The FEI World Cupâ¢ Jumping series has been one of the biggest success stories in the history of international equestrian sport and over its 29-year history has produced some real super-stars. World Cup winning horses have been lighting up our lives and pulling at our heart-strings with brilliant individual performances over many years, and most of us have our favourites. For some it will be the brilliant Big Ben who carried Canada’s Ian Millar to two consecutive victories in 1988 and 1989, while for others it will the fabulous grey, Milton, whose partnership with Britain’s John Whitaker was something quite unique as they also scored a back-to-back double in 1990 and 1991.
Hugo Simon and Gladstone reigned supreme at the inaugural final in Gothenburg, Sweden in 1979 and then the Austrian rider returned to do it twice more with ET FRH in 1996 and 1997 but one horse has staked a claim to a very special place in the FEI World Cupâ¢ Jumping record books – the extraordinary Baloubet du Rouet. The chestnut stallion was only nine years old when he first won the title for his rider, Brazil’s Rodrigo Pessoa, in Helsinki in 1998 and set a new record when also proving unbeatable at the next two finals. He then returned to finish second in 2001, third in 2002 and second again in 2003. So what was the secret of his spectacular run in this most demanding of series? “It comes down to creating the right programme for your horse and to good management as well,” Rodrigo says.
“It’s about bringing your horse out at the right moment in the right shape,” the Brazilian rider pointed out this week as he was preparing to head for the Rolex FEI World Cupâ¢ Jumping Final in Las Vegas. “One season Baloubet was sick before the World Cup final but he was still well prepared and in the end produced a good result” he points out. And of course some horses are indoor specialists – “he has always been much better indoors than outside. He gets distracted outside, but he is more focussed indoors and rides easier so you can really use his speed and his power”.
Rodrigo believes that the horse’s mental attitude plays a big role as well. “In the World Cup final the horse has to be physically tough because the jumping gets harder and harder all week and the rider is asking more and more. On the last day when it is at its most difficult you have to have enough petrol still left in the tank – if he is empty he cannot perform well,” he explains. So who are his favourites to take the 2006/2007 title? “I’ve been away from Europe over the winter so I’ve mainly been following the European riders on the internet but its seems Coster has been performing really well for Christian Ahlmann and of course Meredith’s (Michaels-Beerbaum) horses are always strong no matter what she rides. I also think that Sapphire has a great shot at it – I think she’s going to peak for McLain Ward during the Finals so they are definitely ones to look out for”. And what about his own chances having been presented with the FEI wild-card? “I’ll be taking two horses, Oasis and Coeur, and I’ll ride Oasis on the first day and Coeur for the rest of the week and I’ll be trying to do the best I can but I’ve only been riding Coeur for a few weeks and, realistically, if I finish in the top ten I’ll be satisfied” he says.
When asked if he had the choice of riding any horse in the world at a World Cup final which would he choose he doesn’t hesitate – “I could never have asked for a better horse than Baloubet. He competed against the best horses in the world and defeated them again and again.” At 18 years of age the French-bred stallion, who has been on an injury-break, is expected to return to the show jumping arena some time this summer but may well be officially retired before the end of the year. That will be a difficult moment for his rider who knows that he has partnered arguably the greatest World Cup horse of all time – “Baloubet had everything you need to win a World Cup final – he’s been incredible and you don’t get many horses like him”.