By Caroline Malan

Caroline Malan catches up with Anne-Marie Esslinger ahead of the 2019 SA Derby.

What makes Derby so amazing for you?

I love the element of natural obstacles and the feel of galloping up and down across country – it’s also a test of focus and fitness.

Your thoughts on this years Derby?

I’m very enthusiastic about the 2019 SA Derby – we have so many great sponsors on board with a new business model in place. The event will be colourful and exciting!

How has it changed and what does that mean for:

Spectators: KPC is selling less tickets on some of the grandstands to allow spectators more comfort. We are also trying to get cushions sponsored for the metal seats.

Competitors:  Turfnet have done a lot of work on the Bob Charter arena, the levelness of the surface etc. during the past year. We hope to have the going perfect for this show and going forward. The branding may be a little daunting at first, but will help to showcase our world class event!

The sport: Derby celebrates many of the traditional aspects of our sport – riders test themselves and their mounts against the benchmark set by the consistent build of the track every year.

What horses will you be jumping in the show and in what grades?

I’m not sure if I’ll be competing – at present I am the nominated course designer, and therefore not permitted to participate as well. My great Derby horse, Alzu Oregon, is only doing his first proper show this week at Revil stables – if he copes really well, I may think about making a plan to ride at the Derby, since he likes this competition and always performs well in the Bob Charter arena…

Explain your best ever Derby round to us: Derby is a competition where I have had some success – from the 11 starts I’ve made over a 30 year period, I’ve been 4th twice, 3rd once and first twice. I think my round on Alzu Oregon in 2017, where I finished 3rd out of a 3-way jump-off, was one of Oregon and my smoothest, most competent rounds.

Who are your horse and rider combo favourites for this year and why?

Derby often delivers some surprises – I don’t speculate before the show starts, and I can see who the on form combinations are.

What is the one improvement you would like to see made to Derby to make it better/ more appealing?

I think this competition is already first rate – I hope that this year’s event will offer competitors, sponsors and spectators the best ever value and entertainment for investment.

What are some of the techniques that you use to calm 1) yourself and 2) your horse down before entering the main Derby class?

Controlled and deep breathing helps me and Oregon benefits for an early warm-up and some time to chill before going into the arena.

The parade: do you ride your horse in the parade or a borrowed horse? Explain your answer.

Sometimes – it depends on the horse I’m riding. Normally I do use the horse I’m competing on because I’ve been lucky enough to qualify far enough in the rankings, that my horse has had plenty of time to recover its cool before I begin the warm-up.

Who is your favourite horse on the SA circuit at the moment and why?

I love Chantilly, owned by the Fouries, and ridden by Chris vd Merwe. She is light and springy, great against the clock, and a pleasure to watch with such a superb jockey…

What is your biggest challenge whilst jumping that Derby championship?

That depends on my horse and our confidence levels – I’m intimidated by heights, so the bank is scary, but Oregon nips down there like a hero.