Swiss Olympic champion Steve Guerdat reflects on the horses that most influenced his life, his career, and his perspective for Horseware Ireland’s “Through it all” campaign.

People often ask is there one horse I love the most?

It’s a very hard question to answer. It’s like asking a parent which is their favorite child. You cannot answer this question.

I’ve been very lucky in my career to have a lot of amazing horses. But not just amazing because they were successful. Amazing because they’ve done so much for me as an athlete and as a person. Amazing because they changed my life for the better.

So, I wouldn’t feel good naming just one.

I could name a few.

Like Jalisca and Nino and Bianca.

Meeting Jalisca was one of the best things that has happened in my life. At the time, I had been living in Holland for nearly four years. When I came back to Switzerland, I decided to create my own stable with a few horses. So I started from zero again. I didn’t really have any horses to compete. I was doing a lot of young horses, five and six years old, and I was very far from the top sport, from what I wanted to be doing. I was top ten in the world when I left Holland. And here I was just doing 1.10m, 1.20m classes at little shows in Switzerland.

When you’re in that situation, it’s hard not to get disheartened, not to let doubt creep in.

And then Jalisca came into my life. We had a real match from the first day. In just a few months she brought me back into the spotlight and to amazing successes. We went to World Cup Finals. I won my first Olympic medal with her. We were European team champions.

She changed everything for me. If I hadn’t met her, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I wouldn’t have had all the success that I was able to have in my career.

And everything was only good with Jalisca. Everything was just about love and happiness right up until the day we decided to retire her from the sport. She was still at the top of her game. And she was just going to go and enjoy her retirement. We were hoping to have a lot of beautiful foals from her.

But after just a few weeks, she had an accident in the field. She broke her leg. And that was it. It was over.

It was a very tough moment for us. Even now, I don’t like to speak about it. It’s hard. You know, you love these horses and when you lose them, it’s so sad.

Through it all.

We bought Nino des Buissonnets the following year and our relationship couldn’t have been more different.

Nino was bought to be my mount for the 2012 Olympics but it just wasn’t working. He was so unpredictable. He was calm in the stables and a pleasure to hack in the forests. But in the ring, he would literally crash into the obstacles. We had a lot of ups and downs.

My job as a rider is not just being in the ring trying to compete and hoping that we can have a good day. I’m trying to understand my horse so that I know what he needs to be in the best form the day I need him the most. It’s not something you do overnight. It’s about spending a lot of time together and having a lot of experiences together.

But with Nino, the relationship wasn’t working.

I remember we were at a show in Germany less than a year before the Olympics and the first day I rode in the 1.45m class, which is not  a very big class for Nino, and he stopped. I was eliminated.

And I was about to give up.

I thought, I’m just not going to understand this horse. Me and him, it’s just not going to work.

My trainer at the time, Thomas Fuchs, said, “Just don’t put so much pressure on yourself and on the horse. If the horse is not meant to be an Olympic horse, fine. It’s not his fault.”

From that time, it started get a little bit easier. It took a little bit pressure off him and, at the same time, probably some pressure off me. I decided to just take what was to be taken on the way with the horse and not focus only on the Olympics and from that day, everything only went upwards.

Two weeks later, I won a 5* class in Rio, Brazil, with him. And that was the turning point. I thought, Okay, now we are good enough that we’re going to have a lot of success together.

And we did.

The 2012 Olympic Games with Nino was my best memory in the sport so far. Nino was in the form of his life. That special day, when I needed him the most, he was 110% with me. And that is why we were able to bring gold home.

And why I speak so much about the relationship with the horse.

I wouldn’t say that from the first jump I knew I was going to win. But I can honestly say that from the moment I sat on my horse, I knew we’re going to have a good day.

The feeling after we won the Olympics was, of course, amazing. I don’t like to say I was dreaming of it. It’s more that I was aiming for it. It’s this goal. You think about it and everything you have to do to one day be in the position to do it, to achieve that goal.

And when it happens, it feels unreal. It feels like it’s not possible. Why me? How lucky am I? How can it be that I’m in this position right now? I remember as a kid thinking about winning this medal and now I’m there. I didn’t even see the time going by. And I’m there with the gold medal around my neck. It’s something that is very hard to describe, but this is, I think, the best feeling that an athlete can get.

And Nino made it possible.

Through it all.

With Albführen’s Bianca, it was all joy.

Before I even sat on her, I had already fallen in love and I just saw her walking past me. A few days later, she was in my stable.

Everything was not easy at the beginning because Bianca was very inexperienced. But she had so much talent and was so enjoyable to work with every day, to be around every day. She’s not the horse I’ve won the most with, but she’s the one I enjoyed riding and especially competing with the most.

She brought me also to some amazing moments. Team bronze at the 2017 European Championships. Individual bronze at the 2018 World Equestrian Games. But the highlights with Bianca for me were every time I entered the class with her because of all the horses I’ve ridden she’s one who most enjoyed what she was doing.

You could feel it over every jump. She loved to do it. She was always over jumping everything because she enjoyed it so much.

To be able to do the sport with a horse like that, she brought out the best in me and also taught me the toughest lesson when she developed a brain tumor and we unfortunately had to let her go. I was devastated.

Through it all.

You spend all this time with these horses and there are a lot of downs for a few ups. But they all taught me things.

They were all horses that had very strong personalities and because of their personalities, I believe it’s up to me. You have to understand them, not them to understand me. I had to find a way to get into them, to get them to trust me.

And that’s why I believe they teach me to be a better person, to be more patient, to better listen to what they had to tell me.

They didn’t make me just a better rider, they made me a better person.

Through It All, we are measured by the purest of passions, our love for horses. For almost 40 years, this simple truth has been Horseware Ireland’s north star. It has guided us to continually go further than anyone else to lift you and your horse to the highest level of comfort and performance, giving you peace of mind that you are always providing the best for your horse.