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September 13, 2011

How To Scare An Olympic Show Jumper

Swiss show jumper Markus Fuchs (right) was all smiles before setting out with the Hillsboro Hounds as a guest of Lee Ann (left) and Orrin Ingram. But his smile quickly turned into a look of terror as the action unfolded. Photo by Bill Keller.

What makes international show jumper Markus Fuchs break out into a cold sweat? Is it an enormous oxer? Or a towering vertical?

Nope. It’s a bit of a slope.

Fuchs, who has represented Switzerland at five Olympic Games and won the FEI Show Jumping World Cup Final in 2001, enjoyed a day out hunting on Oct. 2, 2010, with the Hillsboro Hounds (Tenn.) Well, perhaps the term “enjoyed” is an exaggeration.

“We were galloping along and headed down a hill,” said Hillsboro MFH Orrin Ingram, who hosted Fuchs for the day. “I looked back, and Markus was as white as a sheet. I’d like to think he was smiling, but really, I think it was more of a panicked grimace.”

“I was quite scared, to be honest,” admitted Fuchs, who helped the Swiss team earn silver in the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games and rode his most famous mount, Tinka’s Boy, to the top of the 2001 FEI World Cup Final. “Show jumpers, when we go out and ride in the field, as soon as it goes a little bit downhill, we go back to the walk and go carefully. But foxhunters canter down really big hills. And they go fast!

“I was very impressed with the courage of all these people. A couple of the riders didn’t look so secure in the saddle, but they go downhill at unbelievable speeds,” Fuchs said.

Fuchs was in the country for the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games (Ky.), where he served as the coach of the Italian team. He retired from competition in the summer of 2009 and signed a three-year contract to coach the Italian show jumping team. The Ingram family, of Franklin, Tenn., has bought horses from Fuchs, and he occasionally teaches their resident trainer, Blythe Marano. So, when Fuchs was in town visiting, Ingram offered him a day behind the hounds.

“I asked if he’d ever been foxhunting, and he said no. I asked if he’d like to try, and he said, ‘I’m game for anything,’ ” Ingram said.

The Hillsboro Hounds were still in their cubbing season, so Fuchs didn’t see all that much action. “We had a short coyote run. We got to gallop a little bit, and that’s where he found there’s a different gear he’s not used to going in. He’s used to going fast, but it’s different when it’s on flat ground,” Ingram said.

Fuchs, 56, rode a horse of Ingram’s with a quintessentially American name: John Wayne. The chestnut gelding is a foxhunting veteran and stoically carried the wide-eyed Swissman with aplomb. They even jumped a few coops, where Fuchs felt more at home than hurtling downhill.

Ingram was amused by Fuchs’ consternation at undulating terrain but didn’t blame him. “I’d feel the same way galloping up to a 5'3" oxer as he did galloping down a really steep hill. I was totally comfortable galloping down the hill and didn’t think anything of it,” Ingram said.

There isn’t much, if any, foxhunting in Switzerland. There is a small drag hunt near Zurich every year, but the Swiss don’t have a tradition of riding to hounds. Fuchs spoke of the legendary Irishman Eddie Macken, who was as daring and dashing over Irish banks out hunting as he was in the show jumping ring, with admiration in his voice. And he didn’t rule out another day behind hounds.

“Maybe I’d take a little whiskey first next time, though,” he said.

Did You Know?

“Fuchs” means “fox” in German.

If you enjoyed this article and would like to read more like it, consider subscribing. The original version of "How To Scare An Olympic Show Jumper" ran in the Sept. 5, 2011, Foxhunting issue. Check out the table of contents to see what great stories are in the magazine this week.

 

 
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