I’m sure that no Canadian show jumping fan will forget the 2014 CP International for years to come. Just like when Eric and Hickstead won in 2007 and 2011, they become the classes that you hold dear in your memories, and the ones you turn to when you need to get your pride flowing. Overall it was a phenomenal weekend for Canada, but I’ll save my final thoughts for a future post. For now, let’s keep our focus on the CP International, and when went down in the press conference.
If you’d been told that by September 15th that you would have two gold medals hanging around your neck, would you have believed it?
Well, I always think that’s going to happen, and I’m always disappointed and amazed when it doesn’t! But, no, truthfully not.
Ian, describe how the day went for you, and what you thought when you walked the course this morning.
It’s, it’s very amazing. I can honestly tell you that I never thought I’d win this Grand Prix again. I won it twice before, and that was a long time ago; I really didn’t think I’d win it again. The sport has changed so much, and I’m more mature than I was. These young people, they go plenty fast and they know all the tricks and they are really, really good. I have the greatest respect and admiration for my fellow riders because they are that good. To go up against them is no easy task, and to take on the famous Leopoldo is also a painful experience… but rewarding, yes! He just got the right number in the first round- it’s amazing how these course designers can do this with such consistency and I mean that they might be off by one or town, but never more- they are that good. There is a group of them in the world that are that good, and Leopoldo is certainly one of the best. He got the right number, and then he dialed it down good and hard, but maybe a little bit differently than he has in other years. It was interesting how he used the pair of doubles. In previous years the liverpools have been extremely difficult and in this case it wasn’t really so much the problem, but was what you did with the 5-stride distance to the next combination. In fact, when I rode down to it, the liverpool combination was in the sunlight, and the other was in the shade. Dixson took a look at it and he started wandering, not knowing where I wanted him to go. You had to hold left to get there properly, and he just didn’t quite understand for a second before he followed my eye and we were good to go.
Then the jump-off happened, with the order determined by our speed in the previous rounds. Therefore, if Ms. Kessler had gone faster earlier, she might have been second in the jump-off! But anyway, I had the good fortune of going second, so I saw exactly what she did, and her strategy was exactly correct, she did exactly what I would have done if I had been leading off. She put enough pressure on, and I worked around the turn from one to two, a little quicker to the liverpools, and just a little here and a little there and that was the difference. The afternoon just seems to fly by, it’s like a blur it happened so fast, and the tension is incredible. For me, it is the most prestigious Grand Prix in the whole world, and it’s a heck of a pay day as you can imagine. It’s just a thrill, it’s beyond words.
Ian, you mentioned that Dixson is related to Big Ben. Besides great jumping talent, are there other similar traits?
Some people will say it’s my imagination if I tell you all this, because it goes back quite a ways, but Dixson is a distant relative. Similarity wise, Dixson knows when to rise to the occasion as Big Ben always did, and I don’t know, it’s subtle things in terms of training. With Big Ben you never said, “Listen, here’s what you’re going to do”, because he’d say, “Is that a fact?”. I treated Big Ben like my wife trained me, she left me thinking it was my bright idea in the end, when really it was her bright idea. I really learned that from her, I figured it out after about 30 years, and so I trained Big Ben that way. Dixson is exactly the same, you don’t just take him on head on, because he will say “Is that the best you got?”. You just have to sell him on the idea and let him think it’s at least half his idea, and away he goes. He really, really wants to be a good horse, I’m very fortunate to have him.
Did you know that Dixson had THAT in him today?
Whenever you buy these horses, you really believe because otherwise you shouldn’t buy them. I really thought that it was there. He was a little tricky to ride and train, a little strong, and that was his reputation in Europe. To do this type of course work they can’t be strong, they have to be so light and responsive- it has to be a harmony of the horse and rider, making this partnership is what takes the time. I was saying to Sue and Ariel Grange the other day that we are 80% of the way there. What I’m saying is that I believe we can be even better! It’s always thrilling when you think a horse will do this and they do do it because, well, most of them don’t. Most end up in some form of mediocrity or out and out disappointment. It’s really nice when they work out!
Ian, how is this win different than your other ones?
Well, I guess some of it is the perspective of time. The others were in 1987 and 1991, so I’ve had other horses in those years, and sometimes I walk the course and look-up into the sky and say “Big Ben where are you, I need you”, because I know he would do it for fun. When you have had a great horse, it can sometimes be a bad thing for a rider, because then the next one doesn’t quite measure up. With a horse like Big Ben, when we were going to the jump he would know what I was thinking before I had hardly thought it and vice versa. If he was making a little error I knew it and corrected it, and if I was making a little error, he knew it and corrected it. As a result was that we didn’t knock down many rails, it was just that kind of deal. You just don’t get that many times in your life. So it’s thrilling, and I’ve had a lot of really good horses, but the great ones are elusive. In Style was fantastic, and Star Power is a great, great horse, and I really think that Dixson might just be the real thing for me.
Reed, can you talk about coming here and the success that you had with Cylana?
My horse loves it here, she always has, and some of our biggest wins have been here. I didn’t come to the summer series because I had moved to Germany and wanted to be in Marcus’ program, and also, it just didn’t fit into my schedule. I really missed it, because she is just so spectacular here. She loves it, she jumps her best here. You just have a feeling with a horse, she loves this class, and I know that if one day I can get it right, she is going to win it.
Marie, how do you feel your afternoon unfolded?
For me, it is just a dream to be here. I watch this show on TV every year, and I really enjoyed every day, and yes, the finish was perfect! Admirable was here for me through everything, especially in the second round when I had no distance through the combination! He tried really hard. I’m so happy, and so surprised. I’m not used to jumping on this level at this type of show because Calgary is really special. I was feeling a bit small the first day, okay I am small, but I was feeling really small the first day, and today I’m feeling a little bit less small.
Marie, can you tell us more about your horse and your history with him?
I bought him when he was seven. He was jumping small national classes in Germany, and had no back shoes, wasn’t clipped and was really… natural. I fell in love when I saw his face, the eyes. He was big and a bit fat, not really good looking, but with the eyes I knew I wanted this horse. After I was fifth in Lexington, the horse had two colic surgeries. It was really bad, he was dying. He had two months in the clinic and we did everything for him. My groom did a really good job, he was in there everyday, and I was also 2x everyday in the clinic for the horse. We had a really good relationship before, but after that the connection was just amazing. I’m really happy to be third, but I’m really happy with how he fought for me. We do this because we love horses, and when you feel your horse fighting for you and giving you everything, that’s the best feeling possible.
Ian, the Rolex Grand Slam – next stop Geneva?
Well I’m going to have to talk to Sue and Ariel Grange, because it really wasn’t the plan for Dixson. But, circumstance change plans! I think that it would be a lovely idea to go to Geneva in December!
Ian, on that note, did you every think that you’d win a 1.5 million Grand Prix and be in the running for a Grand Slam?
Absolutely it never occurred to me, it would never happen. Mark Laskin and I were talking, and a million years ago in the late 60’s a sponsor came into the sport, and a $5000 Grand Prix was the big deal, no one had ever heard of such a thing! Now people won’t put the tack on for less than 50! The way the sport has evolved is incredible.