WeTalk with Edouard Schmitz: Learning Patience and Perseverance on the Show Jumping Circuit

WeTalk. Pop Culture. Swiss-Made is a social media campaign of the Embassy of Switzerland in the United States. WeTalk promotes the diversity of Swiss culture and innovation by featuring prominent Swiss stakeholders from these fields. Sharing perspectives from artists, athletes and entrepreneurs, WeTalk provides its audience with fascinating insights into the diversity of contemporary Swiss culture. Watch Edouard’s 1-min WeTalk interview here!

Twenty-one-year-old Edouard Schmitz is a full-time undergraduate student in informatics at the University of Zurich. In parallel to his studies, he is also a professional equestrian show jumper and trains on a daily basis. He is ranked 29th worldwide in the “Under 25” category (as of February 2021) and was selected to take part in seven continental championships in the youth categories. He was the Swiss junior champion in 2015 and 2016 and has been a member of the Swiss jumping squad since January 2019. Edouard’s international successes include notable victories in Fontainebleau, France, and in Opglabbeek, Belgium, both in 2018, on the Nations Cup circuit, which is among the most prestigious show jumping events for national teams worldwide. Edouard also enjoys several other sports besides show jumping, and his favorite hobbies are skiing (he is Swiss after all) and reading.

The Embassy of Switzerland recently sat down with the student athlete over video chat to talk about how he manages his academic and sports careers, what makes riding such a unique sport, and his commitment to bringing about positive change for younger athletes on the elite circuit.

Swiss Embassy: Tell us about how you started riding?
Edouard Schmitz: I tried playing many different sports, and, though I enjoyed them all, I never became truly passionate about any of them. Growing up I was fascinated with animals and would spend hours reading books about them. I think this curiosity about animals is what got me on a horse. Everything changed when, at the age of around ten, I went to see an international show jumping competition in Geneva. I was particularly struck by the atmosphere of the event, including the power and speed of the horses: it was absolutely thrilling to watch and made me want to try. My parents were not too keen when I told them I wanted to try out horseback riding, because my mother, once a rider herself, had experienced a bad fall, but in the end, they agreed — and I’ve never stopped. I started riding once a week and during summer breaks. Eventually it became more serious, and I got a pony, Huckleberry, with which I competed at my first event. That’s when the love story began. A few years later, I entered my first international competition.

Swiss Embassy: What are your best competition memories?
Edouard Schmitz: That’s a very difficult question. I think the two most important moments of my equestrian career were the win in the “Under 25” Grand Prix in Chevenez, Switzerland, in 2015 and the young rider Nations Cup final win in Belgium in 2018. Riding is mostly an individual sport and Nations Cups championships are the rare events where riders from the same country get together for a team event. After the first qualification, one of our riders wasn’t able to compete in the finals, which left us at a huge disadvantage as we had no “joker” rider. With only three riders on the team, we had no choice but to perform and avoid making even a single mistake, which we managed to achieve in the end. For me, that was a memorable lesson about the importance of teamwork and perseverance.

The second one happened a long time ago. As a child, I always went to watch the best riders in the world compete in the CHI in Geneva (“Concours Hippique International de Genève”), which is one of the most important international show jumping meets of the season. It was one of my biggest dreams to one day take part. One of the ways to enter is as the top-ranked competitor in the “Under 25” category of the Grand Prix of Chevenez. I was not very experienced on that Grand Prix level in 2015, but I gave it my best shot nonetheless. After a clear round in the first run, I really went for it in the second, and it worked out. That win allowed me to ride in the CHI in Geneva as one of its youngest ever participants. I was very nervous all weekend and only realized what had happened when it was over, but this remains one of the best experiences of my riding career so far. I did not win any runs, but being part of it and seeing my idols close-up was already a win for me.

Swiss Embassy: In your opinion, what is the most challenging aspect of equestrian sports?
Edouard Schmitz: Equestrian sports are based on the relationship you have with your horse. In my opinion, the horse itself is the most challenging and interesting part of our sport. Horses are unpredictable and it’s not a sport where only hard work pays off: you also have to be patient and learn to understand your horse in order to get the best out of it. I think that’s the most challenging element in equestrian sports but also what makes it most precious and unique. I would compare my relationship with my horses to a friendship. In order to perform well at a competition there needs to be a large amount of trust in the relationship. Additionally, you need to enjoy spending time with your horse and show understanding for their instinctive behaviors. I train with horses that all have very different personalities: some are calm, others nervous, and a couple of them are very playful, so part of the challenge is building a unique relationship with each of them. You must adapt your way of working with them, which includes your general behavior and tone of voice, depending on the temperament of your horse and how it reacts to pressure, which is something I love discovering and building with them.

Swiss Embassy: In March 2018, you were selected to represent the “Under 25” category in show jumping at the first ever youth panel of the 2018 International Federation for Equestrian Sports Forum, held in Lausanne, Switzerland. What challenges do younger show jumping athletes face at the moment?
Edouard Schmitz: Participating at the Sports Forum, which was held to discuss, debate, and plan the future of the equestrian sport, was a unique opportunity for me. The goal of the panel, which brought together young riders from all over the world to discuss and submit concrete suggestions, was to enable easier access for young riders to the world ranking quota, and I think it really helped the promotion of young talent by allowing them to gain world-ranking points at young rider shows. This is crucial, because winning points as a young rider allows one to participate in higher-level shows and gain opportunities to earn further points. It only seems fair to give the best young riders of the international circuit a chance to prove themselves on a higher level. I think a young rider now has a pretty good chance of making it to the top, but in the end only very few of the good talents can really make a living out of it and that’s also a reality that we need to accept as young riders.

Swiss Embassy: You currently train on a daily basis. How do you organize your schedule to find the best possible balance between your academic and athletic goals?
Edouard Schmitz: Both my academic and my equestrian careers are important to me and strict time management is key to being able to do both. It gives me a lot of stability because it allows me to take a step back whenever I get a bit too intense with either one. It can be tempting to blame the duality of your careers when you’re not performing as well as you would like, and I’d say one of the biggest challenges you face as a student athlete, apart from the financial one, is thinking you could perform better if you focused on one professional career instead of juggling two. That’s why being aware of such difficulties is essential when you make these important life choices.

Check out Edouard’s showjumping exploits on Instagram and Facebook.

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