Equestrian sports, a symbol of ultimate luxury lifestyle, for centuries

“Let others play at other things. The King of games is still the game of Kings.” Engraved on a stone tablet marking an early polo field in Northern Pakistan, this ancient message remains relevant today. One of the world’s first-recorded team sports, Polo now reaches the general public, but remains among the most elegant and prestigious sports in the world. Polo is just one of the many equestrian sports, some being included in the Olympics (dressage, three-day eventing and show jumping).

Horse sports such as chariot and riding races were part of the early Olympic games. Riding was first included in the 1900 Olympics and reappeared in 1912. Originally in the modern Olympics, only commissioned officers were allowed to compete. Beginning in 1952 rules were changed to allow civilians and women. Olympic equestrian events are one of two Olympic sports where women compete equally with men.

For centuries polo, eventing, jumping, endurance riding and other equestrian sports have been at the heart of the elite lifestyle. Although more accessible to the general public, especially from the point of view of attending, most equestrian sports are reserved for the most highly trained, pure breed horses and riders. Striving for perfection, few horse breeders and equestrian sports players make it to the top. The relationship between horses and humans has been and will remain unique and inspiring !

The world of luxury has long recognized the potential of association with equestrian sports, which draws on performance, elegance and perfection, as key defining elements. Whether directly involved in equestrian sports (i.e. Hermes, saddle maker), creating a common DNA (Rolex) or a means of excelling among piers (State of Qatar versus other Arabic countries) several international luxury brands have indeed mastered their ”connection” with the equestrian world. Probably one of the key denominators which luxury brands have identified in equestrian sports is EXCLUSIVITY, deriving from the fact that performance is always achieved by families, whether generation of horses or equestrian sports players.

Rolex is probably THE luxury brand with the most extensive involvement across the equestrian world. For instance, its association with Polo began over thirty years ago. Success on the polo fields is achieved only by those who, during the intensity of the match, deliver results with precision and seamless control, moving with a grace and elegance comparable to the intricate craftsmanship of a Rolex timepiece.

Such skill is evident in Rolex Testimonee Gonzalo Pieres Jr, one of today’s most accomplished
and proficient polo players. The holder of a 10 goal handicap on three continents, Pieres held
the highest rankings throughout the 2009 season. Aged 28, Pieres Jr. has already won the game’s
most prestigious title, the Argentine Polo Open Championship, twice, in 2008 and again in 2010.

In the same year, with his team Ellerstina, Pieres Jr. won all three tournaments in the Argentine Triple Crown – the Hurlingham Country Club Open Championship, the Tortugas Country Club Open Championship and the Argentine Polo Open Championship. This was Pieres Jr.’s first Triple Crown, but Ellerstina’s second, having accomplished this feat in 1994, with the help of Pieres Jr.’s father, Gonzalo Pieres Sr.

Rolex’s affiliation with polo extends beyond its finest Testimonees as the official sponsor of four of the most prestigious events on the international polo calendar: the Buenos Aires Jockey Club Open Championship (since 2005), the Tortugas Country Club Open Championship (since 2000), the Hurlingham Club Open Championship (since 1979) and the renowned Argentine Polo Open Championship (since 1979).

Held in Argentina, a nation passionate about polo, each of these championships attracts the world’s best players, whose ability to master the delicate balance between horse and rider is unrivalled. These four events are among the oldest tournaments in the sport, dating back to 1890 with the Hurlingham Club’s first match and 1893 with the start of the Argentine Polo Open Championship.

In 2011, Rolex consolidated its affiliation with polo by becoming the Official Timekeeper of the Asociación Argentina de Polo (AAP), the sport’s governing body. Rolex’s decision to associate itself with the governing body of the disciplines it sponsors reflects its commitment to the continued progression of each sport. Rolex‘s sponsorship of today’s most impressive polo events reflects the brand’s long-standing and continued commitment to excellence in horsemanship.

As the crown in equestrianism for over fifty years, Rolex is a major force at play behind the sport’s finest events, riders and organisations. Whether supporting challenges such as the competitive Rolex FEI World Cup Finals or maintaining tradition with the historic CHIO Aachen in Germany, Rolex has cultivated a privileged relationship with the elite world of equestrian sports.

Understanding the long-standing relationship between Rolex and Equestrianism requires a glimpse into the past. Rolex was founded by Hans Wilsdorf at the beginning of the 20th century, a time when the pocket watch was the norm. A visionary with an entrepreneurial spirit, Hans Wilsdorf understood the importance of providing an increasingly mobile public with an accurate wristwatch, a difficult challenge that he set out to overcome. In 1910, a Rolex watch was the first wristwatch in the world to receive a Swiss certificate of precision, granted by the Official Watch Rating Centre in Bienne.

Rolex’s support of equestrianism started with an alliance with show jumper Pat Smythe, who became the brand’s first equestrian ambassador in 1957. Since that fateful partnership, Rolex’s involvement in equitation has increased significantly.

Today, Rolex sponsors over 30 major international events in distinct disciplines. The annual Rolex FEI World Cup Final and the Rolex IJRC Top 10 Final are at the forefront of the preeminent jumping competitions, while the biennial European Championships, also sponsored by Rolex, bring together Europe’s best equestrian pairs.

