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Pedro Veniss: Surfing on a wave of success

Wednesday, 01 March 2017

Photo (c) Tiffany Van Halle for World of Showjumping Pedro Veniss pictured at home with his Olympic mount Quabri de L'Isle: "It was the luck of my life!” Veniss tells about how he ended up together with the wonderful stallion.

We’re meeting up with Brazil’s Pedro Veniss at the Sunshine Tour in Vejer de la Frontera, Spain. After a photo shoot in a snowy Belgium a few weeks before, the contrasts could not be bigger. They day we have scheduled the interview, Pedro kindly asks if we can move it an hour later than planned – he is off to surf on one of the many nearby beaches. Veniss has been surfing for as long as he has been riding, it’s his way of recharging his batteries and getting his mind of the horses. “I just love it,” he says. “It makes me forget everything else.”

Not that it seems like Veniss needs to forget anything. 2016 was a remarkable and memorable year for the 34-year-old Brazilian rider, who was the best of the home riders at the Olympic Games in Rio as well as winning the prestigious Rolex Grand Prix of Geneva aboard the stunning Quabri de L’Isle.

Veniss comes from a family of equestrians. His grandfather was the first big horse dealer in Brazil buying jumping horses from Argentina and selling them in his home country. “I grew up around horses, and I also have three cousins that ride – Caio here in Europe and two that ride professionally in Brazil, one of them went to the London Olympics,” Pedro tells.

He first got on the horse-back when he was 5-years-old, and coached by his grandfather he went through the ranks from children and juniors. “When I was 14, my grandfather decided to send me to his good friend Felipe de Azevedo – who was based in Europe – for the summer. Coming here and seeing the shows; that was when I decided that I wanted to be a professional. That was what I wanted for my life, and my dream was to one day be on the Brazilian team. I continued to visit Europe during my summer holidays and when I was 17 and finished school, I decided with my mother and father to go to Europe to ride and learn. The plan was to stay for a year, and after that perhaps study – but the university is still waiting for me,” Pedro laughs.

After a year with Felipe de Azevedo, Pedro met his legendary countrymen Nelson and Rodrigo Pessoa at the Sunshine Tour back in 2000. “Neco saw me ride, and asked if I wanted to come to work as a rider for Christophe Ameeuw at Ecuries d’Ecaussinnes where he was a trainer. For me it was a great opportunity: To ride with Neco, and to learn from him and Rodrigo. I had a really good time at Ecuries d’Ecaussinnes; many horses to ride, a lot of clients – busy every day – I learned so much during my seven years there,” Pedro tells. “What was most valuable though was riding with Neco almost every day. Neco is the ‘King of Dressage for Jumpers’, to train with him was amazing. I also learned a lot about the management of the horses from him and how to respect them, Neco is a real horseman.”

Photo (c) Tiffany Van Halle for World of Showjumping. A piece of Brazil in Europe: Pedro riding at home together with his compatriots Cassio Rivetti and Caio Carvalho Filho.

During his time at Ecuries d’Ecaussinnes, Pedro met André Lara Resende, that was also training with Neco. Resende decided to support Veniss by buying a horse he could develop towards top level. “We ended up buying Un Blanc du Blancs as a 7-year-old,” Pedro says. “Un Blanc du Blancs was really difficult, his mouth was horrible and his canter bad – but he was a very good jumper,” Pedro laughs. “I found him at Hubert Bourdy’s where I went to train for two weeks with a few of my horses. I remember Hubert said ‘Pedro, this horse has something’. Un Blanc du Blancs went on to do really well as a 7- and 8-year-old, and the owners were so happy that they bought another horse for me called Richmond Park. He was more experienced and ready to compete in the higher classes, which meant I could build Un Blanc du Blancs up quietly.”

It was looking good for Pedro, but soon he would experience not only the highs of the sport but also the lows – and how quickly things can change. “In 2006, I was planning to do the World Equestrian Games in Aachen with Richmond Park. Everything was going so good, he won Grand Prix classes, Nations Cups, was third in the Grand Prix of Falsterbo – then one week before Aachen: Lame. Today, I still look back and think that those days were some of the hardest days of my career. I was young, it was supposed to have been my first World Championships, it was in Aachen, I had an amazing horse – it was a big disappointment to miss out. In the end, the Brazilian team ended up going with only three riders as also Baloubet du Rouet missed out.”

