Swiss show jumping champion Martin Fuchs wins the CHI Geneva Grand Prix

By Michelle Johnson | 16 Dec 2019 | Sport, Speed

The champion equestrian exclusively tells Tempus what it takes to take on the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping

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* CHI Genève Grand Prix winner Martin Fuchs with his champion horse, Clooney [Rolex/Ashley Neuhof]

European show jumping champion Martin Fuchs won the Concours Hippique International (CHI) Genève's Rolex Grand Prix on Sunday 15 December, in front of an ecstatic home crowd. The 27-year-old equestrian and his horse, Clooney, scooped the trophy from contenders including fellow Swiss rider Steve Guerdat and Scottish champion Scott Brash, who took second place in the jump off after losing out to Fuchs with an incredible 0.05 second difference in time. 

The CHI Genève Grand Prix is part of the prestigious Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping, made up of four the world's toughest show jumping competitions in Geneva, Switzerland; Aachen, Germany; Spruce Meadows, Calgary, Canada and, since 2018, the Dutch Masters. Riders must win at least three successive competitions to become Rolex Grand Slam champion – a feat that only Scott Brash, with his champion horse Hello Sanctos, has accomplished in the competition's history.

"It's a huge win, my first Grand Prix victory," Fuchs said after his win. "To win here in Geneva makes it even more special to be on top. It takes a great partnership, work and time to win an event of this class." Fuchs, a Rolex Testimonee, admitted his 13-year-old horse, Clooney, had been a little "fresh" in the first round. "After the first round he pulled himself together for the jump off, and I knew I could trust him to go as far as it takes."

Rival Brash, who is also a Rolex Testimonee, rode Hello Senator in the weekend's Grand Prix, and during a press conference praised victor Fuch's incredible speed. "For me, the first half of the jump off was great, but then we took 12 strides from the corner – I think there were 11 strides there, and that's where we lost it. Martin went even faster, but I'm delighted with how Senator performed."

Ahead of his remarkable win, Fuchs invited Tempus on an exclusive stable tour to talk training champion horses, the show jumping community, and why his gaze is set on world domination in 2020…

How do you prepare yourself for the bigger events, like a Rolex Grand Slam Major? 
It's more the work with the horses that is a little different, because the Rolex Grand Slams are so unique. Geneva is the biggest indoor show on the circuit, then Aachen and Spruce Meadows are the biggest outdoor grass shows, which can be difficult for some horses. When training for these shows, we try to ride a lot on the grass, and practise in grass rings. The more Clooney gets used to something, the better he is, so this is how we try and train.

You've won silver at the World Equestrian Games last year and gold at European Championships this year. How have these successes impacted you? 
It’s hard to say, WEG was very special because it was the first individual medal for a Swiss rider in history, so that was pretty amazing. I was over the moon with this win. This year, I won the European champion title, the first individual gold medal for a Swiss rider since my godfather won it 25 years ago, so again, this was very special. I honestly cannot compare those two events, both are a huge success for any rider, they are both major championships. [I don't really feel] that there's more pressure, just more of a welcome; every time I enter the ring I am announced as European champion, and it’s a great feeling. My main goals are to stay in the top 10 riders in the world, because being in the top 10 means you have a lot of success throughout the year and remain consistent. >>

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* Martin Fuchs wins his first Rolex Grand Slam major in CHI Geneve [Rolex/Ashley Neuhof]

Tells us about your relationship with Clooney? 
Clooney is a great horse! We bought him when he was seven, and he has a very big character. The first day I got him, I went for a hack and fell off because he was nervous, especially when there was something new for him. Ever since then we have worked a lot together, we have grown together, especially over the past two years. Our partnership has improved, we worked a lot on the dressage, especially since his refusal at Aachen this year, I’ve tried to understand him more, to work out why he did it, what I may have done wrong and what would eliminate these mistakes. I think this has helped us a lot in our career. He is such a great jumper, he really doesn’t want to get any faults, he focuses on the jumps and has a real talent. Clooney is just 13 years old, he has a great talent with a lot of energy, so I have a lot of confidence that he can still go on competing at the top of the sport for many years to come. So, I haven’t planned what ceremony I would do for him or where his retirement would be, but I’m sure a great show will offer their help to give him the mention that he deserves.

