When Nayel Nassar first laid eyes on Lordan, his partner in winning the $100,000 Longines FEI World Cup Jumping™ Thermal on Saturday, it was a cold December day in Hungary. Lordan was only six at the time, but Nayel saw something special in the diminutive Hanoverian gelding.

Eight years later, Nayel has posted some major results with Lordan (Lordanos x Landor S) and knows the horse like the back of his hand. In chatting with Nayel, however, I could hear the excitement in the 27-year-old rider’s voice, and it’s obvious that even a long partnership like theirs is nothing like a stale marriage. Here’s why.

1. They still surprise each other.

Sometimes he’ll surprise me with his temperament that day,” Nayel, who represents Egypt, explained. “Sometimes he’ll be a bit more fresh or lazy, and it’s all about trying to get him in the right gear for the ring. I’ve learned when to carry a whip and when not to. He does surprise me by how good he is sometimes, obviously in show jumping there are a lot of downs too, and there are times he surprises me because he’s not as good. And when that happens, we look into his preparation and his physical state to find out what we can do to get better.”

2. They travel the world together.

While Nayel calls San Diego his home base, he’s all over the map – usually with Lordan in tow.

“I bounce around a lot. We’ll be in San Diego for a few months, Florida for a few months, and Europe too. And of course for competitions, we go all over the world.”

3. Nayel learns from the best to be a better pilot for Lordan.

Nayel based with Belgian Olympic show jumper Gregory Wathelet for three months at the end of 2017, where he was able to get feedback from one of the best riders in the world.

“He’s a rider I really look up to. It was extremely having him look at my horses from the ground and give me his perspective, and he was great to bounce ideas off of. I’m hoping to go back this summer. I got a lot of confirmation from Gregory, which was helpful as a young professional. It gave me a good sense that I’m on the right track.”

4. They’ve got their warm-up routine down to a science.

And it obviously works, since they beat out veterans like Beezie Madden and Richard Spooner in Saturday’s big class.

We jump three or four verticals, up to 1.40m max. Then two or three little oxers, progressively wider each time. Then we put a boot on –his boot is not a pressure boot or weighted boot. His boot is just a normal hind boot for protection. We’ve never had to go to a pressure boot or anything like that with him. Then we jump two or three bigger oxers. After that, I like to jump maybe one more vertical to get his eye up, and then we go in the ring! If we get a light touch (on the rail of the last warmup fence) that’s great, but he doesn’t usually touch fences in the warm up ring. That’s the routine. That’s been our routine for the last five or six years, since he started jumping grand prixs.”

5. Lordan’s short but quick stride is still a thrill to ride.

Lordan is notably shorter-strided than most other horses in any given class, but Nayel has learned to use it to his advantage.

“I walk my courses in meters which is different than most people here but that’s how I learned to walk over in Europe, and so I have kind of a ‘Lordan conversion chart’ in my head where I know, ‘Okay here it’s feasible to put in another stride because there’s enough space between fences,’ or ‘No this is a little too tight,’” Nayel explained.

“He has incredible foot speed. He ends up doing more strides over a whole course than most horses, but he often ends up being a second or two faster than them. It makes no sense in my head, but I’ve learned to trust just how quickly he turns and how fast he eats up the floor.”

6. Lordan has learned to read Nayel’s mind (almost).

I just have to think about where I want to go, and he goes there. There are a lot of horses that learn to read the course over time and anticipate where they’re going, and sometimes that works to your disadvantage because they cut the turn a little early or they turn over the fence and have it down. But we have a strong partnership to be able to go fast over big courses.”

Photo credits: FEI / Glen Burgess, and Erin Gilmore for NF Style.