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Spruce Meadows 'Masters' Rolex Round Table – with Steve Guerdat

Sunday, 11 September 2022
CSIO5* Spruce Meadows 'Masters' 2022

Photo © Rolex / Ashley Neuhof "I’m ready for it and I believe my horse is too, so we will see what happens, but it’s going to be tough," Guerdat says ahead of Sunday's Major at the 'Masters'. Photo © Rolex / Ashley Neuhof.

On behalf of Rolex, Steve, Rolex Testimonee, thank you very much for giving your time here at Spruce Meadows. We’re two days away from the third Major of 2022, you come back as 2021 champion. How are you one year on and how are you feeling ahead of Sunday’s Grand Prix?

Yes, as always I am very excited to come back to Spruce – it has always been one of my favourite venues. It’s not always been my most successful venue, as it hasn’t always suited my horses, but a few years ago I made the decision to spend the summer here to teach my horses and to teach me as a rider to feel more comfortable in this ring and I feel more confident now when I come here.

My horse Venard de Cerisy has grown a lot over the year, he likes this arena. I know that it’s very tough on Sunday – there is usually only one double clear – we have a lot of great riders and great horses this year, so it’s going to be very tough, but I know that if I ride well I have a chance to be one of them. At the moment I’m not putting pressure on myself, I’m just excited, because it's a big ask on Sunday and it’s always a big challenge, but I’m looking forward to seeing the course set by Leopaldo [Palacios] this year. I’m ready for it and I believe my horse is too, so we will see what happens, but it’s going to be tough. 

This is the third Rolex Major of the year. Can you explain from a rider’s perspective the difference between the four Rolex Majors, The Dutch Masters and CHI Geneva indoors and CHIO Aachen and CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ outdoors? 

They are all very different. The Dutch Masters is the only one that is a bit more what we are used to, with the size of the ring and kind of fences that we are used to, it’s more like the shows we are used to throughout the year, although more prestigious. The others, they are just unique. What you see in Aachen, you only see in Aachen, what you see in Spruce, you only see here, and when you enter Geneva there is no other indoor like this. They are all unique and I am very happy to see that more and more riders save their best horses for these events, which makes them even more special because they are not only the best venues, but they are the best sport because you get the best riders with the best horses, fighting for what is the most prestigious win we can achieve in our sport. 

What have been your preparations for Spruce Meadows? Have you tried to create anything similar at home?

Yes, I have. I even painted a lot of new colour on the poles to make it a little bit like it is here. I can’t make it exactly the same – I have 4.5 metre poles, not 5 metres like here – but I have tried to make it more similar. My place that I bought 5 years ago was built by Paul Weier, who was himself a course designer, and a bit old school. When I bought the place I had the old fences which everyone thought I should throw away, but it was my best decision to keep it how it was with a big grass field with the big old fences and just some new colours – they have lots of uni-colour here so I have made some combinations like that and a double of ditches, as well as a bicycle. Martin [Fuchs] and Edouard [Schmitz] also came to train at my place, just to get a bit in the mood.

Can you tell us a little bit about your horse, Venard de Cerisy, his qualities, what makes him special and whether he has any quirks?

He is very difficult to get on, we don’t know why, he’s always been like this, then once you’re on him it takes a few minutes for him to relax, so we have a special routine now and have to be a bit careful. For the rest, he has exceeded our expectations. We got him as a nice horse to help the other horses, but he wasn’t supposed to do what he has done, so he keeps on amazing us all the time. He has unbelievable power in the way that he just always wants to do his best. When we have a bad round, it’s not because he didn’t want to do good, it’s just that it was too much for him for some reason. He doesn’t get tired, he has too much energy at times. He wasn’t born as a horse who was supposed to do everything that he has done, so everything he is giving us is above our expectation and everything he keeps giving us is a little bonus, but we will be thankful for this for ever and he has nothing to prove.

So, how do you get on him? 

I always do it in the same place when I’m at home, and he always has a candy when I am on the step. Putting your leg in the stirrup is okay, the problem is when you put your leg over, so then he gets another candy on the other side – he gets a lot of candy! The problem is he has got so used to having these candies that he doesn’t like them anymore! There’s only one candy that he likes now, but you can’t find it in Switzerland, so we have to order it!

What do you think are the most important lessons you have learnt from your Dad?

