The sensation at the Soers
The jump-off of the Rolex Grand Prix was extremely dramatic, the winner a sensation. We visited Germany’s high-flyer Gerrit Nieberg in Münsterland.
Sunday afternoon. One can hear a pin drop. One could cut through the atmosphere in the Main Stadium in Aachen with a knife. Spellbound, everyone is watching how the last rider masters the jump-off of the Rolex Grand Prix, effortlessly it seems. At a fast, but controlled pace, he makes his way through the obstacle course. Then, the route to the double combination. The whole crowd gasps as the rider chooses the shortcut. Not one of the 40,000 spectators remains in his seat. Frenzied cheering, screeching and loud cries accompany Gerrit Nieberg and his Ben on the last line and over the final oxer. The sensation is perfect, the crowd goes totally wild. And the rider? He apparently doesn’t know how to react. The wellearned praise for his sports partner was followed by an incredulous glance at the scoreboard. Shaking his head, almost embarrassed he stretches his helmet towards the sky. He shakes his head again, whilst the raving crowd clap rhythmically as he leaves the arena into the arms of his girlfriend, Johanna. “Fantastic, unbelievable, I don’t know what to say,” the 29-year-old stammered into the microphone of the journalists shortly afterwards, whilst the Main Stadium went ecstatic with joy in the background. The Aachen Soers has seldom experienced such excitement in the whole of its history.
Change of scene. A few days later in Sendenhorst, Westphalia. Gerrit Nieberg and Ben are enjoying the tranquility in the midst of the picturesque setting of the famous Berl Stud. To the right, horses are dozing on the paddock, on the left a heard of youngsters are stood at the fence of their expansive meadow with their ears pricked forward, whilst Ben snatches at a few tufts of grass and his rider stares into his mobile phone captivated. “All or nothing, all or nothing, Nieberg or Brash, Nieberg or Brash, Niiiiiiiiiiiieeeeeberg,” echoes through the idyllic backdrop. Gerrit Nieberg smiles, his eyes sparkle, his cheeks are slightly flushed. And his head? He is still shaking it when he watches the incredible feat he pulled off on that memorable Sunday at the Aachener Soers. He has already watched the video of his ride accompanied by the emotional words of the legendary commentator Carsten Sostmeier, which was broadcast all over the world, countless times. As well as the myriad of congratulations that overloaded his WhatsApp mailbox. “I still haven’t had chance to get back to each one of them yet,” says Gerrit Nieberg. But he did dial one number on that triumphant evening to thank a particular person. The decisive tip for the fast route in the jumpoff came from one of the best of the best. “I asked Steve Guerdat on the warm-up arena whether I could take the shortcut,” he reported. “Steve said I could. So, that’s what I did and it was good.” Gerrit Nieberg captivates everyone with his reserved and unassuming manner. He surprises everyone, but probably himself more than anyone else. “Every rider dreams of winning the Grand Prix of Aachen,” the 29-year-old said. “That I have succeeded in doing so at such an early stage in my career is wonderful, of course.” And as if there weren’t enough. The victory at the Soers means he is now the contender for the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping, the most prestigious series on the international show jumping circuit. “Up until now I have always admired my fellow colleagues, who have written history in these classes,” said Gerrit Nieberg. “It is a great honour for me to experience that myself.” And a unique chance he wants to seize – without taking off. That is not in his character. “The sport regulates that itself,” is how Gerrit Nieberg explains his down-to-earthiness. “It presents us with ups and downs, which leave their mark and which we have to learn to cope with.”
Wise words from a young man, whose riding career started relatively late. During his youth, the eldest son of the twotime team Olympic gold medallist, Lars Nieberg, preferred football boots to riding boots. As a talented and diligent footballer, he was accepted for the state training camp of the German Football Association. “I didn’t start getting interested in horses until I was 13,” he recalls. From one day to the next he suddenly wanted to start riding, perhaps also because his younger brother, Max, had been riding for some time already. “After just a week I said, I wanted to become a professional rider,” Gerrit Nieberg says with a laugh. Gerrit and his family moved to the yard of Henrik Snoek in the region around Münster in 2013, where he lives in an apartment overlooking the jumping arena. And close to his sports partner, Ben. “He always demands a little more attention than the other horses,” Gerrit Nieberg says about the 11-year-old gelding. That also includes the two of them sometimes wandering over the grounds together after ten o’clock at night: “He pays me back with top performances for the extra time I spend with him.” And who knows, perhaps the two high-flyers will beat their fellow competitors again in the near future with an unexpected shortcut. Like he did at the CHIO in Aachen.