“I always had this kind of curiosity for animals and horses,” he explained. “Every time I tried a different sport, I always came back to riding. One day, I got the okay from my parents to start, and I’ve never stopped since.”
His talent apparent, it didn’t take long to gain his family’s confidence, and last year, the then 18-year-old finished 10th individually at the 2017 FEI European Jumping Championships for Juniors.
The Swiss Junior Champion of 2015 and 2016, he also rides for the legendary Fuchs family in Zurich. Thomas Fuchs represented Switzerland at the 1992 Olympic Games, while Markus Fuchs is a veteran of the 2000 Games and was chef d’equipe of the Swiss team at the 2012 Games in London.
Martin Fuchs, 25 and Thomas’ son, is an international show jumper in his own right, with wins already at the five-star level.
“In the almost-a-year that I’ve been here, I’ve really learned a lot,” Schmitz said. “I wouldn’t have thought I’d learn so much in such a short time.”
Schmitz’s top mount is Cortino 46, an 11-year-old Holsteiner gelding by Coriano, owned by his family, whom Schmitz rode at the last three European Championships.
He also owns the 15-year-old Dutch Warmblood mare Worissa’s Whinny and rides several others for the Fuchs family.
“I have the privilege of owning my top horse, which wasn’t always the case,” Schmitz said.
“I got Cortino when he was seven, and I was 14. Now he’s 11, and he’s brought me all the way up the ranks. It’s a nice story.”
Schmitz hopes he can keep climbing. He aims to return to the FEI European Championships as a Young Rider in 2018 and put forth a competitive performance.
While he has competed successfully in three-star ranking classes, he hopes to also step up to compete in three-star grand prix events this year.
Long-term, he desires to represent his country on the world’s biggest stages.
“I plan to let myself dream a bit still and see how far I could go,” he said. “The Olympics are the biggest dream for any athlete in any discipline.
“I’d be just as happy if I’m able to win a Grand Slam or a grand prix like this. The World Equestrian Games are another. If you win that, you’re definitely one of the best riders ever.”
Schmitz successfully juggles his riding career with his university studies at the Swiss Federal Polytechnic School of Zürich, where he is pursuing a degree in engineering.
Traveling to shows on the weekends - even coming to participate in the 2018 FEI Sports Forum straight from competition before promptly heading back for class - he is aware of the wealth of talent around him and excited for what the future holds.
After all, in the sport of Jumping, riders as young as 18-year-old Reed Kessler (USA) have competed for Olympic glory, with Lucy Davis (USA) bringing home a team silver medal from Rio (BRA) at 23. Last year’s young rider champion at the European Championships was a fellow Swiss rider, Bryan Balsiger.
“You see lots of young talented riders when you are at these events,” Schmitz said. “Sometimes you think, (watching pony and child riders), ‘Did I ride this well when I was [their] age?’”