Bryan Balsiger, Swiss precision
Since his debut, the young 21-year-old Bryan Balsiger has impressed everyone with his talent. His fine riding, precision and speed have earned him regular comparisons with Steve Guerdat, and his first appearances at the highest level since late 2018 have only confirmed his potential. With Clouzot de Lassus, the Neuchâtel rider is constantly notching up top performances: European Young Riders Champion in 2017, Elite Swiss Champion in 2018, the pair was part of the winning team in the La Baule Nations Cup at the beginning of May, and he almost won the Grand Prix in St. Gallen. Let’s meet this humble and hardworking young rider, who divides his days between Olivier de Coulon's stable and the family stables where he works alongside his brother Ken and his father Thomas.
How did you begin riding?
Bryan Balsiger: My parents used to run the Ecurie de Cudret in Corcelles, overlooking Neuchâtel. My father was riding at the national level in Switzerland. So, for me, I started as soon as I was able to ride a pony. I especially wanted to copy my parents and my brother Ken. I started riding regularly at 4 years old, but it was at the age of 7 that I really got hooked and started training every day. My first pony was from Wales, where my father lived for several years after a stint in Ireland. While we were visiting a farm he had worked at during his British stay, I tried a pony. That's the day I jumped my first cavaletti. The following week, my father brought him to Switzerland. His name was Pinto. I remember falling off every day but getting back in the saddle every time! I got my riding license at 8 years old.
Ken and Bryan Balsiger (in the saddle) with their pony Mickaël
Did you always know you wanted to be a professional rider?
B.B.: No, I think all I was interested in at first was just competing with my brother! I wasn't looking to the future at all. In fact, the real turning point was when I was 11, accompanying my brother to the European Children's Championships. Jürg Notz (a famous Swiss horse dealer based in Kerzers), then national team coach, said to me: "Do you ride? Next year, I want you to be on the team." In one year, I completed my riding license, my first competitions and... I was selected to be part of the team at the European Championships. That's how it all started.
Then you participated in several European Championships…
B.B.: I did my first Children's Championships in 2009 in Moorsele, then there was Jardy in 2010 and I got my first Top 10 placing at the European Children's Championships in 2011 in Comporta. I then took part in the European juniors in 2015 and finished with an individual 7th place. My first medal was in 2016 in Millstreet: we won the Team Bronze and I was 7th again in the individual event. Then there was the European Young Riders Champion title in 2017 in Samorin with Clouzot.
During this time, you continued studying as well…
B.B.: I knew early on that I wanted to ride as a profession. However, my parents insisted that I have a solid education. Therefore, I did an equestrian apprenticeship, while at the same time completing a High School diploma. I finished my diploma three years ago.
Ken, Thomas and Bryan Balsiger in the family facilities of Cudret
Have you always trained with your father?
B.B.: Yes, he has always coached me. I also take dressage lessons with Charles Froidevaux, who also entrusted me with two horses who I compete at Grand Prix nationally. My father has always followed us, both Ken and me. And he continues to do so. He comes twice a week to train me in Saint-Blaise with the horses entrusted to me by Olivier De Coulon.
Is your father still competing?
B.B.: No, not anymore. He decided to end his sporting career when Ken and I were younger: he wanted us to have good horses to learn with. It was when we started to jump 140-145cm that he slowed down: we would’ve needed a lot of horses if all three of us rode at that level. He doesn’t regret his choice apparently. Many in the Swiss equestrian world called him crazy at the time, because he gave his children his horses, when he’d never had ones that good before. But he was firmly convinced that we would learn better if we had good horses available to us. Thanks to that sacrifice, I was able to ride his mare Steffi Kaff for the Children's events. With horses that had far more experience than we did, we were able to progress well. Ken and I were very lucky to be able to ride his horses and benefit from his great supervision.
Bryan and his mother, Patricia, in 2011
Is your mother still involved in your career also?
B.B.: Yes. Since she is more focused on dressage, she has been teaching me on the flat for a long time. She followed me to all my competitions. Even if now she can't accompany me everywhere, she follows my results from a distance and always tries to come on site regularly. She's very important in my life. She supports me and I am grateful to her for building all the facilities in Corcelles with my father. She also manages the administrative side for me and as she now works at the Swiss Equestrian Federation, she can help me with my registrations..
Bryan Balsiger and Steffi Kaff at the 2010 European Children's Championships in Jardy
Tell us about the horses that impacted you before Clouzot's arrival.
B.B.: So, there was Steffi Kaff with whom I won my first Junior Grand Prix in Chevenez in 2011. Then there was Petit Loup, another of my father's horses, with whom I took part in my first national Grand Prix. He gave me a lot of experience. There was also Nohjy, a true heart-horse. I had my best junior years with him, and thanks to him, I won my first Young Riders medal. Then Clouzot arrived, of course.
To be continued tomorrow...