World of Showjumping
Menu

This week

Coming weeks

CSI5*-W Amsterdam
The Netherlands

CSI4*-W Puebla
Mexico

CSI4*/CSI2* Wellington
USA

CSI3* Vilamoura
Portugal

CSI3* Oliva
Spain

CSI2* Vejer de la Frontera
Spain

CSI2* Myakka City
USA

CSI2* Peelbergen
The Netherlands

CSIL2* Abu Dhabi
United Arab Emirates

CSI2* Kuwait
Kuwait

Alexa Stais: “At the end of the day, you are only as good as your team”

Wednesday, 07 December 2022
Interview

Photo © 1clicphoto.com/ Hervé Bonnaud. A lot has happened since Alexa Stais left South Africa as an 18-year-old to pursue her dream of becoming a professional showjumper. At the end of 2021, Stais landed what most would consider the dream job – riding for Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum and Markus Beerbaum. Photo © 1clicphoto.com/ Hervé Bonnaud.

 

Text © World of Showjumping

 


 

A lot has happened since Alexa Stais left South Africa as an 18-year-old to pursue her dream of becoming a professional showjumper. Before heading for Europe, the multi-talented Stais had already competed at three World Equestrian Games in vaulting and in jumping at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China – and it was the latter she dreamt about making a career out of. Stais’ big move brought her to Germany and Hilmar Meyer, where she worked for six-and-a-half years, before she at the end of 2021 landed what most would consider the dream job – riding for Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum and Markus Beerbaum.

“It was a daunting move, and it was for sure not easy,” Stais says about relocating to Germany. “The first three months were the hardest, but when I put my mind to something, I really want to see it through, and I think that mindset helped me. Not only was I far away from my family and friends; I did not speak the language, the weather was very different… My first winter I froze, I did not have the right clothes – at least now I am better equipped. It was hard, the first year especially, but then I got to do shows, made new friends. I would never tell my parents how I missed them; I would not let them see me homesick. I think it was the fact that I said I would give it a year, that kept me going – and then everything picked up speed so fast.”

And as the saying goes; time flies when you are having fun. Fast forward to 2022, Stais is still in Germany, now enjoying her new challenges at Meredith and Markus’ barn in Thedinghausen. “I was living in the same area, only ten minutes from Markus and Meredith,” Stais explains. “I started to ride a few horses for them, and then at the end of last year, they were looking for a rider and it felt like a good opportunity for me.”

Working for her childhood idols

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ. “With Markus and Meredith, I have learned the finer riding,” Stais tells. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

“Markus is very organized, he is always on time and that is something I really like; my dad brought me up like that too,” Stais tells about working for her childhood idols. “I really like that Markus has a structure, a plan for every horse, he has a plan for the day, for the week – he is really into it. I obviously expected that, but I did not think that he would still be so into it now that he and Meredith no longer are competing on the highest level. It has been exciting to see his motivation, and it really motivates me as well. Meredith still rides at home, and it is great to watch her school the horses. For me, after all those years watching her on TV, it is now nice to see where all that success stems from.”

I think the fine-tuning has been the biggest lesson for me

“With Markus and Meredith, I have learned the finer riding,” Stais tells. “I used to be – and still am – very competitive, but before I started working with them I used to rely solely on my talent and my instinct. What they have taught me is that when you move into these bigger classes, there is a lot more to it than your instinct, also behind the scenes; you need to have a plan for each horse, you have to build them up slowly for the goals you set. I used to try and win as many classes as I could during a weekend! I would say that I ride a lot quieter now, my hand is smoother. I think the fine-tuning has been the biggest lesson for me.”

On a normal day at home, Stais is on her first horse at 7.30 am. “It depends on if we are jumping or not, but we start riding around 7.30 – Markus too – and if we are jumping, he is always helping on the ground,” she tells about her daily routines. “Markus is very much involved. I ride the fixed group of 8 to 12 horses that I have, and Markus will ride some of them himself. My group of horses consist of two six-year-olds and three seven-year-olds, the rest are older. We have another rider as well, Jack O’Donahoe, and we switch the horses around between us depending on what suits best.”

This sport keeps you humble

Photo © 1clicphoto.com/ Hervé Bonnaud. "I want to improve every day, every show and give each horse a chance," Stais says. Photo © 1clicphoto.com/ Hervé Bonnaud.

At the beginning of October, Stais won the three-star Grand Prix in Oliva Nova with Urhelia Lutterbach (Helios De La Cour II x Emilion). “I have been riding her since the beginning of the year, she is more experienced,” Stais tells. “She has been great for me, we have picked up a few good ribbons. Another older horse I have is Lucato Mad Jo (Ludwigs As x Stakkato), a nine-year-old that I rode already before working for Markus and Meredith – he is a good speed horse for the 1.45m and 1.50m classes. I know him a little bit longer as I have been riding him since he was seven. A new chestnut that could be an option for the bigger championships for me is Quando Vengo (Quadros 3 x Come On). I just got him and he has already done some good things. I really like his character, we get along well. And then there is Gina M (Crunch 3 x Cassaro 5), who I have high hopes for as well,” Stais tells about her string of horses. “I really enjoy building up the young horses. I think it is important to have good young horses that are coming up behind the older ones. If I am not at a big show, and we go to a small national show with the young ones, I really enjoy that – I love seeing them develop.”

