Ringside Chat With: Martin Fuchs

Oct 3, 2019 - 2:12 PM

It’s a good time to be Martin Fuchs. The Swiss rider is No. 2 on the Longines FEI World Rankings list behind his countryman Steve Guerdat and was just nominated for the annual best athlete award by the Fédération Equestre Internationale.

The 27-year-old is the reigning European Champion, having ridden his superhorse Clooney 51 to the top of the individual rankings at the Longines FEI European Championships (the Netherlands) in August. Clooney’s been his partner for a series of big results, including ninth at the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games, individual silver at the Tryon FEI World Equestrian Games (North Carolina) and second at the most recent Longines FEI World Cup Finals (Sweden). Not that Fuchs is an overnight sensation. He won the FEI European Young Rider Championship (Spain) at 21, three years after winning team gold at the Youth Olympic Games (Singapore).

With a father, Thomas Fuchs, and uncle, Markus Fuchs, both riding for Switzerland at the Olympic Games, it’s not surprising that Martin has inherited a love for the sport and the work ethic to get to the top.

We caught up with Martin, who lives in Wängi, Switzerland, just after he and Clooney 51 won the Global Champions League of New York and the series title as members of the London Knights at the Longines Global Champions Tour of New York. 

FEI European Championships In Rotterdam - Day Seven
At just 27 Martin Fuchs became the reigning European Champion at the Longines FEI European Championships (the Netherlands). FEI/Dean Mouhtaropoulos Photo

Chronicle: Talk about winning at the European Championships. 

Fuchs: It was an amazing horse show. I was very motivated for the Europeans. I knew I had a good chance with Clooney, and I thought we had a really good chance with the Swiss team to earn a medal. Then on the first day I had a fault with Clooney, and I was sitting only in 20th place, and the team wasn’t great—especially in the second day. But Clooney was clear, and from then on it was all about concentrating for the individual final, even if there was still a round from Nations Cup to jump, because [the team] had no chance anymore.

It felt a bit special at first to know there are still three more rounds going just for the individual. I was quite certain that if I had a fault I wouldn’t have a chance to get a medal. I was very focused to jump one fence after the other and take one round after the other and produce clear rounds. Then I came pretty close after the third day. After the first round of the final I was already in medal position. But I didn’t think that [Ben Maher’s mount] Explosion would actually have a rail down and give me this victory, but it all worked out.

How did you and Clooney pair up?

We bought Clooney when he was at the end of his 7-year-old year. He’d already jumped the German Championship for young horses and the [FEI/WBRSH World Breeding Jumping Championships for Young Horses] in Lanaken, Belgium, and he was already really good. I went to try him, and actually the first five minutes that I sat on him he reared, and I got pretty afraid. My dad was with me, and he really liked that. He said, “That’s good. He’s got a special character, and that’s what the good ones need.” When we made a few jumps we realized immediately that this horse was special, and we’d buy it. The first day when he came home I went on a hack with him, and I fell after five minutes. Same thing, he started rearing, and I fell behind. It definitely took some time for us to get to know each other. Especially if he doesn’t know something—he wasn’t used to going on hacks—if he doesn’t know something he gets very nervous. When he gets nervous he can do something silly. But that’s better now.

When I won the Europeans on Sunday I went home on Monday and went for a hack, and he was spinning around again.

You’re up for the FEI Best Athlete Award, and you’re second in the world right now. Were these all goals for you, or did they just kind of happen?

It was a good year. It was a goal of mine to be in the top 10 and to stay there. I was last year close, so it’s definitely something I want to achieve over the long term and not just over one season. The championships are always a big goal for any rider. Obviously I really want to become No. 1 in the world at one point, but if it’s now or in two or three years, we’ll see.

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At the Longines Global Champions Tour of New York Martin Fuchs and Clooney 51 helped the London Knights claim the 2019 series title for the Global Champions League. Mollie Bailey Photo

Talk about when Clooney colicked.

He went to [the Longines FEI World Cup Final in Omaha, Nebraska, in 2017] and was fourth there, and then we gave him a break like we always do after the World Cup Final, just normal riding at home, no jumping. Then we took him back to a two-star show in Italy. When he arrived there he was very nervous, very stressed and started to colic. My groom Sean [Vard] was luckily with him and called us right away and had a vet get him checked there, but we right away had to send him to Zurich back from Italy, and he got surgery, which was a horrible experience, not knowing what was going to happen and if he’s going to be OK. I remember it was a terrible night. Then when the surgery went well, and he got up very quickly, from then on we were very positive that he would come back in a good way.

