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“Sanctos’ story is about so much more than all the success he had in the show ring”

Tuesday, 28 January 2020

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.
“I think I have never had a connection with a horse like I have with Sanctos,” Scott Brash tells about his legendary four-legged partner. Photo © World of Showjumping by Jenny Abrahamsson.


Text © World of Showjumping by Nanna Nieminen



Hello Sanctos (Quasimodo van de Molendreef x Nabab de Reve) – the only horse in history to have won the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping by taking three consecutive victories in the Rolex Grand Prix of Geneva, Aachen and Spruce Meadows – is by now considered a legend. Retired at the end of last year, Sanctos’s incredible international career spanned for nearly a decade – starting with Peter Wylde, then continuing with Katharina Offel before Scott Brash took over the reins.

From the early beginnings at his breeders’ farm and all the way through to his countless successes with Brash, Sanctos has had a huge impact on the people close to him.

Sanctos was born 20 kilometers from Gent in Belgium. Lieve Taets’ parents Willy and Mariëtte were cow farmers, and as a hobby they rode and bred horses. Sanctos’ mother is Nasia van het Gravenhof, a mare that the Taets-family still breed with. However, Sanctos was sold as a two-and-a-half-year-old and left his breeders. “Sanctos was sold for a small amount of money – he was very cheap. He looked like nothing special, my parents could not expect much of him. They always kept the mares and sold the stallions,” Lieve Taets tells World of Showjumping.

“Nasia, she is a grumpy one,” Taets laughs when asked to describe the personality of Sanctos’ mother. “In the stable she is independent, in the field she is the leader – quite bossy. But once you put a saddle on, you can put a child on her. She knows what she needs to do. She has a good attitude and you can always trust her.”

Sanctos’ character seems to be a lot like his mother’s. “He is independent,” Brash tells. “He has actually been happier at shows than at home. At home, he doesn’t like people bothering him – he likes to have his space.”

Photo © Dirk Caremans/
Willy Taets, together with his daughter Lieve, receiving his Rolex watch as WBFSH Jumping Breeder of the Year in 2015. “Sanctos has been so important for our family – not for money nor for the success – but because he helped us through a very difficult time,” Lieve tells. Photo © Dirk Caremans/

“Sanctos has been so important for our family – not for money nor for the success – but because he helped us through a very difficult time,” Taets continues. “The same year Scott discovered Sanctos – in 2011 – my mother was diagnosed with cancer,” Taets tells. “It was a difficult period for my family, but at the same time Sanctos and Scott’s success came into the news. It was great to see him at the Olympic Games in London in 2012,” she says. “My mother passed away at the end of 2012. Being small breeders who did it just for fun, selling horses every now and then as a hobby, she had the luck to see one of her own horses do so well. It was an achievement she could be proud of. After my mother’s passing, other breeders told us to look at Sanctos and to not get lost in our grief. Seeing his success with Scott gave us hope and helped us get through the loss of my mother. We started to breed more, and it kept us alive."

“In 2014 and 2015 my father was invited to CHI Geneva and he traveled on a plane for the very first time,” Taets tells about the adventures that followed Sanctos’ success. In Geneva, Willy Taets received the WBFSH award for jumping breeder of the year after Sanctos topped the rankings for two consecutive seasons. “Sanctos has meant so much for so many people, he made Scott’s career and he helped us. As a breeder, you breed with passion and think about the perfect fit. Sanctos was our lucky shot. We were also lucky that he matched so well with Scott. Last year, Scott came all the way from the UK to meet Sanctos’ mother – that is now 22-years-old. I cannot put into words how much I appreciated that,” Taets says. “For me, Sanctos’ story is about so much more than all the success he had in the show ring.”

Taets is adamant of continuing the family tradition of breeding. “The day Sanctos retired, my son was working with Sanctos’ sister – she was under the saddle for the first time that day,” she says. “We will keep the family tradition alive. I have a 3-year-old full sister of Sanctos to continue the breeding my parents believed in. For us, Sanctos gave a meaning to our hobby. It is all about feelings, and not about money.”

Photo © World of Showjumping by Jenny Abrahamsson
"I always believed in him," Scott says about Hello Sanctos – here at his retirement ceremony in Geneva last year. Photo © World of Showjumping by Jenny Abrahamsson.

In 2010, Peter Wylde bought Sanctos. With Wylde in the saddle, Sanctos competed in international 2*, 3* and 4* classes, and the pair won a CSI2* 1.45m Grand Prix in Oldenburg in November 2010.

The following year – when he turned nine – Sanctos was sold and Katharina Offel took over the reins. “At the time, Alexander Onischenko was looking for horses to buy for the Ukrainian team ahead of the London Olympics. I believed Sanctos would be the one for me to go there with. When I took over the ride, Sanctos had already been successful with Peter Wylde. However, it took a bit of time for Sanctos to get used to my way of riding and it was not an immediate click. But in June 2011, we took our first big win in Geesteren – in a 1.55. Then I took him to Aachen next, and we placed fifth in the Prize of Europe. However – after Barcelona, where we placed 4th in the five-star Grand Prix, a decision was made to sell Sanctos.”

“Obviously, it was a big loss – by now, we all know that Sanctos was the right horse for London and much, much more,” Offel tells. “But, I am not sure Sanctos would have been as good with anyone else as he was with Scott – they were a real match made in heaven and what they achieved is incredible. Looking at it in hindsight and reflecting on the circumstances at that time, I think that this was the best that could have happened to Sanctos. He was supposed to be together with Scott.”

For Brash, finding Sanctos truly changed his life. Little did Brash know that the two would go down in showjumping history as one of the most successful partnerships of all times. “When I first tried him, I was not sure if he had the scope of a championship horse,” Brash recalls. “However, I knew immediately that he would be a Grand Prix winner. I was just not sure if the last bit of scope was there. I took him to Palm Beach as our first international outing. Even though we seemed to find each other quickly, we did have some bad rounds in the beginning. After Wellington I gave him a break, and once we started again, Sanctos just came out so consistent. It did not matter if it was a training round or a big class, he jumped a clear after clear,” Brash continues.

As to the key to their partnership, Brash says: “Sanctos found confidence in me and my riding, and I think he really needed that partnership with his rider to develop that last bit of scope. I always believed in him.”

“I think I have never had a connection with a horse like I have with Sanctos,” Brash says. “There is this understanding between us. In the ring, it felt like he knew what I was thinking and I knew the next step he would take.”


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