But, fast forward to 2007 and Veniss was on the Brazilian team that won gold at the Pan-American Games in Rio. “After a hard year, it was like a present from God. Gold on home soil on Un Blanc du Blancs, that was beautiful,” Pedro says.

Preparing for the Olympic Games in 2008, Pedro also had a hard time. “I had a bit bad luck towards Hong Kong. Un Blanc du Blancs was injured at the beginning of the year, but came back in time. He jumped beautiful the first day there, was clear and then the second day he again jumped amazing until the last fence where I had a fall. Again, I experienced the disappointment – but still the experience of the Olympic Games and the atmosphere there was something really special. Going into the stadium there for the opening ceremony, it was a dream come true,” Pedro reflects.

2008 was the year that Veniss ventured out on his own, and found his own stable in Belgium. “Shortly after, Stephan Conter called and asked if I was interested in riding one of his 7-year-olds. He said it was a very good horse, but a bit difficult to ride,” Pedro remembers. “That was Amaryllis, that I ended up jumping the 2010 World Equestrian Games on. I kept getting horses from Stephan to ride, and at the same time the owner of Un Blanc du Blancs and Richmond Park had moved back to Brazil and decided to take Richmond Park there while Un Blanc du Blancs was retired due to an injury.”

Photo (c) Tiffany Van Halle for World of Showjumping Pedro has worked his way up to become one of Brazil's very best riders.

It was the start of a new chapter, and it would turn out to be a very successful one. “Amaryllis was a mare with a lot of blood, and I like the horses that way. We were a good combination. I found a way with her, and she had a really big heart so she would always give everything she had for me. Amaryllis did not have the last scope, but an unbelievable heart. We were close to a team medal in Kentucky, in the end the Brazilian team was fourth. She jumped unbelievable there,” Pedro tells.

During his time working with Conter, Pedro would cross paths with a horse that would turn out to become one of the world’s best. “Cornet d’Amour came into my life when he was a 6-year-old,” Pedro says looking back. “I remember Stephan calling me saying he bought a super-star, but he would do that every now and again so I did not think that much about it. Then, when I jumped Cornet the first time he gave me the best feeling I had ever had on a horse. I called Stephan up after and said: ‘That’s the first time I agree with you, this one is a super star!’ The feeling was unbelievable from the beginning. Cornet was elastic, careful – he was just something very special. The year Cornet was 9, Daniel Deusser started riding for Stephan. I knew that was the beginning of the end for our collaboration. At that time, Cornet was jumping four-star Grand Prix classes, I was on the short-list for the Brazilian team for the Olympics in London with him – and then I lost him, it was a hard time. I could feel myself losing my motivation a bit, Cornet was a special one. However, the great thing about the story is that Cornet found one of the best riders in the world that showed everybody how good this horse is,” Pedro smiles.

Starting on scratch with only one 7-year-old horse in the stables, it was back to the drawing board for Veniss. But soon, something that would change Pedro’s career was about to happen. “One day my mother-in-law called me. She said ‘Pedro, I think it’s just one time during your career that you will have the opportunity to ride the Olympic Games on home soil. I really want to give you the chance to try to be there. So, if you find a horse that you think can go all the way to Rio I will buy it for you’, Pedro tells.

That horse would turn out to be Quabri de L’Isle. “Straight away after I called my friend Cassio (Rivetti) with the good news,” Veniss tells. “I said to Cassio: ‘I have one chance. I have to make it right! Cassio replied: ‘You will. I have the horse for you.’ That same week Alexander Onischenko had send Quabri to Cassio’s stables to sell him. It was the luck of my life!”

Photo (c) Tiffany Van Halle for World of Showjumping "The most important for me however, is his mentality. Everything you ask him, he will try to do – he has a fantastic character,” Pedro says about the stunning Quabri de L'Isle.

It was not the first time Quabri and Pedro crossed paths. “The week I lost Cornet I went to a two-star show in Moorsele, and Quabri jumped the Grand Prix there with Nicolas Mignon. He was 8 then, but I had seen him already as a 6-year-old and liked him back then as well. I asked Nicolas if he wanted to do something together with the horse, but I did not have the money to buy him and he needed to sell. Then he was sold to Onischenko,” Pedro says. “After I tried Quabri at Cassio’s place I said: ‘I always liked, now I love!’”