Talk about bringing him back after colic surgery.

It was definitely a very tough process. We invested as much as we could in it. We got him his own camera in the stall so every two hours at night we would take turns to monitor him and make sure he was OK—it was me, my owner, my mom and my groom that were taking turns. Then we went on long three- to four-hour hand walks on the hill. We rented a treadmill just for him. The first six weeks we couldn’t put the saddle on yet. The first week after the operation he just went for hand grazing. Then for three weeks he did the walks, then for two weeks longeing and jogging, then after six weeks we started riding him again.

Since it was the first time he colicked, and it happened while we were traveling we didn’t change anything at home permanently. We never really found out why it happened.

You have a wonderful owner in Luigi Bareli who is so supportive of you. How did you pair up?

It was about 13 years ago when I was 14 years old. Luigi used to ride himself. My dad was his trainer at the end of his career, and Luigi had horses for other riders already. Obviously we became very good friends. He had a very good horse at the time that won the Swiss Championships twice in a row but was very difficult. He wanted to give the horse to me, but at the time I was too small and too young for it. And then after half a year or a year he brought me the horse, and I started having a lot of success for it. I won a class at the show where the World Cup Final was being held in front of Marcus Ehning—of course I remember that! Since then he’s had horses for me.

In the beginning we’ve had many good horses together already. Many of them we sold. But now we try to keep them to do the sport. We’re both very happy. Luigi enjoys coming to shows, and I enjoy having him there. We’re a good team, and we spend a lot of time together. He’s like a second father or like a best friend for me.

He’s definitely an easy owner.

Luigi and my father met each other when they were very young, not even with horses. My dad after school went to do work at a bank for an apprenticeship. Luigi had his account at this bank. Luigi was selling cars, and every evening after he was selling cars he would bring money to the bank, the exact bank where my dad was waiting. Luigi never wanted to queue in the line because he’s always in a rush, and my dad was the only employee who was OK to take the envelope on the side without counting it. That’s how these two met.

You came to the Winter Equestrian Festival (Florida) this year. Will you come back?
Yes. I loved it. I had some great success there. I had some good months for my horses. They learned a lot there. It was definitely nice.

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Many of Martin Fuchs’ biggest wins have come aboard Clooney 51. Mollie Bailey Photo

Tell me about Clooney’s daily routine.

He goes on the walker then on the grass field for an hour or two. Then he gets ridden. Then he goes in the sand paddock for two or three hours. Then maybe for a handwalk in the afternoon. He’s No. 1 in the barn.

Talk about your up and coming horses.

I have a lot of really good horses such as The Sinner [who finished third in the Longines GCT Grand Prix of New York]. He’s quite new for me still, but we’ve already had some good results. He’s not the easiest. He has a special canter, but he’s very careful. I have Chaplin, who is a horse that’s almost the same category as Clooney but has had some bad luck with injuries. He was injured recently, but he’s back in work and cantering. He’s a very special horse, so fast and such a fighter. He has everything that it takes. Silver Shine I’ll ride next week in Barcelona at the [Longines FEI] Nations Cup Final. It might be just a couple months too soon because we haven’t jumped a Nations Cup yet or not even really many five-star grand prix [classes], but he was good in Aachen [Germany] and Spruce Meadows [Alberta], and he’s definitely a really nice horse. Then there’s Chica, who I’ve been using on the GCT. She’s a beautiful mare, really good jumper. We bought her when she was 6 and never thought that she could jump these big classes because she was overjumping so much she always went so high. It took a lot of time, but she always made the next step. She actually made the most progress in Wellington. I got to show her a lot. Before she could get quite spooky and back up too much, but in Wellington she really came around. It was great to have her there with big rings, different jumps.

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The Sinner has become a reliable five-star partner for Martin Fuchs. Mollie Bailey Photo

How are you sourcing your horses?

My dad helps a lot. He has his people, his friends who are showing these horses. I found Clooney myself. I look for a lot of horses myself, but I always obviously include my dad. Maybe I’ll see the first video, but I’ll send it to my dad, and he’ll take over from there. He organizes everything and checks if we want to try them. In general when we’re at shows we always have our eyes open. It’s really good to have my father there because when you’re riding yourself it’s hard to see. At the two- and three-star shows he usually comes more often, and that’s when we can tend to find a good horse. Chaplin we bought at the CSIO in Rotterdam  [the Netherlands] three years ago when he was 9. It was unique that you could buy a horse like this. This year again in Rotterdam we bought a horse during the European Championships, Tam Tam Du Valon. It was jumping with a Spanish guy at the European Championships. I’d been following the horse already for a long time, but the price was always too high. But this year we could get him for a good deal. He’s just showed for the first time two weeks ago. We did seven rounds always clear. In the warm-up never a fault, at home never a fault.

