Scott Brash had a choice, the kind that leaves you no room for manoeuvre. He is the world’s finest show jumper, his horse, Hello Sanctos, may be the best the sport has ever seen.
They could go to the European Championships in Germany to help the British team qualify for next year’s Olympics or they could travel to Canada in an attempt to complete the Rolex Grand Slam awarded to the rider who wins the sport’s three majors (Geneva, Aachen and Calgary) in succession.
It is something no rider has ever achieved and, were the boy from the Scottish lowlands to do it, he would win €1m.
He was accused of going for personal glory. There were expressions of “surprise and disappointment” among members of the British Equestrian Federation. Great Britain are the Olympic champions, it was unthinkable they might not be in Rio de Janeiro.
The calendar suggested he could compete in Germany at the end of August and then fly to the Rocky Mountains in early September to go for the grand slam.
The realities of showjumping suggested otherwise. “Sanctos is not a machine,” said Brash. “He is now on his fourth championship year and you can count on the fingers of one hand horses that have competed in two Olympics.
“The wear and tear inflicted on a horse in a championship year is incredible and to give Sanctos his best chance to compete in Rio it was probably best he didn’t go to the Europeans.”
There is one other thing. What could happen to Brash in Calgary on Sunday has never happened to anyone and it may never come his way again. “It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he says softly but decisively. “Nobody has ever done it before and this will probably never happen to me again.
“This is about winning the three biggest grands prix in the world. I don’t think anybody has won two in the modern era. I can write history. It is a massive thing.”
Happily, the British team took fourth place in the Europeans to book their passage to Brazil. First, however, there is the flight to Canada to organise.
It is probably just as well that Brash’s immaculate yard lies in the Sussex countryside not far from Gatwick. His old one was closer to his boyhood home in Peebles but rather less convenient when it came to international travel. Ten hours by road to the Channel crossings. “I don’t enjoy the travelling,” he said. “It used to be an adventure but it isn’t any more.”
You wonder how many humans, let alone horses, would enjoy a nine-hour flight from London to Calgary. Astonishingly, they are not allowed to be sedated before they are loaded on to aircraft fitted out with straw-filled compartments and where grooms offer buckets of water and hay rather than gin and tonics. The cost per animal is way above business class.
“If the plane takes off at 8am, they will be starting to load at midnight,” said Brash. “I have known horses cope better with a flight than they do in a horse box because once you are up in the air, it’s very smooth.”
Hello Sanctos does not suffer from jet-lag. Brash’s first meeting with him was the result of a flight to Dusseldorf and a meeting that had something of transfer deadline day about it.
It was late November 2011 and a Ukrainian oil tycoon had a Dutch horse called Sanctos van het Gravenhof to sell to two English Lords – Harris and Kirkham, who as Phil Harris and Graham Kirkham had amassed fortunes building up Carpetright and DFS Sofas respectively.
If Sanctos were to compete in the London Olympics, the deal had to be done by 31 December. Lord Harris sent the veteran show jumper, David Broome, to investigate. Broome called Brash and told him to get to Germany as quickly as he could.
It took Brash 45 minutes to make up his mind. It was the most expensive horse Lord Harris had ever bought, the only one where he did not attempt to beat the price down. There was no need. In his last three seasons, Hello Sanctos has won €1.1m and Olympic team gold.
“He is a lovely horse, a joy to work with,” said Brash. “Everyone who comes to the stables wants to pamper him, give him sweets and things. He knows how good he is I think. He is a-once-in-a-lifetime horse. I think he is the best horse of all time – in terms of consistency, the amount of times he jumps clear, the amount of times he wins. His strike rate is unbelievable.
“Before the Olympics, I was so focused on the horse I thought about missing the Opening Ceremony. If I had, it would have been the worst decision of my life. The crowd was astonishing. I had a short walk from the hotel to the show jumping in Greenwich and there was a volunteer with a great big finger pointing the way for everyone to go.
“He was dancing around happy as Larry at seven in the morning and he was still there when we came back in the evening, the exact same expression on his face, a bundle of joy.
“It was the feeling everyone had about the London Games, it was the time of our lives. I wish I could tell you what it felt to wake up knowing you had Olympic gold. I wish I had the words but I don’t.”Reuse content