From 1.20m to Olympic-Bound: The Rapid Ascent of Grand Cru Van De Rozenberg & Jérôme Guéry

Guéry and Grand Cru Van De Rozenberg, CSIO5* La Baule, May 2016

Jérôme Guéry holds the end of a lead rope, at the other end of which his stunning Olympic partner is munching a few carrots. One year ago, he didn’t dare to dream that he would be here, he says, with the Olympic rings quite literally over his head, in the form of a brand new banner hanging in his indoor arena. Exactly seven days ago, he was officially selected to represent his country at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, and between the planning, the training, the careful management, he’s allowing himself to enjoy the moment.

Aside from his riding talent, he 36-year-old Belgian rider has a stunning aesthetic that ties together his blond hair and sky-blue eyes, the coincidental blue eye of his striking mount, and the impeccable white-trimmed design of the stables he has built himself from the ground up. A classic horseman, Guéry turned professional at 19, at 21 went out on his own, and at 27 bought his own stables, a humble stable and grounds that he rebuilt piece by piece, on the strength of each sold horse or prize money check.

Today, at home in the village of Sart-Dames-Avelines, just south of Brussels, his stable shines with a dramatically-arched indoor arena, perfectly landscaped greenery and an American-style, two story clapboard house, freshly painted to match the barn just steps away, where his carefully developed group of 25 horses live. Among that group contentedly resting in their boxes are several of the stars that elevated Guéry’s career in 2015.

Last year, he went from 120th in the world to breaking into the Longines FEI Ranked Top 30 on the strength of his results with the grey gelding Papillon Z, memorably winning at Lummen CSIO5* and the inaugural Knokke Hippique CSI5*. He picked up scores of FEI wins, and in 2016 his FEI ranking earned him entry into the Longines Global Champions Tour CSI5* for the first time. This season, he’s competed at LGCT Miami Beach, Mexico, and Chantilly, where he won two CSI5* classes with Alicante.

Guery and Grand Cru competing at LGCT Miami Beach, April 2016
Guery and Grand Cru competing at LGCT Miami Beach, April 2016

But it was while Papillon Z was earning his way to top horse status at Ecurie Guéry, that another horse entered the barn, and it soon became apparent that 2016 would be his year.

A burnished chestnut with dramatic belly and leg splashes of chrome, Grand Cru Van De Rozenberg was purchased in early 2015 through a partnership between Guery and his friend Alexander Oancea, who wished to invest in a horse as a fun hobby. Their first horse was successfully developed and sold by Guery, and they used the money to find a second prospect. That prospect turned out to be Grand Cru.

“At the beginning, we didn’t know that he would turn out to be a horse like this,” Guery said. “We bought him for a normal price, from his breeder Joost Verkinderen, as a fun thing for Alexander to do.”

The blue-eyed, Belgian warmblood gelding (Malito De Reve x Duchesse Van De Rozenberg) came to Ecurie Guery as a green 9-year-old, and Guery spent 2015 patiently campaigning him at the CSI2* and 3* level. Early in 2015 at the start of their partnership, the horse was jumping 1.20m, but by early 2016 when Guery stepped him up to the top level, Grand Cru was ready for it.

“He just needed confidence in himself, and once he had that, he changed in unbelievable style,” Guery recalled. “After La Baule, our chef d’equipe said that he might be a possible choice for the Olympic Games.”

It was at CSIO5* La Baule that Guery picked up one of his best career finishes, and what was Grand Cru’s first, CSI5* victory. They topped France’s Penelope Leprevost and Germany’s Meredith Michaels Beerbaum, and eight other world-class pairs in an 11-horse jumpoff in the Grand Prix Longines Ville de La Baule CSIO5*.

That result was instrumental in Guery’s Olympic selection for Belgium. The nation qualified just two individual show jumping riders for Rio, and among Belgian’s small but elite group of top riders, Guery was a clear choice.

And so was Grand Cru, despite his relative lack of experience.

“He’s really a horse with more blood, that can jump well over four days. He’s better the last day than the first day, while Papillion Z can arrive with the strength to jump one big class, but not many in a row,” Guery explained.

Now that it’s official, Guery is concentrating on training with the help of Henk Nooren, and preparing for a 15-day equine quarantine before his team makes the journey to Rio.

There’s time now to spend with his star, and with his entire team involved in the process of final preparations, the excitement at this impeccable stables is palpable. Guery runs his business in partnership with his wife, Patricia, and a full staff who all contribute to the overall effort.

“Sure it’s me in the front of everything, but without my team it’s not possible, and it’s really important to recognize that,” Guery added. “They are really motivated to continue with me and we work together on everything.”

And as for Rio?

“At a minimum, my plan is to qualify for the Individual final, and if I can get into the final, then I will try to go for a medal. But we’ll see, everyone starts on the same points, on zero, and everyone has the same chance.”

Click the slideshow for a few photos with Guéry at home at Ecurie Guéry:

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