Riders and horsemen stories. A chat with Swiss chef d’équipe: Michel Sorg

Switzerland is at the moment one of the top equestrian nations in the world. What does it mean to be the chef d’equipe of such an important team and have such a significant role to play?

Michel Sorg:

Of course it is above all an honour to be the chef d’equipe of a team and with a team like Switzerland it is of course unbelievable, because our country has a long history in equestrian sport and at the moment we have great riders, great horses, … a great team. When I speak about the Swiss team I always mean the whole team, and they are really great riders and also great team members, which is also very important for me because we have a real group and as a chef d’equipe sport is my main goal, of course. Team spirit however is just as important as other things and one cannot consider the four individuals when you have a team.


You need to have four riders fighting together and that is what we have. We have team leaders like Martin and Steve, we have younger ones like Bryan Balsiger and Edouard Schmitz, we have Pius Schwizer with all his experience but who also listens to and helps others, so it’s a great honour and a great team at the moment both in the sporting and human sense.

Apart from the shows, the competition, what is your daily work like with the team?

It’s truly a daily job. As chef d’equipe one has many things to take care of. Of course selection is a part of the job, but one also has to organize travel. I’m not alone, I have people working with me in the Swiss Federation. You have to be in close contact with your riders as well as the team vet, lots of phone calls and discussions of course with Thomas Fuchs, because I may be the chef d’equipe, but I’m always talking to Thomas, because without him it would be impossible. Thomas is the coach or technical advisor, and a key element of this team. And, as I say, on the starting list it always says Michel Sorg, Chef d’Equipe, but I wanted to also have his name on the start list because he is so important. We also have many discussions, although not every day, but every two days, with the riders, sometimes a groom might call; so, there are many, many discussions, and there is a lot of organisation involved. I’m also in charge of finance for the Swiss Team, so there are many things to be addressed and if you are chef d’equipe you are chef d’equipe 365 days a year because you think about it all the time. But it’s also my passion and I’m lucky my job is my passion and every day I am aware of that, because I never thought that I would experience something like this in my life. So, yes, it’s crazy.

Switzerland is a leading nation as far as the welfare of horses is concerned and in Switzerland there are many horsemen, real horsemen such as yourself, Thomas and the riders, Steve, Martin and so many others. So, what is the meaning of this welfare, how important is it?

It is the main issue in our sport, because the athletes are both the riders and the horses and when we plan something, we plan thinking first of all of the horses, of what can we ask of the horses and it’s not our goal to bring the same horses to shows every week. We have to plan because the riders need to be at the top level for a Championship, for instance, but so do the horses, so welfare is the most important thing. And what you say it’s totally right, we have many horsemen in our country, Thomas Fuchs first of all, our coach, because he knows how to manage the programme for a horse so as to bring him up to his best level of fitness and we see this with Martin who is doing exactly the same, unbelievably well. Steve is known for having this respect for horses for many, many years and as being the best, one of the best horse managers. And we have also Thomas Balsiger, Bryan’s father, who is also really involved in Bryan’s planning and they have proved so many times that they know how to bring a horse up to top level fitness. For instance, last year in Riesenbeck with Courage, the plan was organised so as to bring her up to top form for those championships and she was. So, of course that is the key element and everybody is thinking about it, so it is a question that is at the basis of our sport and we always discuss it before and again after a show if a horse is not fit and one feels that maybe it is a little bit tired, so you stop it and give it a rest.

So, your nation is a great example to all the other new nations that now are growing in our sport.

Yes we are, but we are not the only ones. There are many other nations that are doing this very well, but if we don’t think about horse welfare then nothing is possible and I think that many riders today are thinking of this and you see it at the shows, but people should see what’s happening in the stables where the horses are the stars!!! They are treated like stars; the horses have babysitters. This happens in Switzerland and I don’t know what it is like in other countries but in Switzerland the horses are put out to grass. If you go to Steve Guerdat’s you will find them galloping on grass, out in the fields. Martin and Bryan and Pius are the same, they are living the life of horses. Their horses lead a natural life because they are horses and we must never forget that, the first and most important thing is that that we love the sport, but above all we love horses. The reason for which I love this sport is because I love horses, it is not that I love horses because I love the sport and it’s exactly the same for the riders.

And this is the reason for which a nation develops this way; because passion and love of horses are the most important thing.

Exactly. And we have also a President now in Switzerland, a new President of the Swiss Federation who is really also involved in this, and that is also the message we want to promote. I believe that nowadays in our sport we have the duty to show what we are doing well rather than show what we are not doing. We have to say: “Look, we are doing this well” and not saying “no, no, we are not doing this”, there is a big difference in the message. And we do many different things, so many things are that are so great with these horses …, the horses have a perfect life.

About the World Championship, what are your plans leading up to this important goal?

We have one Nations Cup in two weeks in Falsterbo and then we will decide the team right after Falsterbo, We already of course have some clear ideas, but will decide after Falsterbo. And the goal for our team as far as the World Championships are concerned is to qualify for the Paris Olympic Games, so that means finishing in the top 5 or 6 if France is in front of us, because France is already qualified. And individuals matter too when you have riders such as we have in Switzerland of course” We hope to be at our best (laugh).


Photo Copyright © CSIO.CH / Katja Stuppia (Swiss Team in St. Gallen: Michel SORG - Martin FUCHS - Steve GUERDAT - Bryan BALSIGER - Beat MÄNDLI - Thomas FUCHS)