Special interview: Philippe Guerdat, guardian spirit of the Nations Cup

October - Double silver medal in front of its home public, France has greatly performed at the World Equestrian Games in Caen and is ready – along with the Netherlands – for the last battle of the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup in Barcelona, from the 9th to the 12th of October. Team and individual medal, thanks to Patrice Delaveau and Orient Express HDC so close to the gold, France seems to have found again, after the disappointing Olympics in London, its leading role in equestrianism. Philippe Guerdat, coach of the French team since 2013, explains the reasons of this success.

Mr Guerdat, which was your first objective for this World Equestrian Games 2014?

We were leading the ranking after the first day. The day after we were fourth. And then we ended up in second place. We knew we had all the chances but it was not so easy. We had to get the qualification for Rio, it was my main focus for this Weg: there were five places and we had to stay among these. This was my deal with the French Federation and we achieved it and, which is more, we achieved it with a silver medal. It has been a great championship and we performed as a good team, this is what makes me feel satisfied with my work.

Being hosted in France, the pressure must have been high…

The public was something amazing here in Caen. I have never seen such a cheer. We were highly supported by our home fans. I must admit it is from the 1st of January we feel this pressure, it has been the only topic of the year for everybody in France and it was not easy to enter this arena without feeling all this weight. I’m sure we could have avoided a couple of mistakes and that we have committed them because of the pressure. We could have finished with two more clear rounds. But what is done is done.

It’s two years you have been training the French team. On what did you focus on the most in order to get good results?

Yes, it has been two years: I arrived after the London Olympics and from the very beginning I had to face no small problems. There were contrasts among the riders and I had to build a team from zero. I strongly believe in the importance of the Nations Cup series and for this reason I have been trying many new couples too, to give new chances and opportunities to everybody. At the end I realized I had twelve couples for the First Division and twenty in the Second.

What has been the training for this World Championship?

I dream a team, a real team, with no rivalry, nor misunderstandings. This team was already a team but I wanted them to be really together, not only on horseback. We spent one week together in Orvilles, north of Amiens. We had a very special time, karting, going to the cinema, having fun. I think this helped a lot the pressure to decrease. And what really surprised me was the way Penelope, the only woman of the team, could behave and survive among them. I don’t mean she is not feminine, quite the opposite, but she could greatly adapt to these “rude boys”!

Looking forward to Barcelona, what do you expect?

We’ll be in Barcelona as the defending champions of the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup. For this reason I’m sending a strong team consisting of Patrice Delaveau on Carinjo HDC, Simon Delestre and Qlassic Bois Margot, Jérôme Hurel with Quartz Rouge, Pénélope Leprevost on Nayana and Kevin Staut with Rêveur de Hurtebise HDC.

What does the Nations Cup mean to you?

I’m an old-fashioned horseman, maybe too much romantically tied to the values of the Nations Cup. But I believe that our sport is based on the team. I stand for the value of the Nations Cup, it has a primordial meaning to me: it honours you to represent your country and your flag. The aim of national federations should be the one of obtaining results with their teams. What comes individually is fine, but teams must come first. We can see by ourselves which are the countries building their ground on this basis and which don’t: they arrive, maybe with a fortunate quartet of riders and horses. It may work, once, twice, but they don’t persist in good results. They can’t if it is not part of their sport culture. Everybody, every nation, can have a bad season for many reasons but it must have a strong team feeling to work things out.

Do you think that in this sport individualism is becoming the main trend?

I fear individualism. I don’t like what the Global Champions Tour represents. I mean, it is fine but I have the feeling we are losing something important and we have to pay attention. I love what the the horseshow was once: to be together with your friends, the competition, the cookout dinners, but now it is becoming something different. It was simpler and it was nicer. You see, my sport is “jumping”, not “show jumping”. I don’t like all this show-off. We need to democratize equestrianism, while the GCT is going exactly in the opposite direction.

What do you mean?

I mean our sport shouldn’t be determined by the financial choices of few people, stealing places to others who deserve it by paying. We are forgetting the importance of teams. Nations Cup should be the main goal for every rider, because they prepare for the big events, European or World Championship and Olympics. With the actual invitational system on the CSI5* and on the GCT, Nations Cup have become the only access way for the up coming riders and youngster to be on the big shows. It is their only chance.

What do you think of the discussions around the world ranking?

I don’t care about the ranking, I’m not a politician. And maybe everybody should care less about it. I’m a coach and I plan my work on the horses and riders I have.

Which is the country you think to be the best model to you?

I think the Netherlands is the best example we can look up at this moment in our sport. And their results confirm my opinions. Their coach keeps focused on the team, trying new combinations in the Nations Cup and building a team spirit. Dutch riders are always together.

What do you think it is the most important thing as a team coach?

I’ve been coaching different teams in different countries, and I think it is important to pursue a common guideline: equestrianism values should be the same everywhere all over the world. We have to teach the respect for the horses, for the grooms, for the owners just at the same level. I take in great consideration all the horsemen, no matter how high they jump or if they jump at all, in the way they behave with horses, they know the nature of horses. Knowledge, respect and experience are the important things to me. And unfortunately I see too many riders who are not true horsemen. I don’t like it.

Barbara Leoni