Interview by Caroline Malan

Cover image by Equilife and other images from Denford Studios

How was President’s Cup?

President’s Cup was a very good show for me. My last show was last year Derby where I did very well, and the horses jumped well, but since then I have had two back ops. President’s Cup was therefore my first big show since the operations. I took Goofy (Gillian van Orshof) in the 150/160cm class, and then Optimus had his first show in the 1.4m. Optimus is owned by myself and Pippa Millman. He was placed 5th or 6th with a double clear in the 140/145 champs. Then I had the young horse Callaho Contano, a six-year old, having his first 1.3m ever, and he was clear in the 130/135cm champs but had one time-fault. I must say, however, he was absolutely fantastic. I’m very excited about my string of horses.

How did the horses do?

Goofy was very good at the show. He was lying 3rd top by the last day, with one time-penalty. Unfortunately, he had one fence down in the first round due a little bit to the time gain up from 350 to 375. This has made a lot of horses go a little bit quicker than they used to, which made him a bit tense, but then in the second round I was clear. I ended up 5th so was thrilled with that.

When is your next big show?

The next big show is the Nissan Easter Festival. The horses are now back in Natal for a few days off with just light hacking, and then we will start to get ready for the show. It is a lot of travelling up and down which is going to start to take a bit out of the horses this year, so who knows, things might change.

Ronnie and Gillian van Orshof winning the Nissan Easter Festival Grand Prix in 2018. Credit: Denford Studios

Is there pressure on you after winning at Nissan Easter Festival last year?

Obviously with Goofy winning the Grand Prix last year there is pressure but there is always pressure on you, whether you are trying to defend your title or not. I’m just trying to do the same thing all year round – keep myself fit, keep my horses fit, sound and happy. I think if you get all of that right they are going to want to jump for you and try as hard as they can.

How is Goofy?

Goofy is a lot stronger than he was last year. We’ve changed quite a few things in his feed and his work, so I’m very positive about the potential outcome.

What are your thoughts on the Grand Prix class? What advice would you give to somebody jumping Grand Prix for the first time?

As I just said, I think anybody that is trying to do well at any grade has got to just keep all the boxes ticked. They need to be fit, and their horse needs to be fit, sound and happy. It is your work up until that class that determines what will happen. How you start the show is normally more or less how you end the show. The work up to the show is therefore very, very important.

Have you jumped in the Bob Charter since it was upgraded?

I haven’t jumped in the Bob Charter since last year at the Derby, and I believe they have put a lot of money, effort and time into it, so it’ll be the first time for me on that new surface so I’m looking forwards to it.

Which horses are you competing at Nissan Easter Festival?

I’m bringing the same three horses up for the show so that means one in the 130s, one in the 140s and one in the 150s. It’s now grass so it will be a bit different to just jumping on all-weather arenas the whole year round. We’ll put stud holes in and they had good shows in that arena last year so I’m just hoping all goes well.

Which horse do you need to work most on between now and the Nissan Easter Festival?

They are all a bit different. I can’t hack my stallion out so I need to do a lot of work at home and on the track. I can’t hack him because the roads around are sand roads with lots of mares and foals around, so I’ve got to try and keep him fit at home. With the other two horses we do a lot of trotting up the hills to get them strong. But, as I said before, we just keep carrying on with what we normally do. We will put stud holes in for the grass, and maybe change the feed a bit, but those are just little changes.

Are any of your pupils competing at the show?

This year a lot of my pupils are going away for the Nissan Easter Festival, but the Garton girls are coming up so they will be with me having their first adult show.

How are you feeling building up to the show? Are you nervous?

My health is a lot better than it was but my fitness needs to increase just a bit. This is purely because of a couple of months with no riding because of my back and it means I’m having to try and get back as quick as I can to the top.

As far as nerves are concerned, no matter who you are, the nerves always get to you. You have to try and learn to control your nerves and get past them. However, a lot of times with horses, and with riders, you need to be a bit nervous to be a little more awake, and avoid getting too complacent about things. Especially for the big classes like the Derby, the Grand Prix and the World Cups you do get butterflies. Every rider does – some more than others but, so do the horses. We always think of ourselves but they really do get stressed, so the more we relax and the more we relax them the better the outcome.

Who are your sponsors at the moment?

My sponsors at the moment are TRM supplements (an Irish company) and they are the best supplements I’ve ever used.

Tell us about the team that surrounds you

The team I have around me is fantastic and includes my clients and my grooms (especially Benson my head groom – he really is wonderful). Andre is my eyes on the ground all the time. He’s always watching when I jump at home. People just think of him as a dressage rider and trainer, but his eye on the ground jumping-wise is unbelievable. He’s jumped 120cm/130cm at home. He really keeps me on track and on the straight line, and helps me with technical things like bitting etc. The last 17 years he’s really been the backbone of my team.

I also want to say that it is so important that you are loyal to these people in your team, and that they are loyal to you. This includes your farrier, your feed company etc. It’s all the people around you that make the whole thing go around. Without these people I think I’d be swimming upstream with no paddle.

I also want to thank all the sponsors of the sport, and there are many of them. These are also people that are extremely important to our sport and we tend to forget about thanking them all the time. We also forget to thank the judges and all the behind-the-scenes people like the time-keepers, course-builders and the people who sit in the offices all day checking entries etc. It is all like one big circus and we are all there for each other

Ronnie receiving the trophy for his Grand Prix victory last year at the Nissan Easter Festival. Credit: Denford Studios