Written by: Kim F. Miller

Egyptian rider out to put his homeland on the international show jumping map with World Cup debut.

Thumbnail for Young Guns: Nayel Nassar

Tish Quirk photo

When Nayel Nassar and his groom of now 10 years, Linda Algeborg, learned the Rolex World Cup Jumping Finals would be held in Gothenburg again in 2013, ‘We joked about going,’ says the 22-year-old Stanford University senior from Egypt. That was two years ago and Linda, being Swedish, loved the idea of watching Nayel compete in her home country.

With Robert Smith’s experienced former ride, the Darco grandson Raging Bull Vangelis S, Nayel led the North American West League with 94 points. Thus began preparations for that very show he and Linda once laughed about.

Last year, Nayel took three horses to Florida, where quarantine logistics made the WEF circuit a more feasible waypoint on their eventual journey to northern California. A rider throughout his youth in Kuwait, Nayel had debuted in Grand Prix three months prior to his trip abroad, in two- and three-star classes on the Arab circuit. “Naturally, there was a bit of a shock moving up to the four- and five-stars, and not only because the fences are higher but because you are competing against the best riders here.”

The shock became gentlemanly swag as Nayel logged strong Grand Prix placings and won the 2012 Artisan Farms Young Rider Grand Prix Series. As has become almost old hat for him now, he commuted back and forth from Stanford to Wellington each week to stay on the University’s rigorous track for the economics degree he’s pursuing. He could graduate this June, but at press time was considering taking the spring semester off to zero in on the World Cup Finals and the Mediterranean Games.

ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE

Summering at Spruce Meadows was a great Florida follow-up last year. When school resumed, Nayel and his horses settled in California. A November World Cup qualifier win in Burbank was the start to a consistently awesome season. Of his chances in the Finals, Nayel, of course, would love to win it, but considers getting through to the last day a reasonable goal. “At that point, really anything is possible.”

Second to Conrad Homfield’s big track at the HITS AIG Million Class at Thermal in mid-March, where Nayel and “Brutus” had a respectable two rails, Gothenburg will surely present the biggest track he’s seen so far. There’s that pressure, plus the considerable, but welcomed responsibility of making Egypt proud.

“It means a lot for me to represent my country, especially with how rough the political situation has been in Egypt for the last few years. There’s always added pressure when you are the only one raising your country’s flag, but it’s a great opportunity and I’m just trying to make Egypt proud. Personally, I like pressure as a rider, but the key is to treat each round like the last.”

STANFORD CARDINALS

Possibly adding a sense of normalcy to the Finals will be the familiar face of Lucy Davis, who earned the league’s third U.S. rider berth and is one of four Stanford Cardinals to do well in the rankings: Saer Coulter claimed the league’s sixth spot and Alec Lawler finished 20th.

So, what’s in the water at that 8,000-acre Palo Alto campus built on Leland Stanford’s former Standardbred breeding farm?

“We all get along really well, which is great,” Nayel explains of Stanford’s unique collection of young jumping stars. “We chat a lot about horses and we try to watch each other’s rounds. It’s nice to have friends to bounce things off of and it’s funny how we’ve all gotten progressively better since we’ve been there.”

The school has a successful equestrian team, which Nayel joined this past quarter even though his crazy schedule prevents him from competing for it. It’s a win/win because he gets a little saddle time during the week when his horses are at shows and the coach has an excellent hand when a team horse needs a tune-up.

THIRD PARTY PERSPECTIVE

Laura Kraut coached Nayel through the WEF last year, but since then he’s worked primarily on his own. “Being alone really teaches you to think for yourself and gives you a bit more leeway to try things out and learn more about yourself and your horses,” he observes. “If you are jumping Grand Prix, you shouldn’t need someone to hold your hand every step of the way.” At the same time he values a third party perspective. He consults with other riders regularly and plans to train with someone in Europe in the run up to Gothenburg.

Nayel’s folks run an architecture and interior design firm in Kuwait but they manage to attend a surprising number of his competitions. His brother, Sharaf, also rode through his youth and is looking to resume the sport now that he has graduated from the University of Southern California and is settled into a career in the Silicon Valley, close to Nayel. The family plans to purchase horse property in the Bay Area and may transfer their modest breeding program, currently in Germany, to the States. They hope to boost its profile considerably by collecting the 15-year-old Brutus after the World Cup.

Groom Linda is a virtual family member at this point. “She’s seen me progress from the 1.10m to the 1.60m and she is an integral piece in our success,” Nayel explains. “Once we set the Finals as our goal last summer, I could see she was getting more and more excited as the ribbons kept coming in the qualifiers. I’m just happy she gets to go to some nicer shows now that we are actually good enough!”

“Personally, I like pressure as a rider, but the key is to treat each round like the last.”