am,” Cayetano smiles.

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