Your dad, Thomas, is involved with helping you source horses and train. How does the rest of your family help out?

My mom, Renata, is in the office. She organizes everything. She’s like my secretary. She’s very good at the paperwork. My brother Adrian helps me with social media. In the beginning he wasn’t that interested in horses. Now he’s very involved and helps me a lot and really enjoys it, which is nice for me. Before there were some hard feelings because my parents spend so much time with me and the horses. We work together; we live close together, and he goes to a normal work and is home on the weekend when we’re gone. That’s why it’s nice that he’s more involved and likes to do this. My uncle [five-time Olympian Markus Fuchs] isn’t involved directly, but we occasionally do business together or he’ll come ride a horse at home. He didn’t come for a while, but last year he would come sometimes. When he wasn’t so busy when I was at the show he’d come work some horses at home.

When you’re home, which is not that often, what’s your routine like?

I try to ride only in the mornings between four to six horses. In the afternoons I take off, and I try to relax, go on walks, or I’m living in a nice place [with girlfriend Paris Sellon] we just enjoy ourselves out in nature, or in a sauna. I’m usually only home Monday, Tuesdays. Mondays we’re really tired usually. Tuesday afternoon we have a cute city close to the stable, where we go sometimes for lunch or to get a massage. Last year I showed 46 or 47 weeks. In two weeks I’ll go with Paris and my brother and his fiancée and my best friend on vacation to [Los Angeles]. I’m going to be in Beijing for the [Longines Equestrian Beijing Masters]. Then I fly straight from Beijing to L.A. I like it there—I like it in America a lot. It’s expensive for horses, but otherwise I like it.

Did you always know you wanted to be a show jumper?

Yes. I thought I started really young, but when I hear other people saying they started at 3 or 4 years old…I started when I was 7. I was actually a bit scared when I was small. I was not the bravest. I guess I’m still not the bravest. The 1.60-meter jumps are no problem, but if there’s a young horse who’s behaving really stupidly or something I’ll say I’d rather not do it. I don’t know if it’s not brave or trying to be clever. I’ve had a concussion and a broken foot so far in my career. My broken foot doesn’t bother me. It happened 12 years ago.

What else is new?

I’m wearing an airbag safety vest since Aachen. A friend of mine, the owner of FreeJump, bought a company, Oscar and Gabrielle, which is a clothing company in France, and they’re doing clothing with airbags built in. He showed it to me and explained it to me, and I was right away quite interested to start wearing it. Actually FreeJump was my first contract. When Markus was still riding he got me a contract with [them]. That’s why we have a special connection.

When I was a junior no one was wearing helmets in the warm-up. I was the only one to always wear a helmet. I started with Uvex when I was very small. I always wear a helmet at home; I never sit on a horse without a helmet. For me it’s very important. In America this is the case most of the time, but in Europe nobody does. When you go to Germany to try horses nobody has a helmet on, which is stupid. Then when he showed me this airbag I was very interested, and he made it explode, which is an amazing feeling how you’re protected, and you feel like you cannot break. Obviously something can happen, but at least for collarbones they’re almost 100 percent protected, and it helps a lot with the spine. My first class I ever did with it was the grand prix in Aachen. Ever since then I’m wearing it. For the [GCL] team competition I cannot because they have their own jackets, and it needs a special material, but otherwise I wear it all the time. It looks like a normal jacket; you can’t tell. Once I forgot to unclip it from my saddle [when I dismounted], but thank God it was a small horse, so it didn’t go off.

But they’re producing a new one, with the airbag you zip on yourself, and you just put a jacket over it. Now you can see that my collar doesn’t sit so nicely because the airbag is built into it. There are a few things, but they’re new in it and trying to improve it. It’s also nice with FreeJump because I have such a nice connection. I would call him a lot and tell him the opinions of the riders when they see it and ask about it. Dani [Goldstein Waldman] is going to wear one. Through me she’s started. Daniel Bluman has ordered one. I would really like this to become a trend. I’m really behind it. It’s something easy you can do.

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