True team spirit

Martin Fuchs and Clooney are on the hop to their next coup

These two athletes are pretty good friends: The Swiss show jumper Martin Fuchs and his Westphalia white horse Clooney have showed off largely in the past couple of years and rode from success to success. In this story we will learn what is important in the show jumping course. And how horse and rider become an almost unbeatable team.

The best rider in the world

Martin Fuchs has just turned 28 years of age. Nevertheless, he has already won more than 30 (!) of the prestigious Five-Star-Events. 2018 he became Vice World champion and 2019 European champion. The year 2020 he began from the number one spot in the world ranking, at his home Grand Prix in Basel he started with the armlet of the “best rider in the world“.

»So far my most wonderful moment«

“I already had some success, but to start the season as the number one of the world, was my most wonderful moment so far”, says Martin. If you win a big championship or the European championships, you are the best on this weekend. “If you are leading the world ranking, you have proven your skills on different horses over the span of a whole year.”

Played in the stable as a boy

Martin Fuchs grew up in a “horses dynasty”. His father as well as his uncle were show jumpers and took part in the Olympics. The family simply lives for equitation. As a little boy he played in his parents stable and at the age of seven he started riding ponies. “When I was small, I was actually a little bit afraid of the big horses. But meanwhile this has subsided”, says the reigning European champion with a smile.

What the young rider learned at home, makes him so good today: It is this understanding that success in the show jumping course is only possible if the whole environment is organized perfectly. “There are so many aspects that have to come together—the riding itself is only one part of it.”

»Horse and rider need a special connection«

Two things have to work as one: the horse and the rider. How would Martin divide the proportions of success? 50/50? Or rather a different quota? “Impossible to express that in percentages”, he says. “A good rider can actually win a smaller tournament with a less talented horse. But at the big championships a victory is only possible if horse and rider present themselves as one pair with a special bonding.”

Galloping prior to the obstacle

How does that work? If horse and rider are in the show jumping course? Martin Fuchs takes us to the saddle. And together we will jump an obstacle:

“Approaching the obstacle, one thing is important: the goal is to carry out the last three galloping leaps in the same length. Approximately eight galloping leaps before the obstacle I can evaluate whether we come up short or not. Depending on the distance to the obstacle, we adjust. You can shorten or lengthen the gallop by riding the horse towards the front or by bringing it to its hint leg. Only by having a constant approach, we can get to the perfect jump. Now I reduce my weight. The horse comes up by itself. As a rider, I try not to interfere during the jump. Only if we pass the obstacle in one flowing movement, this is possible. As soon as we are about to land, I straighten up and try to get the horse back in front of me, and I can initiate the right gallop for the next jump.”

»Almost everything is possible with confidence«

Martin says: “I determine the point of the takeoff. The horse has to confide that this is the right moment. Is this confidence missing, maybe a couple of sequences will work, but the final result will not be ok. If there is a trusting relationship between horse and rider—then, following my experience, almost everything is possible.“

From the oxer to the water ditch

Before the jumping the riders have 15 minutes to study the course, to measure the distances between the obstacles; with Martin exactly four steps make one galloping stride of his horse.

Horse and rider have to jump over different obstacles: There are e. g. oxer, ricks or walls, arranged alone or in double as well as triple combinations, and the height of the obstacles reaches up to 1.60 meters. If a horse just easily scuffs an obstacle, the light bars or bricks fall off the slim seating. The water ditch, where the horse has to jump over the ditch and a white line, is only sparsely popular with a lot of riders.

»Clooney knows exactly if he has made a mistake«

“If the horse is landing just a centimeter short, a spot on the white marking will be penalized with four points“, Martin Fuchs explains. “Unfortunately the horse doesn't notice this mistake, so it does not understand what it made wrong.” This makes the correction of a jump over the water ditch much more complicated than at the oxer or rick. “If Clooney touches a bar, he knows exactly that he had made a mistake. The next ten jumps he is guaranteed not to make any more mistakes.”

How does the rider know that his horse has realized its misfortune? Can horses be annoyed? “Maybe not annoyed. But they want to do a good job. There are horses that lay their ears back and shake their head, if they make a mistake. That Clooney has noticed a mistake I feel by his reaction: He crosses the upcoming obstacles even higher.”

Getting stronger and staying relaxed

To train the necessary jumping power, various exercises are being done with the animals. “The ride out at steep ascents or mountains is important to strengthen the hint leg of the horses”, the Vice World champion Fuchs explains: “Dressage exercises help the horse to be fully relaxed. It should build up muscles without losing any of its looseness. And naturally in training we do technical units at smaller obstacles.”

Martin Fuchs himself trains almost solely in the saddle. He stretches intensively in the morning and evening, furthermore he does no specific power or endurance training.

Success is made in the head, even with horses

What makes a good horse? “Naturally there has to be talent. But at the end even with a horse the attitude is important. Many experts say that Clooney’s physique is rather disadvantageous for a show jumper. They can't really explain why he is one of the best horses worldwide. He acts extremely smart in the show jumping course. He has this special championship instinct. I constantly have the feeling that he knows exactly what is at issue.”

»Clooney has a fighting spirit«

There are a lot of good horses says Martin Fuchs: „The best of them have a warrior heart. They are willing to work with the rider, and in the show jumping course they become real fighters.”

To the Tokyo games

If the Olympic Games will be held in July (hopefully), naturally Martin Fuchs and Clooney are part of it. The gelding will make the trip in a cargo plane, in his box, together with two or three other horses in one container. At flights like this the pilots use the complete runway to have the flattest takeoff and landing possible. Turbulences are avoided and flown around at a much larger scale than it would happen with passengers and without horses on board.

»Horses don’t have a jet lag«

And next? Does Clooney have a jet lag? “No”, says Martin Fuchs. “Surprisingly it has never happened that we had any troubles before or during a flight. In the past it was me who was extremely nervous at these flights, but the horses always stay relatively cool and relaxed. And a jet lag ... that really only hits the rider.”

Martin Fuchs on the subject security:

„When I was little, my father used to say, until I haven’t fallen off a horse at least 30 times, I am not a good rider. And I fell off a lot. Today these are rare cases, but still every year I have some unpleasant descends. It is good to know that I am protected in the best possible way. At horseback riding a light and comfortable helmet is essential. In addition to the perfect fitting a good ventilation is important to me, because I am in the saddle four to five hours every morning.”