Swiss show jumper Steve Guerdat has one of the most accomplished resumes in modern show jumping.
There’s the back-to-back World Cup Final titles he captured in 2015 and 2016. He has an Olympic team bronze from Hong Kong (2008) and the individual gold from London 2012. This past summer in Rio, he narrowly missed another Olympic medal after finishing fourth in the six-horse jump off in the individual final.
That extraordinary track record makes Guerdat a popular pick for the media. There’s just one problem:
He doesn’t actually like speaking with the press.
Now, Guerdat isn’t alone in his reluctance. Given the opportunity, nine out of 10 elite show jumpers* would rather scrub a toilet, answer a random telemarketer survey, and/or go back to riding their horse than answer the same six questions from equestrian reporters. (What was your strategy in the jump off? Tell us about your horse!)
It’s the reason that, more often than not, the person lucky enough to be holding the microphone is greeted with this face, helpfully modelled here by Todd Minikus.
See that? It’s the look of resigned irritation. And the reason reporters tend to have a) anxiety disorders and/or b) inappropriate personal boundaries. (Tell me about your eating disorder!)
What makes Guerdat unique is that he doesn’t just go through the motions of an unwanted interview whilst silently cursing you in his head. He straight up says he doesn’t want to talk to you. To your face.
He’s refreshingly honest like that.
Here’s a dramatic re-telling of our brief encounter with the world #11 at the LA Masters in October.
HN: “Hi, Steve! I’m with Horse Network. We’d love to interview you for a video series we’re working on. Do you have five minutes to sit down with us?”
Steve: “I don’t want to… But I will.”
Steve: [stares daggers]
HN: “Great! Have a seat.”
Because here’s the thing about journalists. Steve Guerdat may not like to speak with us. But we always want to speak with Steve Guerdat.
HN: Even among horsemen, you’re known for having a fantastic work ethic. Have you always been so driven?
Steve Guerdat: I just really like what I do. This is what my life is about. When I wake up in the morning I like to go ride my horses and I spend my day with my horses, so I don’t really feel like I’m working. That’s probably why I spend a lot of time doing it.
When I was at school, every day off, every holiday, was always about riding and travelling to different riders to really spend my days riding and learning.
HN: Some people feel that the next generation of riders don’t have that same drive or hunger for the sport. Is that your experience?
Guerdat: Well, I don’t know. I guess they have a hunger, but the hunger is just about going to the big shows and the TV spotlight and being in the light, because they are really nice shows. Most of them are willing to do that but not really willing to take every step that we had to go through to become a complete, good rider.
It starts with the basic things. I think most [young riders] don’t want to muck out in the morning. They have a groom already when they are 10 years old, 12 years old. At junior level, they get a new truck and great horses. It’s not just about that.
I think that if you do the whole progress from the very beginning, it’s going to give you a lot of things that can carry along in your career and make you not only going to make you a good rider, but a great one. You need to go through all those steps, I think.
HN: And, it follows, to become a great horseman as well.
Guerdat: You need to be a good horseman if you want to be a good rider. The more you know about them [your horses] the more you can feel what the horses feel, or what they like, what they don’t like. It makes a big difference at the end.
HN: Okay, so what does Nino des Buissonnets like?
Guerdat: There are specific things he likes. It’s my job to understand him, to feel how to make him happy. The horse loves to go in the field and be free. He loves to be ridden for a long time, but not too hard—just moving a lot.
Every horse is very different. That’s why you need to spend so much time so you can really learn to know every specificity from every single horse.
HN: With 5* events happening almost every weekend of the year, this sport is very demanding on your time and travel. How do you stay motivated with such a gruelling schedule?
Guerdat: I don’t really have to think about this. Like I said, I love what I do. This is my reason for living—the horses and the sport as well. I really like the sport. But being around horses and being able to spend my time riding them and being around what goes on in my stable is what makes me happy.
So you don’t have to give me a kick to stay motivated. This is just what I love above everything else.