I really like that the sport keeps you humble; one day you are winning and the next you start from square one

“I really like that the sport keeps you humble; one day you are winning and the next you start from square one,” Stais continues. “That keeps me motivated: I want to improve every day, every show and give each horse a chance. I think the most challenging part for any rider is to keep a good horse. However, that is how the sport is; you get a good horse, you build it up to a good level and it will most likely get sold – people want the good ones. When that happens, it is hard – you do feel the void they leave. However, at the end of the day, that is also my job; even when I was young, and still living in South Africa, I would have ponies or horses that needed to get sold. My parents taught me that from a young age, so I do understand this part of the sport. When a good horse of mine gets sold, it motivates me; I have clearly done a god job, so then I just want to do it again. We need enough good riders who can produce horses, and for our sport and business to thrive, we also do need those people who will then buy the horses that have made it to the top level.”  

From vaulting to showjumping

Photo © 1clicphoto.com/ Hervé Bonnaud. “When I was 13, I started to tell my parents that when I would be done with school, I wanted to go to Europe and ride,” Stais tells. Photo © 1clicphoto.com/ Hervé Bonnaud.

Alexa grew up in Kyalami in Johannesburg, the centre for showjumping in South Africa. “We had stables at home, and my dad had a horse he used to hack out on Sundays, and he evented competitively  – but I don’t come from a serious horsey background,” she explains. “However, over the years, my parents have gotten a good idea of the sport. I began riding when I was three; my sister had already been riding at a riding school down the road and as I started to drive my mom a little crazy, she sent me to the stables too. That is how I got hooked on horses. I began vaulting when I was five, and I did both vaulting and showjumping until I turned 18. Then I started to focus more on showjumping. Through vaulting, I met amazing people, got to see many countries and competed at three World Games – it was a great experience. However, showjumping was always my first passion.”

I believe my past with vaulting has been a great advantage – I would highly recommend it to kids

“When I was 13, I started to tell my parents that when I would be done with school, I wanted to go to Europe and ride,” Stais smiles. “I always had Germany on my mind, and after finishing school in November 2014, I then left for Europe in April 2015. I didn’t know what I wanted to study, so my dad told me to go to Europe to ride for a year, to get it out of my system – I don’t think my parents expected me to stay this long, but here we are! I do think my past with vaulting definitely helps me; my balance is really good. When I was riding up the grades, my parents made me do everything; I did equitation, eventing and dressage on top of showjumping and vaulting. That all helped as well, but I believe my past with vaulting has been a great advantage – I would highly recommend it to kids.”

“Riders do not pay enough attention to their own fitness, and I am one of them now,” Stais laughs. “It can be difficult to schedule more sports in with the showing we do. I go to yoga when I am at home, and if I am at home for a week, I try to go to the gym as well and do other sports. Riding only works a certain amount of muscles in your body, so it is important to stay fit. The top riders do take good care of their bodies; you see them exercise more and more, which is great – and something I need to pick up again.”

Flying the Cypriot flag

Photo © 1clicphoto.com/ Hervé Bonnaud. "My short-term goal is to compete at the European Championships next year, and a long-term goal would be to compete at the next World Championships and hopefully the Olympics; if not in Paris, then in Los Angeles," Stais tells. Photo © 1clicphoto.com/ Hervé Bonnaud.

When Stais realized that her passion with showjumping was so strong that she could see her herself staying in Europe for the rest of her life, she changed her nationality from South Africa to Cyprus. “My grandfather was a Cypriot,” she explains. “I came to a point where I knew this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life – and that I wanted to stay in Europe – so it was the most logical way to go. Plus it opened up a couple more doors, with the European Championships as an example. It was, however, a very difficult decision; I am very patriotic, and I love my home country."

It was a very difficult decision; I am very patriotic, and I love my home country

"The sport has definitely changed and grown a lot in South Africa in the past years, but the most difficult part is exporting horses," Stais explains. "There is talk about it at the moment, that they might open the quarantine again. It would help the sport a lot, if they could fly horses straight to Europe. When I have time, I love to go back to South Africa and give a clinic, talk to the kids there. I still keep a tight contact with everyone in South Africa and they have been great to me, even with my change of nationality. The Cypriots have welcomed me very warmly though and I am happy to represent them, although I am their only rider in Europe. I am used to it, as there weren’t that many riders competing in Europe for South Africa either. My short-term goal is to compete at the European Championships next year, and a long-term goal would be to compete at the next World Championships and hopefully the Olympics; if not in Paris, then in Los Angeles.”

You are only as good as the people around you

Photo © 1clicphoto.com/ Hervé Bonnaud. "My parents have always been very supportive and I speak with my family every single day," Stais tells. Photo © 1clicphoto.com/ Hervé Bonnaud.

Hilmar Meyer, Stais’ first employer in Germany, is one of the people that have had the biggest influence on her career. “I worked for such a long time with him, and I learned a lot,” she says. “I had a lot of success whilst I was there, and he always tried his best to make sure that if a horse got sold, I had another one to take for the bigger classes. Another influential person was Cord Meyer, who owned the majority of my good horses back in 2017 and who sadly passed away in April. And then Yvonne Bolton in South Africa, who trained me from ponies to juniors, as well as Barry and Lorette Taylor, who trained me from juniors until I left for Europe. And of course, my parents, too. They have always been very supportive and I speak with my family every single day.”

“I would like to, one day, have my own business,” Stais says about the future. “It is hard to do this sport alone, though, and at the moment, with Markus and Meredith, I have very good training, which is worth a lot. And at the end of the day, you are only as good as your team; I think if anybody can bring me to where I want to go, it is them.” 

 

No reproduction without written permission, copyright © World of Showjumping.com

 



This photo has been added to your cart !

Your shopping cart »
This website is using cookies for statistics, site optimization and retargeting purposes. You consent to our cookies if you continue to use this website. Read more here.