There is at least one elite athlete competing on the sands of Miami Beach this weekend … big, strong, athletic, good hops … doesn’t say much …
In fact, he doesn’t say anything ever.
His name is Hello Sanctos, and he’s a 13-year-old gelding and an Olympic gold medalist as a key part of Great Britain’s equestrian team in the 2012 Games.
“Hello Sanctos is the No. 1 horse in the world,” said his rider, Scottish show-jumper Scott Brash, 29. “He loves jumping, and he loves winning. He wants to win as much as I do.”
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The two have been a team since 2011, and they are competing this weekend in the Longines Global Champions Tour, an international equestrian competition that is taking place in Miami for the first time.
To gear up for the event, workers cleared the sand behind the Setai Hotel at 2001 Collins Avenue. Mats were placed on the cleared surface, and then the special competition sand and fibers were brought in to replicate normal equestrian conditions.
Brash, a native of Peebles, Scotland, and the world’s top-ranked rider in 2013 and 2014, said he rode his horses here earlier this week and was more than satisfied with the results.
“These are five-star shows, and the conditions have to be five-star as well,” said Brash, who began riding horses at age 7 and show-jumping at 10. “Spectators will see the best horse-and-rider combinations from all around the world.”
Each rider is allowed to bring two horses, and, for Brash, he chose his proven star, Hello Sanctos, as well as Hello Forever, a 9-year-old gelding he thinks is on the cusp of stardom.
Though he has seen elite riders from ages 16 to 65, the prime years for horses, Brash said, are 11 to 14.
Both of his horses flew from England to Belgium and then to Miami, and Brash said they did “fantastic” in terms of the travel.
“Hello Forever, at some of the venues, he gets a little stressed,” Brash said. “I’m sure by next year, once has been through it more, he will be great.”
The connection between rider and horse is just about everything in this sport.
Unlike other sports where an athlete may use an inanimate object such as a bat, racket, club and/or a ball, riders are partnering with a living creature and are subject to the horse’s moods, fears and anxieties.
That’s why Brash feels so comfortable atop Hello Sanctos. Their bond is strong and getting stronger.
“We won the Olympic gold together, and, since then, our partnership has grown even more,” Brash said. “We fully understand each other, 100 percent.”
Brash rode Hello Sanctos Thursday morning and will ride Hello Forever on Friday, “saving” his top horse for Saturday’s main event.
But how will he know if Hello Sanctos is ready to perform at his best?
Brash, who plans on competing in the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, said part of his job is being a horse psychologist. And after nearly five years together, he knows Hello Sanctos well.
“It’s a feeling,” he said. “If he’s tense, then he needs to do more work [pre-competition]. But if I see that he is relaxed and jumping well, then he’s ready.”