By Sophie St.Clair
The opportunity to watch Scottish show jumper Scott Brash train and compete his horses is an unparalleled study in what it means to be a successful professional rider. At 29, Great Britain’s Olympic team gold medalist has been the world number one for 25 non-consecutive months. Few other riders have even come close to this record but those who have bear the names Ehning and Pessoa. Elite company to be sure.
For Scott, his consistent results are not only attributed to one outstanding horse, such as his one-of-a-kind mount Hello Sanctos, but to several of the horses in his string like Hello M’Lady and Hello Annie. This indicates Scott runs a development program that produces quality sport horses capable of succeeding and winning at some of the highest levels of the sport.
Scott’s recent history-making win in the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping is a testament to this assertion. It would be difficult enough to have won any one of the prestigious Grand Prix in Geneva, Aachen or Calgary, but to have won all three for an additional 1 million Euro payday was, well — historic. No one had done this before but if one person was ever capable of achieving this, it was the indefatigable Scott Brash.
While at the Longines Masters in Los Angeles, Scott competed with both Hello M’Lady and Hello Annie, owned by his patrons Lord and Lady Kirkham and Lord and Lady Harris. In typical fashion, he piloted Hello M’Lady to the jump-off on the final day in the $450,000 Longines Grand Prix. He left it all in the ring with a blistering speed and laser-sharp track that left little room for anyone else to take the win. In the press conference that followed Scott said, “I knew it might not be enough for the win.” And he was right; the German Marco Kutscher shaved .89 seconds from Scott’s time leaving him in second place. No one can win them all but this result is indicative of Scott’s overall record of finishing repeatedly in the top three places. His extraordinary ability to deliver such consistent results seems practically formulaic.
Scott’s been labeled the “Ice Man” because during some of the biggest moments in the sport, he appears able to shut out pressure, fear or stress and focus on the job of winning. As the youngest member of Great Britain’s 2012 Olympic Show Jumping team, he helped deliver them to a gold medal finish and finished fifth in the individual competition.
He won a team gold and individual bronze at the European Championships in 2013. In 2013 and 2014, he was crowned Tour Champion of the Longines Global Champions Tour. Winning the LGCT tour earned him his share of an additional cash prize of $1M each time. Scott sits in a very good position to win the LGCT tour again this year.
There’s an observable calm to his demeanor when he competes. One imagines that he’s singularly focused on the strategy of his plan, the competitors in the jump-off, the capabilities of their horses and what he must do to succeed. With this in mind, he shared with Sidelines some insight into his competitive mindset, what motivates him, the risks and rewards he has experienced and what it would mean to be voted Great Britain’s Sports Personality of the Year.
Sidlines: What do you like about the Longines Masters shows as compared to the other shows?
Scott Brash: I think what makes them good is that they’re very well organized. As riders we know that we’re going to get good stables, good facilities, good footing and we know what the arena is going to be like. It helps that we know it’s all going to run smoothly. It’s a great event and has a great atmosphere in the ring.
Sidelines: When you’re having a winning round, describe how you feel in the moment. Are you anxious, excited, or do you not think about it until afterwards?
SB: You have to try to focus on your job and do what your horse is capable of doing in the jump-off. You can’t get too caught up in the moment or you end up doing something wrong and making a mistake.
Sidelines: Is competition more of a mental game for you or is it more about physical execution?
SB: With a chuckle — It’s a bit of both, really. In a jump-off you need to know who’s in front of you, who’s coming behind you to go so that you judge your round. Do you think the one coming behind you is going to be faster? It’s both really. Mental and physical.
Sidelines: What’s the greatest risk you’ve taken in the sport?
SB: I guess when I first went to Florida, I took six horses and it cost a lot of money. So it was a big risk involved. But it paid off and we won a lot. We managed to break even on that trip. I think it was a very good platform for my horses to go and do better things when we got back.
Sidelines: What’s your definition of success?
SB: Chuckles again — That’s a good question. I think to be successful you’ve got to try to stay at the top end of your sport for a long period of time, in our sport anyway. I think it’s too easy that anyone can win a class but to keep consistently doing it week in and week out is difficult. I think to create that is success.
Sidelines: Are you more critical or more positive by nature?
SB: Critical, yeah. Like even I was second today (at the LA Masters), as soon as I jumped the jump-off I knew it wasn’t just good enough. So, I’d be very critical.
Sidelines: What motivates you as an athlete?
SB: I think my love for the horses, really. I love working with the horses and to be honest, they’re like my family, you know. They’re my career so I look after them. I always enjoy getting up in the morning to work them and ride them. And, I love winning so that’s what drives me.
Sidelines: What advice would you give young riders?
SB: Follow your dreams. If this is what you want to do, it is possible if you work hard enough and are dedicated enough. It’s very easy when you’re young to think, ‘Oh, I don’t have enough money,’ or ‘I don’t have the facilities,’ or this or that. But I think if you really want it enough, then you’ll find a way of making it all happen.
Sidelines: Going into the Rolex Grand Slam was a high-pressure situation. How did you manage the pressure of such a history-making event?
SB: I think you have to block it out and try to focus on the course and beat the course, really. I made sure my horse was in good fitness and good form. I just tried to focus on making sure he was in the best possible form he could be and beat the course.
Sidelines: There’s a movement now to name you Sports Personality of the Year in the U.K. What would it mean to have a show jumping athlete as a Sports Personality of the Year?
SB: It would be absolutely amazing. I would be very, very surprised if it happens. I think not many equestrian people have won. I think it will be a long shot but it would be amazing if we could do that.
Sidelines: To what do you attribute to your consistent results?
SB: My team behind me. My grooms, my team at home, everyone works so hard behind the scenes and not everyone one sees that. So many hours go into just getting the horses here and looked after. I think having a great team behind you is imperative. I think that’s the key to our success. We have a great team behind us.
The Longines Masters
The Longines Masters Grand Slam is one of the most spectacular and prestigious sport horse events in the world. It combines luxury lifestyle, shopping and dining with the heart-pounding thrill of world-class show jumping. Offering three destinations in the glamorous cities of Los Angeles, Paris and Hong Kong and prize money worth millions, it undoubtedly attracts top international riders in the sport. To add to the excitement, any rider who wins all three events will be awarded an additional 1 million Euro. Any rider who wins two consecutive events wins an additional 500,000 Euro and any rider who wins two non-consecutive events takes home an additional 250,000 Euro. A significant mission for the creators of the Los Angeles Masters, EEM, is to bring the excitement and recognition of show jumping to the North American audience. Their hope is to bring this beautiful and thrilling sport to the masses here and develop the sport to the popularity that show jumping enjoys in many other parts of the world. Inviting the top 30 international riders to the event helps insure spectators will be impressed by both the riders and their gifted, athletic equine partners.
About the writer: Sophie St.Clair is a high school sophomore from Southern California. She has an interest in the psychology of high-performance athletes. She’s also a Junior Ambassador for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles where she works to raise funds and awareness for the hospital. Sophie is working toward becoming a professional show jumper but is taking it “one jump at a time.”