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Interview with Willem Greve

Congratulations! You are the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping live contender, how are you feeling ahead of the CHIO Aachen?
It is an honour to be on the list of riders who have won a Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Major. It is incredible to ride at the CHIO Aachen, and it would be a dream come true to win there. Of course, there is more pressure and more eyes on us now being the live contender, having won the Rolex Grand Prix at The Dutch Masters, but I am trying to just focus on my horses and keep everything the same as before.

Reflecting on your win in the Rolex Grand Prix at The Dutch Masters – how special was this victory to you?
At the time I didn’t notice it because you are so focused on your horse and the moment. It was a very emotional win! The crowd was incredible, and the atmosphere was sensational. As a rider, you dream of those moments, and afterward, you really realise how special a moment it was. It was even more special in the way that it happened – not only being a Dutch rider but also being the last one to go and to beat Henrik [von Eckermann] by such a fine margin. It is a win that I will never forget.

Highway TN N.O.P. is an incredible horse – can you tell us a little bit more about him?
Highway [TN N.O.P.] is an approved stallion by Team Nijhof. I started riding him when he was seven-years-old. He has an incredible attitude and the heart of a lion. Together we have had several good results, and so I am very confident in our partnership. He has always been a winner, but the question was always: ‘How much scope does he have?’ However, every question we asked of him, he answered in a positive way. He is a dream horse – it is the attitude and mentality that he has that makes him so good.

What is Highway TN N.O.P. like at home?
He can be a bit grumpy to be honest! He has a big character, but he is not a mean horse at all. He has a lot of energy and is very willing to work, this is one of his best qualities. You have to let him be by himself sometimes, but my groom Richard knows him inside and out – they have travelled around the world together and so they know each other very well.

How have you been preparing for the CHIO Aachen? Do you feel any extra pressure knowing that you are the live contender?
The CHIO Aachen is such a special place. Before The Dutch Masters, my horses had jumped there a few times, but it will be their first time jumping at Aachen. I am trying to not change my preparations – I want to keep everything as normal as possible. As my horses have never been there before, I want to see how they adapt to the arena and the atmosphere during the week. They can grow in that ring, and if this happens it is a phenomenal feeling. I am not going to have too much of a plan – usually when you go to a show you know which classes you are going to do with each horse, but Aachen is something special, and so I want to take it day by day.

Can you tell us about the other horses in your string? Do you think that any of them have the qualities to win a Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Major?
Grandorado TN N.O.P. is my other top horse alongside Highway [TN N.O.P.], however, we will not be bringing him to the CHIO Aachen. I will be bringing a 10-year-old stallion called Minute Man who is owned by a group of American women – it is going to be a step up for him to compete there but he is a very talented horse. I will also be bringing a nine-year-old mare called Pretty Woman van 't Paradijs, and I have very high expectations for her. I own her alongside the widow of my late owner Mr Korbeld who died in March. He was an incredible supporter for me over the past decade. It will also be her first time competing at the CHIO Aachen, but I am very excited about her – I think she has all the talent. She is young, and so she needs to gain the mileage and experience, but I think she could be a very special horse for my career.

The arenas at The Dutch Masters and at the CHIO Aachen are very different. How have you been preparing for the large grass arena at the CHIO Aachen?
Aachen is a long week, with a lot of jumping – to be honest, I have only ridden there twice in my life. One time it was the longest week of my life – it was a disaster – but the other time I had a really good show and it was a dream. As I have said before, the four horses that I am bringing have never been there before, so I am going to try and pick classes that suit them well and make a good plan. We will take it day by day to see how it goes – we want to make sure that the horses rise to the arena and the atmosphere. I want to enjoy the horses and the moment. 

How important is your wider team, for example, grooms, vets, etc. in your success?
They are everything! Not only my travelling groom Richard, but everyone in the team. The team at home, my riders, the other grooms, the blacksmith, the vet, and the feed company are all so hard working and incredibly dedicated. Everybody plays a big role in our success, and they will never be forgotten or appreciated enough for the effort that they put in day and night. I am only in the ring for two minutes, and without my team’s endless work, we would be nothing. It is like in Formula 1, Max Verstappen drives the car, but without the team around him, he could not be as successful. I do not think that you can acknowledge their support enough.

How big an impact do you think the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping has had on the sport?
I think that it has had a huge impact. I think that when you look back over the past 10 years of the concept, you realise how special and how big an achievement it was for Scott Brash to win three Rolex Grand Slam Majors consecutively. The Majors are the pinnacle of the sport, and they keep on improving. Rolex commits to and connects the best shows in the world, and they lift the whole sport to a higher level. It is an incredibly impressive and an honour to be jumping at the Majors.

How important do you think sporting Majors, such as the CHIO Aachen or The Championships, Wimbledon are in sport?
Sporting Majors are so important – they are the best of the best. With our sport, if you win on Sunday you have to start working again on Monday morning. It is our passion, not our work, and I think most top athletes would think like this. If you do not have passion for your sport then you will never be able to deal with the disappointment that comes with sport. In reality, winning is the easiest part of the sport, it is losing and dealing with struggles such as an injured horse that is hard, and this is where you need passion. It doesn’t matter if you are a tennis or golf player there will always be disappointment. I think that the Majors and their athletes encourage the passion of the next generation.

If you weren’t a show jumper, what would you have been?
To be honest, this is what I have always wanted to do, and so I have never thought about anything different than what I am doing right now.

What is the best piece of advice you have been given?
Never give up! You should also treat your horse like a horse, as you will never beat nature.

Photo: RGS/Thomas Lovelock