Could you tell us about his character?
He is a very friendly horse. He is lovely with other horses, and with people, although when [my groom] Sean is taking too much care of another horse, he doesn’t like it. He loves the attention of being number one in the stable. He knows when there is a big occasion coming up, because usually the atmosphere is amazing around the shows, so he feels this. He also senses when I’m more excited or nervous. It is always important to keep him calm and relaxed, because he can get a little overexcited. Obviously, I feel it when I come into the arena riding Clooney, he is a very special horse. He is very smart and very clever, he really knows when it counts, which is the best thing about him. When it’s a big class, he understands that it's important to me that we do well. I think that’s why he is so good. I don’t know another horse that has been at the last three championships on the podium. ­­­

When it comes to training horses and building this relationship, how do you bring them to championship level?
You can feel it at the shows, I could tell when Clooney was young that he had a great talent, he was a really good jumper. Obviously, I didn’t know he would be one of the best in the world. When he was eight, one of my other horses was injured, so Clooney had to step in for the Swiss championships, and he won it, this is pretty amazing for an eight-year-old, so since then, we built him up for Nations Cups, and championships. He had experience as a young horse in some of the championships, the more he jumps, and the later on in the week it gets, the better he jumps. Some horses get tired and pay less attention, so they don’t jump as well later in the week, but Clooney is the exact opposite. He gets consistent results in all competitions. He never wants to get faults; I cannot take credit for making the perfect programme for Clooney but I do try to make sure that he has two weeks rest before a big show. The calmer Clooney is, the better he is in competition. 

You're competing with Clooney at Tokyo 2020; where else do you plan to compete next year? 
The Rolex Grand Slam Majors will definitely be one of the main goals. I might not compete with Clooney in all of them, as the Olympics takes up a lot of time. The horses have to go over to Tokyo two weeks before the competition starts. I will be in Tokyo for a while, and then will need a little rest. [Fuchs' horse] Silver Shine has been great in Aachen and Spruce Meadows this year, so maybe I will focus on him for one of the Majors next year. >>

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* European show jumping champion Martin Fuchs won the CHI Genève Grand Prix on Sunday 15 December [Rolex/Ashley Neuhof]

You're a Rolex Testimonee; how does your partnership with the brand work?
There are a lot of benefits for Rolex's riders. They put on amazing shows for us, and the Majors in the Rolex Grand Slam are the best competitions in our sport. I remember when my parents were riding, I was always obsessed with these shows. Having a partner like Rolex to support us, and push us to be at our best, is really special. Rolex ensures they have the best riders as part of their family, and its lovely how the Rolex family brings riders even closer together. We had a lunch yesterday and I was asking Rodrigo [Pessoa] if he could advise me on how to win the Top 10 final – because he has won it twice. Rolex have built a little team for us.

What advise did Rodrigo give you?
He said: "Go as fast as you can!"

Do you have a favourite watch? 
Yes, the watch I’m wearing is my favourite [Rolex Cosmograph Daytona], its very sporty and light, so it is great for riding. I’ve always liked Rolex watches; my dad had a very special Rolex. Then we went to all of these Rolex shows, so I always admired the brand. I am extremely happy and proud to be a member of the Rolex family at such a young age. My friends from school, who have nothing to do with riding, were the first ones I told when I became a Rolex Testimonee, I contacted them to tell them how amazing it was.

You're close friends with Rolex Testimonee Steve Guerdat. Could you tell us about your dynamic and how you find competing against each other? 
I’ve known Steve for such a long time, since our parents competed together. His dad was a horseback rider and both of my parents were doing Nations Cups together. I’ve known Steve since I competed in the Junior and Young Rider championships, obviously I was much younger, as Steve is 10 years older than me. I was always a huge fan of his, I used to watch him ride and walk the courses with him. He moved away to Holland for a while, and when he came back to Switzerland, he asked my dad for help, he asked him to train him, and since then we have become really close. Steve has spent a lot of time at my parent's house, we spent a lot of time at my home together and now we have lived eight kilometres apart for the last two years, so we are basically neighbours, and we see each other at least once a week. At the end of the day, you just go into the ring and you want to do the best that you can, you want to win, obviously you don’t want to be beaten by anyone. But we are always happy for each other, and its great to have Steve as a teammate for the European championships; to be able to support and help the Swiss team is great, we are able to spur each other on.