I think that the fact that he had experience and that he was very opened minded. He knew that other people, in every stage of my career, would be better than him. He always wanted the best for his children, but he wasn’t too proud to send me to other places to learn. For example when I just started he said that his yard was too professional and he wanted me to be closer to the horses, so he sent me to a riding school. He was always there, if I needed something I could ask him, he was always in the background, but he always knew that at every stage of my career there was someone else who could teach me what he couldn’t teach.

When I was 13, 14 years-old I loved other sports, I loved to play football and when I was younger riding after school in the cold on my own, when I could have been playing football with my friends and having fun, I questioned whether that was what I wanted to do and thought at one point that I liked football more than riding. On the other hand, when my parents told me when I was 14 or 15 that I had to choose one or the other, because every weekend we had a game and a show and I couldn’t do both, I never doubted that my choice would be riding. I don’t know why, because if I think back at the time, I should have gone for football because I had more fun playing football than I did riding, but it was never a question.

Has becoming a father yourself changed the way you ride or your career?

Not really no. I don’t really like this question because everyone said once you have children everything will change, but it hasn’t changed too much. My daughter is everything to me, as are my horses, they are both part of my life, we are one big family with my daughter and wife and horses. You know what they say, when you have small children you have small problems and when you have big children you have big problems, but when you have one horse you have one problem and when you have 15 horses you have 15 problems! I feel like I went through these problems all my life with the horses. It’s about education and growing together and I have a feeling like de-ja-vu what I am doing with my daughter.

When we see Venard is always excellent at this show, with the three rounds in the Rolex Grand Prix, what is it that makes this show so good for him?

I think this type of show suits him. He has won also on sand surfaces, indoor, at St Gallen and St Tropez, and he’s won a lot of Grand Prix, big classes and fast classes, but this show has always been good for him – he’s a very good Derby horse as well – but on the other hand he still has to grow in this ring. Everytime he first enters this ring he is a bit sticky and a bit shy going towards to jumps but he gets better as the show goes on. But he is a very powerful horse with a big canter and these jumps slow him down a bit so it makes my life a bit easier, he is easier to ride in an arena like this.

He was difficult at the beginning at home and in the warm-up, so I thought that I would try training him over natural fences at home to see if that helped. From the first day, it was the first time I had a feeling that he was learning something, so I thought I would try him in a Derby. I went to La Baule and the first day he didn’t jump so well, but then in the Derby he jumped really well, he was second or third, and then the next day I jumped him again in another class and that was the first class that he really jumped well. So the rest of the year I was doing all those classes and Derbies so I was jumping a lot of natural fences because I felt it taught him to become a better horse.

Photo © Rolex / Ashley Neuhof. "At the moment I’m not putting pressure on myself, I’m just excited, because it's a big ask on Sunday and it’s always a big challenge," Steve Guerdat says ahead of Sunday's Major at the 'Masters'. Photo © Rolex / Ashley Neuhof.

I spoke to Eric Lamaze earlier today and asked him who his favourite was to win the Rolex Grand Prix here and he said you! There is obviously a respect there, but what it is like when you compete against people every week, are they your friends, would you go to them for advice, etc? 

Actually our sport is very open minded. When we walk the course, you see a lot of riders talking to each other, and not always the same people together. The riders tend to know all the horses, know which horses might be similar to your horses in terms of the stride for example, so I would be more likely to speak to these riders to see what he thinks about a certain distance. Then the next week I would go to another rider because my horse that week is closer to the horse of that rider that day. We’re very opened minded in this way. I also have a close team I trust – Martin [Fuchs] always comes to my place, I train with his Dad, he comes also to jump his horses, so we share a lot and talk a lot, so with the Swiss team we have a very good atmosphere and we walk the course and talk together, but you could go to anyone and most of the time they will give advice if you need some and I am always very open to that.

When you first got Venard, when did you realise he was going to be difficult and what made you persevere with him?

Actually when I went to try him in France, he felt good, not amazing, but a good horse to help the others become better, a horse that is going to be able to jump big classes, maybe not to win them but to jump them. We talked on the way home and decided to buy him. He was very skinny and difficult to get on, but we thought ok. But when he got home, we saw what we really had and everything was much more difficult than we were expecting. The first few times we jumped him at home, Thomas [Fuchs] said “what did you get here, I’ve never seen such a bad horse in my life!”, he couldn’t jump two cavalettis with three strides in between, he was just running, but it was my choice so I had to persevere. For the first two months he was at my yard he was tried at least five times – Eric [Lamaze] came with clients, McLain [Ward], Shane Breen – I said, I have a good horse you have to try, but they didn’t like him! So I thought, I’ve got to try, so I went to my first show at Oliva Nova and people were saying “what are you doing with that?”, but in the ring he wasn’t so bad, it was just in the warm-up. The real click was when we started to jump the Derbies and these kind of jumps.

