“My life has been built around the horse” Michel Darioly interview

For more than 25 years, Michel Darioly has been organ­izing horse shows in the Cantons of Valais and Vaud and in France. During 19 years under his direction, until Summer 2022, the Verbier International Showjumping Competition has acquired a reputation that attracts the elite of world riders. A consummate networker, he has devel­oped a firm friendship with Véronique, Patrick and Michael Fel­lay, of the VFP real estate agency, loyal sponsor of the competition. At almost 60 years of age, the man who was named “businessman of the year” in 2011 has lost none of his energy.

Have horses always been a passion?

I’ve been working with horses since I was 15 when I got kicked out of school. At the time, two things interested me, horses and girls, neither of which was compatible with my studies. I was lucky to have farming parents who owned a large farm and horses. I started to take an interest in horse shows and to participate as a junior while working on the farm. Quite quickly, I bought the stables and their facilities from my family. A few years later, I built a new arena and took over a horse business that belonged to my father. At the same time, more than 25 years ago, I began organizing horse shows and this became my main activity. First Sion, then Crans-Montana, after which I took over the Verbier event. I also ran Villars for five years as well as the first year of the Megève competition.

It is now 29 years that I have been managing the riding school in the city of Sion and this summer I sold the one in Martigny which belonged to me. I also gave lessons and trained riders, but now I only coach my 13-year-old daughter, Lou.

What place does the horse occupy in your life?

The horse has always been the at the heart of my life. Respect for, knowledge and love of the horse are essential. This has been the basis of my whole life. Obviously, it has to be developed within a practical, business environment. It brings a lot of happiness, but also some disappointments. I love horses, talking to and caressing them, and I have the impression that when I touch them they calm down and so do I.

The competition event and the teaching followed which were very important, together with the whole commercial side involving identifying suitable horses, working with them and finally selling them.

How was the Verbier Showjumping Competition born?

It was founded more than 27 years ago by two enthusiasts, Cédric Bruchez and his sister Sophie, who first made the competition famous. It was subsequently managed by Sylvain Théodoloz for six years, a period during which he was to build his reputation. Then my committee and I took it over for the next 19 years. Today, the event has grown enormously with a budget of 1.2 million and now ranking as an international competition.

Picture : Jumping international of Verbier

What makes the Competition special?

Knowing how to create event atmosphere and conviviality is my trademark. 90% of spectators do not come from horse riding circles. People are there for all kinds of reasons, for the animals, the setting, or for social or business meetings. Sometimes, very relaxed and happy at the end of the day, friends say to me: “It was great, but it’s a shame there were no horses today”. They didn’t watch a single horse go by. But I don’t mind, it shows we are attracting other types of customers. This is the case with all my competitions, but especially in Verbier where everyone mixes well with each other.

The competition is also classified according to the riders participating. Verbier is a three-star international jumping event (CSI). The number of stars relates to the prize money, and normally elite riders participate in four- and five-star events. However, we still manage to attract Olympic, world and European champions thanks to the incomparable atmosphere of our competition.

What are the economic benefits?

A few years ago, a study was carried out by the Valais School of Management (HEG) which estimated the Verbier event’s direct impact at six million francs. I have an easier way to see if the contest was a success or not – the glass dumpster! If it overflows, it means that there has been a lot of mingling and conviviality.

Is a local vision an important element in the organization of Jumping?

It’s essential. We must involve the people of the region, the traders. Everyone should feel proud and part of Jumping. Out of a 1.2 million budget, 480,000 francs comprise subsidies from the Municipality, the Loterie Romande, the Valais Sports Fund and the Department of Economy and Training. The rest comes from private and local sponsorship. The two most important sponsors are Coolmore and the Polli family. Then there are many local companies in the Bagnes area including the VFP agency, and private individuals.

What is Verbier’s place in your heart?

Organizing the competition is a privilege. It is a lot of work and very complex, especially in terms of the ever more demanding standards. But working with the Bagnes locals and sharing their friendship is a privilege, as is having this extraordinary site for the competition. On this subject, I remember an anecdote that dates back to times before I took over the event. In those days, the trials started at 7 a.m. I was sitting on a bench with Bertrand Darier, who was a good national rider, and he said to me: “You see, it is worth coming here just to see this view!”

However, the organization of the competition is complicated. Space is limited, we hardly know where to put the stables. Over the past 19 years, except for the competition arena itself, lay-out plans have had to be changed many times, but the priority must remain the horse and the conditions of its participation.

What are the resort’s essential requirements?

All the restaurants are my friends. For example, the “Table d’Adrien” has an even more stunning view of the valley than the one seen from the horse show. “Le Dahu” run by Claude-Alain Besse and Carol Walpen, “A la Grange” run by Thierry and Theresa Corthay and many others offer their own special hospitality. Verbier is a place where you feel at home.

Verbier and its surroundings provide spectacular walks and visitor attractions.

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