Canada’s Christopher Surbey is making his World Cup Final debut this year, continuing what has been a year of firsts on the international stage as he embarks on a journey to the sport’s upper echelons.
There wasn’t a time Chris Surbey wasn’t interested in horses. As a youngster, Surbey regularly gawked out the window when passing by horses on family road trips. Then, after a few rides, Surbey had caught the horse bug. “I would watch everything I could find that was horse related on TV, and during the tournament season I would beg my Dad to drive us down so we could watch,” says Surbey, “Eventually the occasional trail ride turned into weekly lessons, which turned into 2 lessons per week, which became a half-lease, and it was a slippery slope from there!”
The slippery slope began with Gaia Parker, who trained Surbey from the initial stages of conquering cross-rails up to his early Grand Prix days. Surbey then moved to Ottawa where he sought the guidance of Bob and Jill Henselwood at Juniper Farms. “My time at Juniper really shaped me into the rider that I am today. Jill’s system really worked for me and I made a lot of progress with her guidance. To this day, I count Jill as one of my mentors and still look to her for feedback and direction for overcoming obstacles encountered in daily training or her assessment of my rounds in the ring,” Surbey says of his mentor.
Though Surbey has spent his career in the jumper ring, he believes strongly in dressage training for his jumpers and regularly consults with dressage trainer Ruth Koch. “I frequently rely on Ruth to meet me wherever I am with my horses to help get them going better on the flat. She is always willing to suggest a new way to approach a situation or explain an exercise that she thinks would be helpful for a particular horse.”
While Surbey appreciates the finesse of dressage, when he’s in the jumper ring there’s one word Surbey uses to describe his riding style: bold. “I have always had a really competitive personality and I really love horses that have that same kind of fighting spirit,” says Surbey.
That bold style was recognized by Spruce Meadows staff and for 2.5 years Surbey has been honored to ride for the revered organization. “To be able to represent Spruce Meadows on the international stage has been an amazing experience! The team there has been behind me 100% and has provided me with many opportunities, at home and abroad, that have really taken my career to the next level. I am lucky to have the support of not only the horse program, but also friends and colleagues involved in many different facets of Spruce Meadows.”
In 2016 Surbey had the opportunity to represent Canada at his first Nations Cup appearance in Slovakia. “The experience of riding on the Canadian team was really surreal and something I had always dreamed of doing. I was really lucky to have such a capable horse in Quetchup de la Roque so was able to ride the Nation’s Cup with total confidence. I felt like our entire team in Slovakia did a great job of supporting one another which made the couple of weeks there a lot of fun.”
Since the Nations Cup, Surbey has spent an increasing amount of time gaining international experience in Europe, but his biggest win to date remains at home. “For me, winning my first competition in the international ring in Calgary was very special! It was the derby class, which has a lot of history behind it at Spruce Meadows, and it was really an adrenaline rush to compete in and come out on top. Quetchup was really on it that day and made my job very easy,” said Surbey.
Surbey is refreshingly honest, admitting that the recent step up to 1.60m, 5 star competitions is not a small one. “I would say that moving up to the 5* level comes with a (sometimes) very sharp learning curve! I was fortunate to be able to compete quite a bit at this level during 2016 and into this year and have really learned a lot about the things that I do well and other missing elements that we have been able to identify and work to improve on.”
When it comes to discussing his top horses, it’s evident that Surbey has a soft spot for each of them not as only as competitors, but as individual characters. His ride for Omaha, Chalacorada – affectionaly known as Chocolate – is Surbey’s top horse at the moment. “She has an incredible character, a lot of talent, and some quirks that keep things interesting!” says Surbey of Chalacorada, “She really doesn’t like to be ridden in a bit so I have had to adapt to jumping her in a hackamore which has taken some practice to get a feel for it. She has tremendous blood and really gives 100% every time that we go in the ring.”
His other top mounts have included Arezzo, who Surbey describes as a “gentle giant,” and Carnaval, who the Canadian calls the barn’s “comic relief” and likens to an overgrown pony. Another of Surbey’s mounts, Cavarola, has recently stepped up to the 1.50/1.55m level and Surbey has high hopes for her. Of course there’s the aforementioned Quetchup de la Roque who will forever hold a place in Surbey’s heart. “Quetchup is one of our most special horses and will always have a place as one of my all time favorites. She has her own way of going and is a total fighter in the ring! She gives it her all every time out and it is just so cool to ride a horse with a heart as big as hers.”
Surbey and Chalacorada will surely be thrilling to watch as they boldly take on their biggest test to date in Omaha.
By Ashley Fairfield-Remeza