When Daniel Deusser rode under the bridge and into the expansive International Arena aboard the 10-year-old Hidalgo SX for the FEI 5* 1.45-meter, the German rider sported an item that no other competitor could claim: a Longines armband.

The small piece of cloth wrapped around the show jumper’s right arm holds great significance: Deusser, who has traveled back and forth to Wellington this winter, is used to being at the top of the rankings list, holding the number one spot through March of this year.

“The feeling is really nice,” said Deusser, 35. “It tells you that, in the past year, you were the one with most of the results, and it means that all the work and all the effort you put in, somehow it was right to do that. It’s the result of a very good team around me, and that makes you proud and also motivates you to keep on going like that.”

Deusser, who is based at Stephex Stables in Brussels, Belgium, has been a regular visitor to Wellington after spending six years away from 2007 to 2013. This year, he brought with him a string of three horses—Hildalgo SX, the up-and-coming 9-year-old De Flipper, and his 2014 FEI World Cup Finals Champion, Cornet d’Amour—whom he’s competed while commuting back and forth to other competitions in Europe, including CSI5* Hong Kong and Doha. After the circuit ends, he will pursue the Global Champions Tour, with a return to South Florida for the Miami Beach leg in April.

“Things are very good so far for my horses,” Deusser said. “Cornet d’Amour just comes back in the top spot. He had a little injury last year, and he came back, and he jumped in Europe in a couple of smaller classes, and he jumped his first grand prix back here two weeks ago (the CSI4* $380,000 Suncast Grand Prix). He was fifth, so I’m very happy with that.”

While Cornet d’Amour and Hidalgo have jumped in international rankings classes, Deusser has so far utilized the national classes for the 9-year-old De Flipper, but he hopes to move the horse up by circuit’s end.

“It was really good for him to change the rings around here,” Deusser said. “Two weeks ago, I stepped him up into the 1.40-meter classes, and he jumped two clear rounds. I’m going to try to ride him in the International classes at [WEF 11]. I have one more show here.”

“It’s difficult to step horses up in Europe,” he added. “If you go to a five-star or a four-star with only two or three horses, it’s very difficult. Here, you can combine the five-star together with some national classes in different arenas. For that horse, I didn’t have too many chances to take him to a show, and if I took him [in Europe], I’d probably have to start him in a 1.45-meter class. Here, in between [five-star classes], you can ride 1.35-meter and 1.40-meter classes.”

Deusser joined the powerhouse Stephex Stable operation in 2012. He’s ridden Cornet d’Amour—who finished third and last year’s World Cup Finals in Göteborg and jumped at the 2014 World Equestrian Games—for those same five years. Lengthy as that is in terms of professional and horse/rider partnerships, there’s another relationship Deusser has that eclipses both of those. He rides in an Amerigo saddle, and has done so for nearly a decade.

“I met [Amerigo designer] Peter Menet during my time at Stal Tops, and he introduced me to his saddles, and the way he explained everything to me was very logical,” Deusser said.

Amerigo saddles are handmade in Italy and can be customized to fit the needs of both horse and rider. When Deusser has customized his saddles, he has worked with Menet, who shapes the saddle trees with his Amerigo Measurement System. The system records each horse and rider’s measurements to create a precisely fitting saddle. The saddles are also equipped with wool flocked independent panels, produced individually by hand, and can be made with different levels of volume to suit the needs of a particular horse.

“The saddles are very good on the horses’ backs, and [Menet] is very engaged in his job,” Deusser said. “Whenever you have a horse that is not 100 percent on both sides—a little bit long or a little bit short—he always makes a saddle fit very well on the horse.”

What other customizations has Deusser employed in his saddles? He told us:

  • Deusser rides in a seat with a different type of leather from the standard. 

“[It’s] a little more comfortable and a little softer,” he says. “Compared to saddles I had before, I think [Amerigo’s] are really soft,” he said. “The seat itself is just so soft. That’s really important for me, because I sit nearly all day in the saddle.”

“The horses feel comfortable, and I really like to ride in the saddles,” he added. “I’ve tried horses in between in other saddles, which I felt quite comfortable in, but every time I came back to Amerigo, and I was sitting in my own saddle again, and I was like, ‘That’s much better!’”

  • Deusser’s saddles are equipped with medium blocks in front and behind his leg.

“My seat is similar in all the saddles,” Deusser said. “I like medium blocks in front and behind, just because my legs are very long, and I get a little bit of grip in the saddle so that my legs are not flying around too much.”

  • Any other customizations Deusser seeks are to fit the different horses in his stable.

As horses and develop, he can also have his horses refitted and compare their builds with measurements from previous years.

“If you have a whole stable full of horses, you always have different horses—some are a little bit wider, some are a little bit more narrow, some have longer backs or shorter backs,” he explained. “What I like is that whenever they come to see a horse, they measure the back. They come with a big paper, and the mark the back of the horse on the paper. It’s good, because when you see the horse a year later, you can compare it to see if something has changed or stayed the same. Maybe [we] even change the saddle after one year, because the horse has developed in the right way, and we have to put another saddle on.”

While competing in the biggest classes at the most competitive shows in the world, Deusser is grateful he can rely on Amerigo as a part of his team.

“In all these years, we’ve really developed a friendship,” he said. “These are nice people—friends—who have a very good product for the horse and rider.”