For years, Grégory Wathelet has been a regular on the Belgian team at championships, Nations Cups and more. In 2015, Wathelet won the individual silver medal at the European Championships in Aachen aboard HH Conrad. More recently, he was a part of the Belgian winning team at the European Championships of Rotterdam last year. 2015 wasn’t the last time the Belgian showjumper was successful in Aachen, in 2017 he won the Rolex Grand Slam GP with Coree, and we catch up with him just after his fourth place in the Grand Prix of CSI3* Aachen to find out more about his horses and how he has experienced this turbulent season.
Several weeks after the restart of competitions following the lockdown, Nevados S was 6th in the 1,60m 5* Grand Prix and Picobello Full House ter Linden was 4th in the 1,60 at CSI3* Aachen.
Your horses seem to have come back in great shape! How do they feel?
They are very different horses. Since the restart of competitions, not all the horses came back at 100%. Picobello Full House needed more time and rhythm. When shows started up again in July, he wasn’t really at his best yet. Now he was 4th in the CSI3* Grand Prix of Aachen and he really jumped well. Nevados is different. He is more mature and we know each other like the back of our hands. We go to a show, and he is ready. Iron Man, also, needed a bit more time to get back into the flow of things. He jumped the CSI2* at St Tropez. This weekend he will compete in some bigger classes at the CSI5* of Valkenswaard to work up to the CSI5* Grand Prix of St Tropez after. They are my three top Grand Prix horses, but Nevados is always one step ahead.
With the lockdown, your best stallions ended up providing fresh semen this year. Why did you make this choice and how do they feel after this past breeding season?
For me, the sport is not compatible with providing fresh semen or embryo transplants. My competition stallions never have to provide fresh semen, but now with the lockdown, they had been ‘freed’ from their sports ‘obligations’ for a while. However because they are promising, high quality stallions I decided to let them during this time, all while following a specific program. Just like it should with horses of that calibre they followed a strict program, never serving more than three or four times a week. It is not my job, but I have a very good team surrounding me to do it well, while respecting the wellbeing of the horses.
Are you interested in the breeding?
I am starting to gain interest, but previously not at all. It is becoming more and more interesting to me, especially with my own motherlines or with horses I have ridden. I try to do it as good as possible. I provide the resources and learn things I do not know yet. Breeding can be very uncertain. I use my own stallions because they have quality, but also others like Emerald or Comme Il Faut. I would say it’s about 50/50.
How many foals do you breed a year?
This year we had about 15 foals. Some of them are completely mine, some of them are in part ownership and others are from owners, but it still feels like they are mine. Next year will be a special year where we will have a couple more, because some of the mares that would have been competing all year were able to do some embryo transfers.
Are there any foals that you are particularly excited for?
We are excited for all of them, but there is one that is closer to the heart which is a Nevados out of Coree, my two championship horses. In breeding, you can dream for a couple of years before you have any results.
You have been riding Cocktail de Talma , out of the same mother as Une de l’Othain (1,60m) and Valkyrie de Talma (1,60m), for a couple of months now. What do you think of him?
I like him a lot. In my current situation, I prefer to concentrate on the horses that I like and really believe in. I believe a lot in Cocktail. When I tried him, I immediately had a good feeling, but he needed work to fit into my system. Sometimes that takes time, but as soon as the horses get it, they evolve as I expect them to. Now that Cocktail has had time to settle in, he will soon be jumping big classes.
Over the past couple of months, the only CSI4*-5* shows have been held in St Tropez and all the top riders are there. What do you think of this venue?
We should be grateful. Grateful that this show exists for us and for the sport. A show of this quality, at this level, with that level of riders, the arena, the hospitality, the boxes, everything is superb. If it wasn’t for this venue in St Tropez, we would not have had a lot of high level competitions this year.
How do you envision the end of this season? Have you set any goals for yourself?
I am doing what everybody else is doing. We take it step by step. In April/May, I had said that there would be almost nothing to work towards this year and unfortunately, I was right. I didn’t see how it would be possible for the sport to restart in the summer as before, just as I don’t see how it will in January… However I am expecting for some normalcy to return towards next summer. I hope, at that point, there will be some sort of a normal show calendar to work off of.
For the winter, with these new restrictions, I think there will be very few indoor shows. The ones that do run will be organised by some brave organisers who do it to keep the sport running, or whichever other reason, but I think it will be difficult. Now I go to St Tropez for three weeks, then I will do a Tour for six to seven weeks down South with some other horses and my clients.
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