Rolex and Equestrianism: An Enduring Legacy

Photos: Ms. Baade riding Clemens in the Wallküren-Preis at CHIO Aachen, 1930; Isabell Werth riding Satchmo at CHIO Aachen, 2010.

More than 60 years ago, Rolex formed a partnership with the greatest show jumper in history to represent Great Britain, the pioneering Pat Smythe. Winner of more grand prix events in more countries than any man or woman before her, she was the first female rider to participate in the Olympics and the first to win a medal, a team bronze in Stockholm in 1956. Like Rolex, she was an innovator, always pushing back the boundaries of what was possible. In 1957 Smythe joined the Rolex family, becoming its first equestrian Testimonee, marking the start of one of the strongest alliances in the sport. Since then, Rolex’s bond with the equestrian world has grown stronger each year. In 2019, Rolex celebrates several key anniversaries within the sport, with milestones for two elite equine events and two legendary athletes.

ROLEX GRAND SLAM

Rolex’s association with one of the sport’s four prestigious Majors began 30 years ago when it partnered with the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’, the annual show jumping competition held in the foothills of the Alberta Rocky Mountains in Calgary, Canada. It was here, in 2015, that Rolex Testimonee Scott Brash etched his name in equestrian history by becoming the first and, to date, only winner of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping, the sport’s ultimate prize awarded to the winner of the Grand Prix at three successive Majors. His feat was the result of an unwavering quest for perfection, an unprecedented display of precision and excellence required to win all of these historic Majors.

Preceding the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ is the CHIO Aachen, an event that this year celebrates 20 years of partnership with Rolex. Founded in 1924, this revered event in Germany is the oldest of the four show jumping Majors. Its rich heritage is cherished by the knowledgeable 360,000 fans that annually fill the 40,000-seat open-air stadium over nine days of top-tier competition. Widely considered equestrianism’s “homecoming” event, CHIO Aachen is often likened to The Championships, Wimbledon, being the oldest and most prestigious tournament within the sport. Another quality it shares with the esteemed tennis event, which Rolex is proud to have partnered for more than 40 years, is the unquestionable passion of the spectators who travel far and wide to watch their heroes in action. Isabell Werth is one rider who enjoys superstar status at CHIO Aachen, competing in front of an adoring home crowd whose noisy adulation fills the purpose-built Hauptstadion.

THE QUEEN OF DRESSAGE

Over the years, Werth has become known as “the queen of dressage,” a title bestowed on her due to a glittering career that has helped elevate the discipline to new heights. Werth has won more Olympic medals than any other equestrian athlete in history, 10 in total, six of them gold. Her long list of achievements includes a World Championship victory in 2006 at Aachen, where she was presented with an engraved Rolex Timepiece, and a gold medal for team dressage and a silver for individual dressage at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Speaking of her key achievements, Werth said: “You don’t forget those special moments, even after all these years. Every time I look at my Rolex watch it reminds me of reaching the very top of my sport.”

THE PESSOAS

Another key member of the Rolex family is the Brazilian show jumper Rodrigo Pessoa. Son of Nelson Pessoa, a legendary equestrian athlete in his own right, Rodrigo seemed destined to follow in his father’s footsteps. Commenting on his childhood, Rodrigo says: “My father travelled a lot. Taking me to the shows was a way for us to spend time together and he wanted to see if I would catch the horse and competition bug at a young age, and I did.” As Rodrigo grew up, he had the benefit of his father’s knowledge and expertise to guide him through the highs and lows of being an elite equestrian athlete. Nelson supported his son every step of the way, from the moment he first made an impression on the sport at the age of 19, to winning Olympic gold in Athens in 2004. Rolex also has supported Rodrigo during his decorated career. Throughout this partnership, 20 years old and still going strong, the gifted rider has received many accolades and established himself as one of the most respected names in the sport. Of the partnership, Rodrigo says: “The support from Rolex shows how committed they are to our sport and to raising the level of professionalism. The progress made in our sport over the years has been tremendous and it would not have been possible without Rolex elevating the bar.”

Having competed in the upper echelons of the sport for more than four decades, Pessoa decided to take his career in a new direction towards the end of 2016, turning his focus towards coaching and accepting the highly respected position as Irish Chef d’Equipe. In this role, he found himself mentoring young Irish rider Bertram Allen, Rolex’s youngest equestrian Testimonee. In the same way Nelson imparted his wisdom to Rodrigo, the latter now finds himself tutoring one of the sport’s most exciting prospects. Rolex’s partnerships with key figures in the equestrian community, such as Pessoa, Allen, and Werth, run across generations and continents, enabling knowledge and experience to be shared. Rolex is confident this process will perpetuate a cycle of renewed and enduring excellence, the benefits of which can already be seen through Pessoa’s rapid success as Ireland show jumping team manager, to give one example. Within a year of Pessoa taking the reins, an Irish team featuring Allen claimed team gold at the 2017 European Championships in Gothenburg. Coincidentally, Werth took gold in all three dressage categories she competed in at those Championships, once again highlighting Rolex’s wide-ranging support to top equestrian athletes.

YOUNG RIDERS ACADEMY

It is worth noting that these top competitors’ partner with Rolex not only when they are at the pinnacle of their careers, but also as aspiring riders striving to make their name in the sport. Allen, for example, is a graduate of the Young Riders Academy, an initiative supported by Rolex and the most prestigious training course available to young equestrian athletes. Since leaving the Academy, Allen joined the Rolex family of Testimonees and represents a new era of equestrian excellence. They serve as a reminder of Rolex’s long-standing support for human achievement, which can be traced back to the brand’s pioneering roots and is demonstrated by its creation of the world’s first waterproof wristwatch, the Rolex Oyster.

By nurturing young talent and supporting them as Testimonees on their journey to becoming champions, the Swiss watchmaker’s presence permeates all levels of the sport. The brand’s belief in unlimited human potential, in striving for continuous improvement, is embodied in a word inscribed on every Rolex Oyster watch. Perpetual. The important equestrian anniversaries being celebrated in 2019 highlight Rolex’s long-standing and continuing commitment to this elegant and historic sport.

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