Maikel van der Vleuten & Eric van der Vleuten
Photography: GONZALO MACHADO
Maikel van der Vleuten, the first equestrian to be sponsored by Massimo Dutti, and his father, Eric van der Vleuten, the renowned jumping trainer, welcome us at their private estate in Someren, a town located in the south of the Netherlands offering optimal conditions for practising and enjoying equestrian sports.
ERIC VAN DER VLEUTEN has been working with horses his whole life. He has been a trade rider, competition rider, trainer, coach and dealer. A success story that has allowed Eric to build magnificent facilities in Someren (Holland), where he has been living with his family and, of course, with his horses for years.
Time gallops. What remains of young Eric today, who at the age of 14 decided to dedicate himself professionally to horse riding?
I started riding as a child for fun and when I finished school I decided I wanted to dedicate myself to it professionally. For two and a half years I was riding for Henk Noren and at 25 I decided to start my own stable.
Who is more important in the rider-horse partnership?
I think both are very important. All riders who now place high in the ranking are all very good; it is a match between the two. There are riders who don’t get great results with a horse, but that same horse with another rider does. The rapport between them is very important: the mentality and the type of riding.
I started riding as a child for fun and when I finished school I decided I wanted to dedicate myself to it professionally.
Experts say that there’s been a great morphological and genetic evolution in competition horses. Have these competing horses changed that much in recent years?
Of course. Nowadays tracks are becoming more technical and jumps are more delicate. We now see horses with more blood and that are warmer, very careful and strong. The horses of today have to have everything to win, as they participate in many competitions each year with a high technical level; so in addition to being fast, they also need many other qualities.
Before horses had to do very large jumps and nowadays they are more technical jumps, more delicate with the bar falling beforehand, so it is very important that the horse has a great capacity for reaction, can lengthen and shorten its legs very easily, something that is reflected in the horse breeding.
The competition schedule is very demanding and young riders dominate the World Ranking. How have equestrian sports changed?
Nowadays there are many more competitions; every weekend there is a 5*. A few years ago there was just one 5* per month. As there are more competitions there are many more riders, and young riders have the opportunity to be in important competitions and compete against the best riders, helping them to improve. This is what makes the level increase every day.
What goals does Eric van der Vleuten have for the 2018 season?
Right now my goals are focused on the GCL Madrid in Motion team. We’re going to try to get the best results and get our passport to Prague.
What is Wunschkind like?
We bought her a little over a year ago when she was competing in 2* competitions. Last season she did various 5* and I hope that now, with more experience, we will get good results. She is a great mare (in all senses of the word); she has a very good head on her, she is very careful and always tries to do her best.
MAIKEL van der VLEUTEN is part of the generation of young riders leading world equestrian sports. He is an undisputed member of the Dutch national team which has triumphed in the main international competitions over the last decade.
Is it hard to carry the Van der Vleuten surname?
To be honest, not entirely. Of course when I was little there were a lot of people looking at me, knowing that I was Eric’s son, and deep down everyone expected me to be one way. But the truth is that from the beginning I learned to deal with the situation and have fun with the horses. I have managed to develop my own system thanks to everything I have learned from my father.
The successful 2017 season allowed Maikel van der Vleuten to enter the World Top10. What is more difficult: to get to the top or maintain an elite status?
Both are very complicated. If you get good results for two months you can get to the top ten, but to stay there you need to be successful for at least six months, meaning that both the horses and the rider are in top form. For me, the most important thing is knowing that we are on the right track, that we are doing well, so the results come by themselves.
The million dollar question: which is more important— the rider or the horse?
You need both if you want to win. It’s a sport for two: the horse and rider. You need them to complement each other, and if the rider has a bad day the horse responds for both and vice versa. A good horse can make an average rider a great rider, and the other way around; but to win, both are very important.
A good horse can make an average rider a great rider, and the other way around; but to win, both are very important.
2018 has had an intense start for Maikel. In January, your first daughter was born and for the Amsterdam competition you had a hand injury. Now that you are recovered, you are facing a long and demanding season. What plans does Maikel have for this year?
My goals for this year are focused on the Global Champions Tour and GCL circuits. Last year I was second in the general classification and this year I want to try to win. Why not? For the team competition I think we have a great team, Madrid in Motion; I hope we can get good results and be in Prague at the end of the year.
The World Championship is at the end of the year and I would like to compete with Idi Utopia. She doesn’t have much experience but I think she could do it well.
What is Utopia like?
I’ve been with her for almost two years. She is a highly talented, quality mare who is very careful and transmits a great vibe while riding. She’s only done a few 5* Grand Prix but my goal is to take her to the highest level. I think she could be a good mare for championships.
If you get good results for two months you can get to the top ten, but to stay there you need to be successful for at least six months, meaning that both the horses and the rider are in top form.