With only one shot at finding an Olympic prospect, how could Veniss be so sure Quabri was the right one we ask. “I think I have been lucky to have ridden a lot of different horses during my career, first for my grandfather, then for Christophe and Stephan. When you sit on that many horses, you also feel those that are the really special ones.”

The two seem like they were meant to be. Shortly after getting together, Pedro and Quabri got a spot on the Brazilian team for the World Equestrian Games in Caen. That however, took a bit of convincing from Pedro’s side. When Quabri arrived at his stables he had yet to jump a three-star Grand Prix, while his rider asked Jean-Maurice Bonneaud – Brazlian Chef d’Equipe at the time – to put them on the short list for the WEG. “I said to Jean-Maurice, I will do a two-star, a three-star and then a four-star Grand Prix and then we’ll see. Then Quabri was double clear in the two-star Grand Prix in Fontainebleau, double clear in the three-star Grand Prix in Bethune and double clear in the five-star Grand Prix in Gijon. In the end I got a spot on the team,” Pedro laughs when illustrating how much he believed in Quabri from the very beginning.

“He is an unbelievably good horse, he has all the scope in the world and is careful. The most important for me however, is his mentality. Everything you ask him, he will try to do – he has a fantastic character,” Pedro says about the stunning stallion.

Photo (c) Jenny Abrahamsson "The first round at the Olympics when I went clear, with the crowds screaming ‘Brazil, Brazil, Pedro,Pedro’ – it was like a football match. Incredible!" Pedro Veniss says.

From there on, everything has gone right for Pedro and Quabri. Double clears in some of the world’s biggest Nations Cups, including a victory in the BMO Nations Cup at Spruce Meadows back in 2015 where the pair also ended third in the CP International Grand Prix presented by Rolex. “Yes, I am really lucky to have him,” Pedro smiles when talking about what the two have achieved.

2016 turned out to be an unforgettable year for Pedro and Quabri. “I was working on that win for a year,” Pedro says referring to the victory in the Rolex Grand Prix of Geneva. “I had the horse to do it on, and I had been so close in Calgary in 2015. Then, during 2016 all I did was saving him and building him up for Rio. In the jump-off in Geneva, I thought: ‘Now I have to try’ – I took everything else so slow with him. Then, the jump-off with that turn to the wall proved to be perfect for Quabri – he is just such a hard trier.”

On whether or not he will aim for the Grand Slam, Veniss says: “For sure I will try, but I know it is hard to do. Scott (Brash) made history when he won it, and I think it will be difficult to do that again for any rider. But, it’s nothing wrong in dreaming!”

Perhaps he felt a bit disappointed in so narrowly missing out on a medal at the Olympic Games in Rio where the Brazilian team ended fifth, but nevertheless it is an experience Veniss is sure to never forget. “The first round at the Olympics when I went clear, with the crowds screaming ‘Brazil, Brazil, Pedro,Pedro’ – it was like a football match. Incredible! I always like to compete in Brazil, I really miss home,” Pedro says. 

Photo (c) Jenny Abrahamsson On whether or not he will aim for the Grand Slam, Veniss says: “For sure I will try, but I know it is hard to do. Scott (Brash) made history when he won it, and I think it will be difficult to do that again for any rider. But, it’s nothing wrong in dreaming!”

His base in Belgium might be far from Brazil, but Pedro has a piece of home in Europe as well. Sharing stables with Cassio Rivetti – one of his best friends – and working together with his cousin Caio, Pedro has surrounded himself with people he appreciates and knows from home. The Brazilian riders that are based in Europe stick together, Pedro tells – often meeting up for football games and barbeques.

After an incredible year, Veniss seems driven by his success but not desperately chasing for more. When asked if it is correctly observed that he seems to just do his own thing, he laughs and says: “Yes. I don’t chase the ranking. Of course, I would like to be in the Top 10 and all that – but when you don’t have that many horses for the top level it is not really possible. If you only have a few for the biggest classes, or like in my case one, you can for sure do it for half a year or so but then you end up taking everything out of them. I have one top horse, and some really good younger horse coming up that will be ready in a year or so – I have to fit my program to my horses,” he says. “And, I like to focus on championships and traditional shows – it gives me a different feeling. To be on the Brazilian team, to jump the Nations Cups – that is what is important to me.”


Text © World of Showjumping by Jannicke Naustdal // Pictures © Tiffany Van Halle and Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping

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