Courrière goes international!

04 April 2021Author : Julien Counet

The homonyms have both been coming up in the equestrian world and rubbing shoulders with each other for many years. At times, the story can be quite funny, but the two men have each evolved in their own way in the equestrian field. One man’s talent led him to conquer the medal tables, the other has made a success of his stables against all odds, turning it into one of the most appreciated competition structures in Wallonia. Their relationship hasn’t changed much, as the first Gregory always uses the facilities of the second to train, but this time, it has been decided: the Gregory Wat(h)elet’s will unite for a wonderful project: the Jumping International of Courrière. The first edition will take place from June 2 to 6!

As the owner of La Sandry equestrian center, and a passionate breeder and rider, Gregory Watelet is a discreet man who knows what he wants, while also recognizing his limits: "I don't even remember our meeting with Gregory! He came to us with his dad when he was training with Hervé Daout. We were young at the time. I followed his rise like many people. He’s a talented and hard-working rider who deserves what he has today. Obviously, us having the same name and working in the same industry has led to some funny situations. I have been to a show where people thought the other one was going to show up. Today, I sometimes still receive congratulations for him on Facebook but it's rare. I've even received bills for him before. When that happens, I send them to him, and he takes care of it. Our relationship has always been good! For some time, I’ve had the idea that I wanted to organize an international competition, but I didn't feel up to doing it alone. I didn't feel strong enough. My dad had built some small stables that we have improved over time to our current structure that we intend to develop further soon. Today, I ride less myself. I’m a little less motivated because I have fewer horses capable of doing great events. We breed and train our horses, but it’s true that when I receive a good offer, I have often decided to sell in recent years, as I prefer to invest in our facilities. I’m always motivated to improve our infrastructure. One day, I proposed to Gregory that we join forces and launch an international business that we would lead, along with our partners in a project like this. I will focus more on the infrastructure side, while he would rather take care of the public relations side. Our goal is to come up with a long-term project and not just a one-off show. This year, given the situation, our goal is to succeed in organizing it anyway because we don't want to disappoint anyone... even though we’re continuing to follow the evolution of the health situation."

The multi-medalist was not lacking for things to do, but the project tempted him and he’s now very motivated by this new challenge: "When Gregory first told me about it, I took it as a joke... then I finally thought about it properly. We’re lacking beautiful events in Wallonia, even if just lately, but the Bornival Stud Farm and Welkenraedt municipality have started to do some genuinely nice things, which is only positive. I must admit that a project that would have the two Gregory Wat(h)elet’s tempted me. It's the kind of challenge I like. I already had lots of things to do, and I wasn't really bored. It's a bit of madness actually. At first, I didn't want to get involved in the organization of the event because it requires a lot of energy, and you do all that and people leave feeling unhappy. But I think that the Courrière facilities have the assets to offer up a different competition, with a sloping track that has a lake in the middle, set on a site that we can dress up very well. This is a change from the magnificent show infrastructure that we enjoy in Belgium, but they’re very much competition factories. I don't denigrate that; I also participate in it... but I would like to show that we can do other types of competitions even at this level... we’re hoping that we can make it evolve into a 3* later. I wouldn't have committed myself to an existing project, but here, creating this new project and being able to voice some of my own ideas is something I really like. Obviously, I would have preferred to launch this project in a more normal year... but that's not going to happen. Our goal is to launch the first edition so that we can gain some experience, even if we will be far from our final project set up! There will still have to be some relaxing of some of the current restrictions, but we are confident.

In the long term, our goal is to succeed in organizing a festive competition that will include regional finals, with the objective of attracting the public to see short events and shows. The objective is to make a "mini Liège" which is a competition that I have always liked, but to have it outdoors. However, from next year, the competition will move to the July-August holiday period. I have a lot of ideas for how it will evolve in the next few years. I don’t want a system where only the riders are funding the competition.

We’ll need sponsors to help us with our project. I want to stay true to my principles and values. I also want the winner of all events to be able to win back his or her entry fees, even in the smallest events and young horse events! For me, the classified riders of a ranking event must also recoup their investment; I find it aberrant when that is not the case... but since the FEI rules allow it, I understand that some organizers carry on doing it. However, we have set the smallest of the 2* events at 1.35m because I want it to remain true to the level. Those who want to do smaller events can participate in the 1*... but the riders must choose between 1* or 2*! Obviously, all these details that aren’t particularly visible are only possible thanks to the support of different partners, and it’s nice to see the support we have, even though obviously the health situation hasn’t allowed everyone to help us. This year, if we manage to make ends meet, it will already be a great success," explained Gregory Wathelet.

AuthorJulien Counet