The sport of show jumping has been watching the rising career of Sunday’s $216,000 Longines FEI World Cup Jumping Wellington CSI3*-W winner, Nayel Nassar, with great interest. At only 25, some have called Nayel as a breakout star. But to our eyes, a more accurate description might be a stealthy tour-de-force.
Upon closer inspection, you’ll find that Nayel’s foundations in riding are linked to some of the most successful athletes in show jumping. His resume boats numerous international successes and, according to Nayel, the opportunities he’s had in the sport so early in his career still feel surreal.
What made this weekend’s victory at the Palm Beach Masters even more memorable was the fact that Nayel beat out his former mentor, Laura Kraut, for the class’s top honors. Kraut, who would finish second, commented that even when he was a student of hers almost five years ago, she knew how gifted Nayel was. “I thought he was one of the most talented young riders to come along in awhile,” Kraut said at Sunday’s press conference.
When speaking with Nayel about his success, the humble and soft-spoken young professional gives all the credit to his horses and speaks with gratitude to the people, including Kraut, who have helped him along his journey.
“[Laura taught me to] just believe. Even in my first grand prix year, she really gave me confidence to try and win the classes and that really stuck with me. I’ve always been competitive, but it’s one thing to do it at 1.30m-1.40m, and another to do it when you’re jumping 1.60m. She gave me a lot of confidence, told me how talented a rider I was, and to just keep riding with feeling.”
It’s pretty clear we’ll be hearing more from Nayel Nassar in the months to come. But if you’re just getting to know him, here are 12 facts that may surprise you:
- Nayel was born in Chicago, Illinois and raised in Kuwait, where he started riding at age five.
- His parents put him in a lot of sports as a kid: football, basketball, volleyball, and tennis, but Nayel says that riding was the one that stuck. “Once you catch the horse bug, it’s hard to kick it,” he’s said.
- Nayel’s brother rode horses for a time but stopped soon after he started college. Other members of Nayel’s family run an architecture and interior design firm in Kuwait.
- Sunday’s winner is fluent in Arabic, English, French, and German.
- He studied Economics, Management at Stanford University in California, where he also rode on the equestrian team.
- Ludger Beerbaum is a rider that Nayel deeply respects and admires.
- Marcus Beerbaum (whom Nayel trained with in Germany during the summer while he was living in Kuwait), Laura Kraut, and Dutch and Belgian Olympian Jos Lansink have all had a role in shaping his career.
- German show jumper Jorg Naeve is another of Nayel’s influences. “I rode with Jorg when I was over in Europe. I lived there for two years. He was my trainer and he does a lot of business with Laura. I asked him if he knew of anyone on the East Coast at the time and he put us in touch and Laura was kind enough to take me under her wing that year. That was my first grand prix year. It was great to have someone like her around. It’s extra special to be standing next to her today on the podium. Especially being ahead of her in the standings—that’s really incredible.”
- At the 2013 World Cup Qualifying Grand Prix in Thermal, California, Nayal shared first prize with Tiffany Sullivan after agreeing not to compete for the title in a jump off.
- In 2012, Nayal won the Artisan Farms Young Rider Grand Prix Series at the Winter Equestrian Festival. That same year, he qualified for the London Olympics as a reserve rider for Egypt.
- In 2013, Nayel won the Zoetis $1 Million Grand Prix at HITS Saugerties in New York aboard Lordan.
- When Nayel isn’t winning World Cup qualifiers, he operates a small training and sales business near San Diego, California. “I want to focus on my own riding now that I’m younger. I have a couple of clients that I teach and some horses that I buy and sell—mostly I just focus on the sport. Especially now that I have Lordan and a couple of other good horses. That’s really the priority for me.”
Photography by Erin Gilmore for Noelle Floyd Style.