Since 2002, Rolex has sponsored the FEI World Equestrian Games, the most prestigious equestrian competition in the world. This first-class event takes place every four years at a different venue, attracting the top riders in jumping, dressage, eventing, endurance, vaulting, driving, reining and para-equestrian sport, the eight disciplines officially recognized by the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI), the sport’s governing body. The next FEI World Equestrian Games will take place in Normandy, France in 2014. Rolex has also been Title Sponsor, since 2007, of the Western European League of the FEI World Cup, which includes annual indoor competitions from October to March.

Behind the scenes, Rolex participates in the development of equitation through its patronage of the FEI; the Rolex Rankings in jumping; the Rolex Grand Slam of Eventing – an award presented to the rider who wins consecutively at Rolex’s four star yearly events in Kentucky, Badminton and Burghley – and the Jumping Owners Club, an organization that brings together and supports the globe’s leading horse owners.

Rolex has also cultivated close relationships with equestrianism’s exceptional individuals, counting among its Testimonees Brazilian show jumper Rodrigo Pessoa, an Olympic and World Championship gold medallist; German rider of American origin Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum, the first woman to be ranked World No. 1 in jumping and three-time winner of the Rolex FEI World Cup Final; and Canada’s Eric Lamaze who won a gold medal in the individual show jumping event in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

In Eventing, Rolex supports British equestrian Zara Phillips, the individual champion in 2006 at the FEI World Equestrian Games in Aachen; and Britain’s Pippa Funnell, the first and only rider ever to have won the Rolex Grand Slam of Eventing. And in Dressage, Rolex Testimonee Isabell Werth – world record holder for most titles won in her discipline – has the unique honour of having represented Germany at four Olympic Games (1992, 1996, 2000 and 2008), winning team and individual medals at each.

Created in April 2010 by luxury French maison Hermès, the Saut Hermès jumping competition in Paris has been acknowledged as one the major international events. In organising the third edition of the event, in April, 2011 Hermès reasserted its desire to perpetuate the tradition of horse-riding competitions in the very heart of Paris at the Grand Palais, which hosted such events for more than half a century. Olympic Champion Eric Lamaze of Schomberg won Le Saut Hermès grand prize at the 2011 competition.

Hermès founder Thierry Hermès manufactured harnesses and won its first medal at the Universal Expo in Paris in 1867. In addition to harnesses the company began manufacturing saddles, and then every other type of equipment for riders and their horses.  The advent of the car and new lifestyles drove innovation and the company’s directors adapted the saddle-stitching and expertise of their craftsmen to leather goods. Hermès began creating luggage, bags, gloves, accessories, clothes, accompanied the changing lifestyle, created upholstery for cars and homes, or more recently even helicopters and boats, while never forgetting its origins as a harness and saddle manufacturer.For six generations, the horse has guided and driven the company forward at the rhythm of its steps. The saddle-making business, located in the heart of the workshops at 24, Faubourg Saint-Honoré, remains, more than ever, the reference profession. In 2010, Hermès, a pioneer in its field, launched the modular Talaris saddle, combining traditional craftsmanship with technology.

Prix de Diane in France, one of the most prestigious equestrian competitions in the world, probably one of the most glamorous too, was established in 1843, and it was originally restricted to horses born and bred in France. The annual event takes place in June and is organized on the prestigious Château de Chantilly 65 hectare estate, an impressive setting which is also home ot The Living Museum of the Horse, which is devoted to the preservation and development of equestrian traditions, together with a training centre. The event was sponsored by Revlon from 1977 to 1982 and by Hermès from 1983 to 2007. It was not sponsored from 2008 to 2010, and it was backed by Longines in 2011

With the occasion of its first sponsorship of Prix de Diane 2011 edition, luxury Swiss watchmaker Longines also awarded a Prize of Elegance “Mademoiselle Diane par Longines” (won by Valentine Simon) prize being given away by Longines brand Ambassador, Bollywood actress Aishwarya Rai. As part of the event busy social agenda, a gala dinner in the Château de Chantilly was organized, while the traditional lavish luxury picnic was organized in the famous gardens of the venue. A ”Boudoir du Diane” was also set up for ladies, for a last minute hair and make up fix as well as an exhibition of the most excentric ladies hats by designer Sophie Papiernick.

Popularly referred to as the “Arc”, PRIX DE L’ARC DE TRIOMPHE  it is the most prestigious horse race in Europe, and one of the most renowned international events in any sport. Many of its winners are subsequently regarded as champions, and its roll of honour features the most highly acclaimed horses It is currently the world’s second richest horse race on turf, after the Japan Cup, with a total value of prizes reaching 6,7 million euros (2011 edition).  A slogan of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, first used on a promotional poster in 2003, describes the event as “Ce n’est pas une course, c’est un monument” – “Not so much a race as a monument”.

This year’s Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe, the 90th edition of the prestigious competition took place on October 1st and 2nd at its traditional venue, the Longchamp stadium and was attended by over 50.000 people. This year’s edition as well as next year’s editions are sponsored by the State of Qatar, thus called Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, The State of Qatar has a long tradition of supporting equestrian sports, this December organizing in Doha, the 14th edition of the annual Qatar Arabian Horse Show, being the only country in the world for which such prestigious horse competitions are a governmental initiative.

Italian luxury house of GUCCI is among the latest international luxury brands to embrace the world of equestrianism, with the Gucci Masters  Jumping International CS5* competition, which have taken place in Paris, this year between 2-4 December. This is the third year, Gucci has sponsored the event, one of the most prestigious in the world of equestrian jumping. World number one and Olympic jumping champion Eric Lamaze and other world champions in jumping such as Kevin Staut and Philippe Le Jeune attended the recent Gucci Masters in Paris.

Oliver Petcu