Perfect timing: Scott Brash on why showjumping is a precision sport
The bond between man and horse sounds like a friendship between two stubborn souls, says the Rolex Testimonee
Scott Brash is not a whisky man. This is clear from the impressive collection of sealed bottles in the Scotsman's kitchen, which also serves as a showcase for his many championship cups, medals and victory photographs.
"I don't really like it, to be honest," Brash says of his untouched stash. Not wanting to sound ungrateful about the gifts, though, he adds: "They're more for display."
The softly spoken rider was born and raised in the Scottish Borders town of Peebles, but moved south to reduce the transit time for his horses when travelling to competitions in Europe. His ranch-style West Sussex home was formerly the residence of Katie Price, ex-glamour model and lover of all things kitsch. "I think I've got rid of most of the pink now," he says with a laugh.
Brash first won international acclaim with his gold-medal victory at the 2012 Olympics in London, riding Hello Sanctos, which has since become an equine superstar in its own right. In September last year, the duo achieved the hitherto seemingly impossible task of winning all three events at the CP International – otherwise known as the Rolex Grand Slam – in Geneva, Aachen and Calgary.
The hat-trick ensured a place in the history books for both man and beast; some commentators, including Brash himself, speculate that such a win is unlikely to occur again for decades. "It wouldn't surprise me if you had to wait another 100 years before it's done again," says Brash, gleefully adding: "But I want to win everything. I'm quite greedy that way."
True to his word, Brash didn't rest on his laurels: last month, he became only the second rider ever to achieve back-to-back Grand Prix victories at the Calgary leg of the CP International, presented by Rolex. He branded it a coup for himself and his 15-year-old mare Ursula XII, who had been marred by injury in the preceding two years. "I'm absolutely over the moon for the horse," he said. Such praise for his thoroughbreds has been common since Brash's early years competing in the Home Pony internationals. "Our sport is very different because it's a living animal," he says. "We can't tell what's wrong with them on any given day. It doesn't happen with a tennis racket."
Brash has respect for his animals, believing they should receive the same praise as the rider after a victory. Indeed, the bond between man and horse sounds like a friendship between two stubborn souls. "I've had disagreements with my horses," he says, laughing. "Sometimes they may not want to go where I want them to because they're scared. You have to be strong with them. But once they get past it, you must make them understand that it didn't hurt them."
The rider grew up around horses and as a boy, harboured dreams of becoming a world-class showjumper. His father, a builder and amateur rider, encouraged young Scott's ambition by building his own stables and investing in the horse that was to help him shine on the showjumping stage. "Dad helped me to get my first horse, Intertoy Z, who went on to have Grand Prix victories all over the world. Without that horse, I don't think I would ever have met my owners."
Brash is referring to his benefactors, Lord and Lady Harris and Lord and Lady Kirkham, who recruited the rider in 2011 and purchased Hello Sanctos for a reported €2m to give him the best chance at claiming gold at London 2012. The investment paid off and Sanctos still has a long career ahead.
"He's done us so proud and he owes us nothing," Brash says of his four-legged ally. "You have to have a great partnership with your horse. You can't buy that. It's up to me to teach them, but a horse has to have that ability first."
Showjumping may be a precision sport, but Brash concedes his path to success was smoothed by the support of his family, riding mentors and trustees. "You make your own luck, but also you have to be lucky in life," he says. Luck is a word Brash uses a lot during our interview, which belies his steely determination in the international ring. At only 30, he is seemingly still getting used to the weight of his accomplishments, which now include being chosen as a Rolex Testimonee, an elite group of sportsmen who have excelled in their field. "I never thought it would happen to me, to become a Rolex Testimonee. I mean, it happens to Jackie Stewart, to Roger Federer... It was like a dream," he says.
While his latest victory scooped him a cool $1m, Brash has his sights on trophies rather than big-buck cheques. "People talk about the money, but it's not about that. It's about titles and winning those Grand Prix. To do something no other rider has done is what every rider wants."
Perhaps we won't have to wait another century for the next Grand Slam triple triumph after all.