The strange year of the world number 3

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Daniel Deusser, ranked the third most talented rider in the world, has nothing left to prove. Olympic medallist in 2016 with First Class van Eeckelghem, winner of the World Cup final with Cornet d’Amour in 2014, ranked 3rd in 2016 too, and three times silver team medallist in the Europeans (2013, 2015 and 2019), the German has a superb style and can also be extremely fast. After training with Franke Sloothaak, he moved to the Stephex stables in Belgium several years ago. We asked this reserved champion to tell us about his daily life.


Interview by Clément Grandjean

How did you take the news that CHI Geneva had been cancelled?

With sadness. Knowing that the organisers of CHI Geneva were doing everything to hold their event, which is one of most important in the equestrian year, really helped all of us to keep going this autumn, when there was little to look forward to. It’s a competition with a long history and a special atmosphere, one of the few events that evoke a real passion. For me, the year is made up of Geneva, Aachen, and the rest. That’s what made this cancellation all the harder to bear. But we need to be realistic: if the conditions for organising an event can’t be met, you have to accept giving up.


What are your plans for this winter?

Like the year so far, the winter will be unusually quiet. After Riesenbeck, I’ll be off to Saudi Arabia and two weeks of competition. Then there will be a long layoff, until February.


You ride for Stephan Conter. Tell us how your collaboration began.

I’ve been working with Stephex in Wolvertem, in the Flemish-speaking Brabant region, for eight years now. Before that, I rode for Jan Tops. I got to know Stephan through my wife, Caroline Wauters. Stephan asked me if I wanted to work with him, but I initially refused: after working in a commercial stable, I wanted a change. He insisted, and I agreed to meet him. When I explained that I was aiming for the top, Stephan promised that I could keep some horses for my sport. So I signed up for one year and… I’m still there! Stephan Conter was true to his word, and not only let me work as I wanted, but also choose my horses.


How have Stephex Stables evolved in the eight years?

They’ve grown enormously, and we’ve gone from 45 to 120 horses. It’s interesting to work with Stephan Conter, because he aims at excellence in everything he does, whether it’s the horses, his vehicle sales, or organising a competition.


How is your stable organised?

Each rider has their own team, and each stable is independent. Mine has about fifteen loose boxes. It’s more than 800 metres from the main building, so we’re very independent. Sometimes we don’t even see any other members of the Stephex stables. It’s very comfortable: I work as I see fit, yet as part of a bigger structure, with personnel who are highly qualified and supportive, for example if a vehicle breaks down. The facilities are superb. There are three rings, four sand arenas, a paddock and a galloping track. Everything is well looked after, with hedges everywhere; it’s an idyllic place to work.


And who’s alongside you in your team?

There are four of us. There’s Sean Lynch, my competition groom, and two people who ride and deal with the horses.


At Stephex Stables, you always have a rider to coach…

That’s true. Recently, Zoe Conter, Stephan’s elder daughter, has been under my supervision. I’m actually helping her more than training her. She rides very well; she just needs more experience. Now she has to learn for herself. I’ve realised that I’m reproducing the method I learnt with Franke Sloothaak: he taught me how to work and bring on a horse, but above all he left me alone to manage the competing side and get experience. Left to your own devices, you have to find your own way, and you learn more. I try to give my pupils some ideas and then leave them time to try them out in training or in competition.

Is your goal to one day be at the head of your own business?

One day, perhaps. I’ve always dreamt of a small stable, one or two good clients, some owners. But in the end it has never happened, since opportunities have led me here, and all’s well here.


What happens in a typical Daniel Deusser day?

I don’t arrive as early in the morning as I used to. I like to take time to see my daughter, who’s five, and have breakfast with her. We live near Malines, a 45-minute drive from the stables. So, I start riding at about 8.45 am. Then there’s everything to organise: vet or dental appointments, competition entries, travel, admin... I don’t stop for lunch or go home at a set time: it varies between 4 pm and 8 pm. As it’s a commercial stable, there are also often horses to be presented to customers or tried out.


Some of your best horses now belong to Scuderia 1918, in partnership with Stephan Conter. Tell us more about this collaboration…

It gives me a lot of security to know that some of my horses are no longer for sale. It means I can make long-term plans. These owners are ready to invest in young horses too. It’s an amicable relationship which is developing over time.


How are your best horses at home?

Tobago is extremely intelligent. He has loads of experience and a perfect jumping technique, so he doesn’t need to work out or jump much at home. He just does a bit to keep fit. Killer Queen is quite different. She has to be sufficiently worked before a contest, or else she’s too fresh on the day. I’m sure she’s stronger than Tobago, but she’s a large mare, and I have to work her daily to make her agile and together. Jasmien VD Bisschop tends to be very well behaved, so I just need to jump her regularly to relax her.


You are world N°3, behind Steve Guerdat and Martin Fuchs. How do you get on with our two Swiss riders?

We’re friends. Normally, we see each other every week. Steve and I had similar beginnings, meeting at Jan Tops (Ed. Daniel Deusser replaced Steve Guerdat at the Dutch stables). Steve is an incredible horseman. All the riders have phases when they do well with a horse, but Steve gives the impression that he never stops doing well. He always manages to bring sufficient horses to the top level. Martin knows how to train a horse too. If Clooney has become one of the best horses in the world, it’s solely thanks to his know-how. It’s clear we’ll be hearing a lot about Martin Fuchs for a long time to come!


How are you coping with the lockdowns?

From an economic point of view, these are difficult times, because there’s no business, no competitions, everything’s slowed down. On a purely personal basis, however, I’ve quite enjoyed it, because I’ve been able to spend much more time at home than usual. My daughter is five years old, and it’s magic to be able to spend more time than usual with her, to watch her growing up. I’ve also found I can work on things in more peace at the stables, without the pressure and stress of shows. I’ve been able to improve the fitness, dressage and condition of my horses, and get a bit closer to each of them.


So, once we get this pandemic behind us, will we see riders and horses more on form than ever?

Not really. Technique is one thing, but it’s clear to me that the shows are essential. You can see some horses losing their competitive edge. As for me, I’ll need some shows before I get back all my feel for it and my speed. May we soon get back to that way of life!

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