Last March, Daniel Deusser’s horses were traveling to the Dutch Masters at the Indoor Brabant Horse Show in ’s-Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands, when the world stopped, and all the shows were canceled. The spread of the coronavirus had become unmanageable, and Europe was entering lockdown.
Fortunately for Deusser, Stephex Stables—the Meise, Belgium, operation he began riding for in 2012—is situated on over 70 acres.
“We have such a big place there that it was still possible to move your horses and do what you are used to doing,” said Deusser, 39, who rides for Germany. “Other people, they had to stay at home and were not even allowed to leave the house.”
Rather than spend the 2021 winter season in Europe, where shows are few and far between, Deusser headed to Wellington, Florida, to compete at the Winter Equestrian Festival.
“Stephex Stables comes to Wellington every year,” said Deusser. “The last couple of years I didn’t come because it was much easier to travel from one show to the other in Europe. I was always in the Top 10 of the world ranking in the last couple of years, so I could decide to do whatever World Cup show I wanted to go to. For me, it was quite easy to take a lot of different horses, and the costs were much easier in Europe than flying all the horses here to America.”
Deusser brought multiple horses overseas, including Scuderia 1918 Tobago Z, who topped the $214,000 Grand Prix CSIO4* on March 7, and Killer Queen VDM, who won the $214,000 Marshall & Sterling/Great American Insurance Group Grand Prix CSI4* on Feb. 7.
These victories helped Deusser breathe a sigh of relief after months of uncertainty. “In the last couple of months I never rode a fast jump-off like that,” Deusser said after Killer Queen’s victory. “That’s something that keeps me a little concerned—how to manage the horses, how much I have to jump, how much I have to train, so that in classes like last week, we will not have any injuries.
“I don’t think about the problem of overworking them,” Deusser continued. “I’m a little bit scared that we do not work them enough because usually they’re used to going to shows every couple of weeks, and it keeps the horses fit. At the moment, we don’t have these regular shows, and I’m scared of going to the show, jumping a big class, and not having the horses fit enough.”
How is Wellington treating you?
I cannot complain. I just got a picture sent from Belgium, and it’s really snowing there, and it was -13 degrees [about 8 degrees Fahrenheit] last night, so I’m quite happy being here in Florida.
After the season here, I will go back [to Belgium], but there is a possibility I go back around March 20, so I’ll have enough time to do the [Longines FEI Jumping World Cup Final in Sweden (March 31-April 5)] in case it takes place.
Talk about your partnership with Killer Queen.
When she came to our stables to try, we looked at her, and [Stephex Stables owner Stephan Conter] said, straight away, “I think that’s going to be a horse for you. You should take your time to build her up.” It was absolutely a match afterward.
Her whole life—from 7 to the young tour and starting to do the 1.45-meter classes when she was 9—she always had results. [The Belgian Warmblood mare is now 11.] She was always a very reliable horse, very scopey, and wants to be very careful and in big rings. She’s very fast because she has a huge stride.
Last year we couldn’t ride so much, but in 2019 she won the [$100,000 RWE Prize of North Rhine-Westphalia CSI5* at CHIO Aachen (Germany)], and the [Longines FEI Show Jumping World Cup qualifier at Mechelen (Belgium)] at the end of the year. Those were the first bigger classes that she did, and she always had very good results.
You’ve sat on many talented horses throughout your career. What makes Killer Queen special?
The power she has. If you go to the top classes, like the 1.60-meter competitions, she has so much power that she jumps it easy without a big effort, and I think that’s her biggest strength.
If the Longines FEI World Cup Final happens this year, will Killer Queen be your top pick?
I think I would go with [Scuderia 1918 Tobago Z]. He had a bit of time off last year and came back at the end of season last year, which was already not a perfect time because of COVID, but to be honest every competition he went to he came back with good results. He did his last competition in December and has had basically two months off. I think he even enjoyed the time without me at home.
Killer Queen [(Eldorado VD Zeshoek—Derly Chin De Muze, For Pleasure] has already jumped outside [in Wellington], and it’s easier for her to stay outside and not go back into the indoor season where everything is very small, and the fences come very fast.
