Photo: LGCT / Stefano Grasso
Scott Brash MBE is one of Great Britain’s leading sportsmen and an international show jumping legend revered around the world for his natural synergy with his horses, fierce ambition and breath-taking talent. At just 31 years old, he has twice won the prestigious Longines Global Champions Tour title, as well as making history with a Gold Medal at the 2012 London Olympic Games. This year he rejoins the Global Champions League team, Miami Glory, for another season in the team competition. We took five to catch up with the soft-spoken rider to talk about the story so far, sensational Shanghai and the importance of dreams.
Every success story has a beginning, so where did it all begin for you and how did you start riding?
I started riding when I was seven and began competing in show jumping when I was 10. My Dad bought my sister and I our first pony when I was seven, and really he was the one who got us into jumping – we did Pony Club teams before he registered us with the British Show Jumping Association and we started going to pony shows every weekend. It’s what we loved doing. As we progressed, he bought us a jumping pony each and it escalated from there.
Was there a moment where you thought, ‘right, this is it, this is what I want to do’?
I always loved it, but I was never sure if I was going to be able to do it professionally. When I was sitting in school I was always thinking about riding the ponies, and as soon as class was over I’d go straight up and ride them. So I loved it and it was always something I wanted to do but I guess I didn’t know if I was good enough to be able to do it as a career. After school I worked with my Dad for six months in the building trade – I still wanted to go and learn more about show jumping, but I also wanted something to fall back on in case it didn’t work out. I stayed with him for six months before moving down to train with Paul Barker. I was there a year before moving to Cyril Light at Brendon Stud for about 8 months and started on my own after that when I was 19 years old.
That’s pretty young to go it alone – did you think ‘this is scary’ or did you feel ‘this is it, I’m doing this’?
When I was at Paul’s I had some nice horses, and was jumping 1.40m classes and national Grand Prix. Then at the Brendon Stud I had plenty of horses – for example I jumped 24 horses in one day at a show – so I had loads of horses! So to go from that to nothing, and starting just one or two horses, was different. I was happy I was starting on my own, I wasn’t daunted by it, but I knew I’d have to take two steps back to be able to then go forwards. It was a part of my life for a couple of years where I was starting off young horses, going to small shows and building it up again. It was good, I wasn’t daunted by it and I was keen to make it all work. I was very motivated to do it.
Since then you’ve had an incredible career so far, including a Gold Medal at the London Olympics as well as becoming LGCT Champion of Champions twice. The LGCT goes to some incredible destinations, including Shanghai – what makes them so special?
GCT is special because they are such good shows. They are very well run, very well organised. The people running it are knowledgable in the sport so they know what the horses’ needs are and what the riders’ needs are, which is important. In a place like Shanghai, you know as a rider that your horses are getting well looked after and it’s professionally done. We’re also jumping in the best cities all over the world, which is very attractive for your owners. It’s important to be able to give something back to the people who are supporting you – if they can come out to Paris and have a weekend there watching their horses jump, then it’s far more attractive for your owners and sponsors.
To win a gold medal in your home country and at your home Olympics is pretty special – there’s no better feeling in the world.
And the level of competition at the LGCT events, it really is the best of the best.
Absolutely. Because they’re the best shows they attract the best riders and the best horses, so it’s a big competition. It’s where everyone wants to be. You know that if you’re winning a Global Champions Tour show then you’re doing really well because you’re beating the majority of the best in the sport.
Winning the LGCT title then is the culmination of that across a whole season. What does it mean to you to win it, not once but twice, and what does it take to get there?
It’s so important to have a great team behind you. You obviously need a great string of horses, but you need a great team to be able to jump in Mexico and Miami one week and then have your other group of horses ready to go the next week. You need to have a fantastic team at home behind you, and of course great owners and great horses – it’s a combination of all these things, and consistency throughout the season that makes you win the title. Many people can win a big competition in the year, but to consistently do it over the season – that’s a result of who is running the best yard with the best horses at the time. You couldn’t do it without the people behind you, and great staff at home. You need good vets, good blacksmiths, and everyone working in the same direction.
The Global Champions League is another step forward for the sport, and you have rejoined Miami Glory for a second season. What was your experience of the debut year?
It was very good; it’s great to have a difference in the sport. I think that when you do something for the first time you’re going to need some tweaks and I’m happy to see how the format has changed this year. It’s going in the right direction and the whole sport is moving in the right direction which is really exciting for all the riders, the fans and viewers. I think it’s really good, and it’s all thanks to Jan Tops and his team. He understands. He’s brought in this new format and new concept which is quite incredible, but he can also see that things needed to be changed as well to make it better. He’s always trying to better the sport, and that’s what’s so good about it.
The GCL really is raising the bar in show jumping, if you’ll excuse the deliberate pun. A new sporting concept, new communications and media, new digital ventures… What is it about the GCL that opens up opportunities both for those involved within the sport, but also to new audiences around the world?
I think what GCT has done over the years has always been at the forefront of developing our sport. GCL is the next chapter in that, and to develop our sport, we need to embrace change. Everything GCL is doing, from the new team sport concept, to the communications, to making show jumping more accessible to more people around the world means that we’re moving in the right direction.
Shanghai was a new destination a few years ago on the LGCT and now have a fast-growing fanbase. What do you love about the city and why is it so special competing there?
What’s so good is the crowd. Many people in China have not seen show jumping like this before, so we’re bringing top end sport to the country. To then see the following and the interest in it is really quite fantastic. It’s also an amazing city, it’s an incredible place. It’s healthy for our sport to widen our audiences, and if China can get into show jumping the same as we are, then it’s only going to help improve and grow our sport. Over the years the interest in show jumping in China is becoming greater and greater and that’s really brilliant to see.
Your horses are the stars of the show, and you have quite an impressive string behind you at the moment. Talk us through your team.
Absolutely, I’ve got some really good horses. Sanctos had been injured, but he’s coming back this season so we’re looking forward to having him back on the Global Champions Tour this year. Ursula XII is my best horse right now – she’s an incredible horse. Hello M’Lady is in really good form and another of my top horses, alongside Hello Annie, and then there’s Hello Forever plus some very nice horses who are up and coming. So the future’s bright for my stable, hopefully!
You also have a student who is a rising star from China, Jonathan Ding who trains with you. Tell us about mentoring him.
Yes he’s brilliant, he’s very keen. And keen for the sport. He has a couple of horses with me and is hopefully going to do a few shows with me on the Tour this year. It’s good for him to be part of the team and it’s nice to see his progression.
What advice would you give to somebody who wants to be like you?
I would say just go for it. I think it would be very easy for anyone to believe it’s not possible to make it to the top level in this sport but I think if you’re really hard working enough and dedicated enough, and really want to do something, then anything is possible. If you’re dreaming of doing it, I would give it your absolute best shot. You’ll never regret trying something, but you’d always regret not trying something that you really wanted to do, so I would absolutely go for it.
Take in as much as you can from what you see – when a show like the Global Champions Tour of Shanghai is on, go. Watch the top riders in action, watch how they do things and take that back to what you’re trying to do and always try to make yourself better.