Have you got any other exciting horses coming through beneath Venard?

Yes, I have a few very nice nine-year-old horses and actually a new one I just bought before I came here, 10-years-old, who I believe is going to be very nice. It’s a horse called Hooba Booba, he’s never jumped internationally, but he’s won some national 1.50m in Germany and I have one horse that I believe is the best I have ever had – she’s called Dynamix – she’s also nine-years-old. I think she’s very special, I have had her since she was five and I always took it very easy with her because I knew she was very special. There are still a few questions to answer for her, but not too many, she has nearly done everything I needed to confirm how good she is. Everything she has jumped in her life she is always clear. I believe she is one who could win a few Rolex Majors.

You need one top horse and then all the others will get better. But that one top horse, you can’t buy him, you have to produce him, and then all the others will get better. Like Venard deserved a better horse in front of him, it was so much easier for him when we had Bianca, we kept him for just a few classes. Now for the last two years, he’s pulling the train, with Maddox, but he’s the one doing the big things. If that mare does what we think she can, then all the other horses that I am producing will be able to win even more than what they do now and we should be back in a more competitive way than we have been for the last two years.

What is your favourite Rolex watch? 

Mine! It’s a Cosmograph Daytona. Rolex keep telling me I should take another one, but I really like just this one! It’s the first one I got in 2012 and it’s mine.

Did you win it? 

No, I chose it. All the watches I won have made the people around me very happy, my groom, my family, my best friends – now everyone around me is wearing a Rolex! They make the best present, I have never seen so many happy people when I give present – you don’t have to worry that they are going to like it!

This has always been a fantastic show, but this year the quality of the horses and riders, they have all made the long journey – all the best from the World Championships, the best individuals and team – were you surprised for example that some horses who normally jump on sand, came specially to Spruce Meadows where it’s grass?  

Actually it was the other way round, I couldn’t understand that with such horses, people would rather go to the GCT shows with boring sand arenas, when you have horses that could win in Aachen, here, La Baule, Rome, Dinard – all the best shows in the world – which are on grass. I thought, how is it possible when you have these horses. So finally they are here!

There’s been talk recently about making Nations Cups one round instead of two. What do you think about this?

Sometimes I wonder where people think of these ideas. I’m not against improving things, but this is what works the best in our sport, it is so exciting, why would you even think about changing it? It was already so stupid to make it three riders in the Olympics and I think 90% of the people agree with that, but as stuborn as they are, they want to keep it, then they get this idea to do one round. Sometimes I have a feeling that the people responsible for our sport are trying to kill our sport, which really scares me. To be so against everything that our sport has been through for the past 100 years, I don’t know what they are thinking – they won’t be there forever luckily, but the sport will always stay and they are not allowed to do things like this because it just ruins the sport.

Was it a good decision though to change the final round of the World Championship, not to have the riders changing horses?

You know, I’ll be completely honest with you, I grew up with the horse change system, and then when I started being part of championship, I was all for getting rid of it. For many reasons – our sport is about a horse and rider partnership, you win together with your horse, not with other people’s horses, it’s also more jumping, for many reasons I didn’t like it. Now, I regret it, I miss it, I’ll be honest. It was something nice to see, a big finale, and now it’s not there anymore and I miss it. I was anxious about riding other people’s horses, but now if I had, I would have another story to tell – I would have loved to have ridden Casall, maybe not Zenith, but another story would have been made with this system. Imagine with the four horses that were there this year, getting to ride those, that would have been amazing. 

Rolex has been in the sport for 65 years, you’re part of that, and with the Rolex Grand Slam – what has Rolex brought to the sport?

Of course they definitely brought our sport to a different level. What I like, is that they did it in a healthy way – they didn’t just come and say we’ll put money in this show and that show, they grew together with the shows, most of the Rolex Grand Prix now have the absolute best prize money, but if you look they grew together – as the show was growing, growing interest with media and rider, so did Rolex’s investment. This is good for the sport because if they leave, the show is left with a legacy and something of value – it’s not just about prize money with Rolex. Rolex have made shows not just about prize money, but about prestige, especially with the Majors.

On the other hand, sometimes I get a bit scared, maybe because of what is happening in the world today or because I’m getting older, but I wonder what the sport would be without them. I hope this won’t happen, but at least they are not just doing things just to be there, but also to help the sport and I feel the whole horse industry has to be very thankful to them.

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