“Tobago” [Tangelo VD Zuuthoeve—Whoopie C, Mr. Blue] is a little bit more handy in the indoor season. I got him when he was 7, and we started showing him when he was 8.
Tobago is a completely different horse. Killer Queen has a huge stride, is a big horse, and Tobago is a small horse with a small, flexible stride. He’s very careful and clever in the ring. With all the experience he got in the last couple of years, he’s on the same level with Killer Queen. He’s been my No. 1 horse for a long time, and he knows exactly when he has to show up. In the warm-up ring he’s pretty quiet, but he comes in the ring, and he knows what to do.
Talk about your partnership with Stephex Stables.
Stephex Stables is a dealing stable, but the idea is to keep the horses for the sport. Nearly all of the horses are for sale, but Stephan likes the sport as well, and he enjoys being in the sport. He also knows we have to pay the bills, but on the other side, if we cannot enjoy the sport anymore, it’s no use to continue like this.
What is your personal operation within Stephex Stables like?
The whole stable has more than 100 horses, but I take care of nine. It’s always changing a little bit. The stable where I am has 13 boxes, but mostly we have one or two empty.
In total, I have four people: Sean Lynch, my show groom who travels everywhere with me; Benjamin Plantade is my home rider and has spent a couple of years with us; and Marine Renaudet is my groom.
I have to say it’s been a very solid team in the last couple of years, and everybody knows exactly what to do. Sometimes we have a little bit more work; sometimes we have less. At the moment, with nine horses and four people, it’s not too much to do. It’s a good team, and I think it’s very important to have a team where you can trust your people 100 percent.
What are your thoughts on the approaching Olympic Games in Tokyo?
Everybody plans for Tokyo happening. With our German federation, we’ve had several online meetings in the last couple of weeks, where they plan 100 percent that Tokyo will happen.
We’ve had a few questions about vaccinations and everything. The fact right now is that so many countries have problems with the coronavirus, and I actually can’t imagine having the Olympic Games in five months. Everybody is trying to find solutions or trying to maybe even vaccinate all the people going to the Olympic Games. I still hope that it will happen. At the moment, I am planning like we would go to the Olympics in a couple of months.
How have you managed amid the new normal?
To be honest, everybody always talks about the negative parts of the coronavirus. That we have no shows, that there was no money to earn, that we could not sell any horses. Of course, I was in the same situation in that it was not like a normal year, and we could not do the normal planning.
On the other side, I have to say I also really enjoyed last summer in Europe—not having a show every weekend, being able to spend a little bit more time with my [partner Caroline Wauters and daughter Stella Deusser] at home, and just relax and enjoy life a little bit more.
My daughter [just turned 6]. I enjoyed seeing her grow up because, during normal times when you travel a lot, you see [family] Monday to Wednesday. Sometimes they come to the show, but I would not spend as much time with them as I did last year.
Going forward, when a sense of normalcy returns, do you think the show calendars will adopt a less time-intensive schedule?
Even if after coronavirus, everything continues and goes back to its normal way, I really believe we will have less shows than we had two years ago.
Our sport two years ago was at a point where it had never been as good, which is because of the numbers of five-star events and the money you could win in the classes. We have never had such a high standard, and definitely, with sponsors and organizers, the [sport] will definitely change [after the coronavirus].
I hope that we are coming closer to normal or the standard we had two years ago, but I’m not speaking for myself. At the moment, I am No. 3 in the world. I can go to every show; it’s not a problem. But there are so many good riders in Europe, so many four- and five-star riders that actually cannot go to shows because we don’t have enough. For these people, I really hope that the show organizers will be able to organize as many shows as possible.
This article ran in The Chronicle of the Horse in our February 22 & March 1, 2021, Show Jumping Issue and was updated on March 9 with additional information.
Subscribers may choose online access to a digital version or a print subscription or both, and they will also receive our lifestyle publication, Untacked. Or you can purchase a single issue or subscribe on a mobile device through our app The Chronicle of the Horse LLC.
If you’re just following COTH online, you’re missing so much great unique content. Each print issue of the Chronicle is full of in-depth competition news, fascinating features, probing looks at issues within the sports of hunter/jumper, eventing and dressage, and stunning photography.