It's a home win for Leopold van Asten in the first Rolex Grand Prix qualifier
The first qualifier for the Rolex Grand Prix kicked off in style with Dutch rider Leopold van Asten clinching a home win aboard VDL Groep Beauty, much to the delight of his on-looking sponsor, in the VDL Groep Prize. Last year’s Rolex Grand Prix winner, Niels Bruynseels (BEL), set the bar high with a time of 28.18 secs but it was not fast enough as Leopold van Asten and his super speedy mare secured the win by a fraction, stopping the clock at 27.82 secs.
What were your thoughts heading into the jump-off?
I saw Niels ride before me, he was very fast and had a very good round, so I knew that I really had to go for it. I knew that Beauty is naturally a fast horse, so I tried to get a smooth round and it went well. I didn’t have to pull anywhere, I didn’t have to wait anywhere and luckily in the end it was enough.
Are you riding VDL Groep Beauty on Sunday?
No, I am not riding her on Sunday for the Rolex Grand Prix. I made a plan to jump her today and tomorrow, and will jump Miss Untouchable on Sunday.
The audience are very close to the action at The Dutch Masters, do you notice that when in the ring?
I think the audience is always close to the action, it doesn’t change anything for me. It didn’t ride any different this year. The atmosphere was very good for a Friday evening, the audience were cheering lots, seemed very happy and were really loud which is nice to hear. I think it’s going to be an exciting two days ahead.
How does it feel to win, not only in front of your home crowd, but also your sponsor?
It is always nice, he can only come to five or so shows a year, so you want to be good when he is here but that is easier said than done! It is nice that on an evening like this everything came together and we have a win.
How will you celebrate this evening?
I will walk to the box to meet my owner and I think we are going to have a drink, and then tomorrow is a new day!
Words from the Organiser with: show president Anky Van Grunsven
You have been a competitor at the event and now you are the Show President, how does the experience differ?
It’s completely different! When I was competing, I was just worried about my own conditions, my horse, the warm-up and the main arena. I was so focused on my competition, I didn’t realize how much was going on in the background to put on an event like this. This is a completely different experience, there are so many dimensions I never knew about but it’s very interesting and I am learning so much, I love it.
What are the main challenges of putting on an event like The Dutch Masters?
We are always working hard to make sure we are one of the best indoor shows in the world, so we are always looking at how we can improve and making sure that everything we do is of the best quality. For me, in some ways, it is the same feeling I had when I was riding – I was always looking at what was good, but also how I could make it better. I think that’s why this is one of the biggest competitions in the world now, as we are always working to improve the experience for the riders and the spectators.
The Dutch Masters is regarded as one of the best equestrian events in the world, how do you keep innovating it to improve it each year?
Last year we added a new hall and a new entrance which increased the size of the area significantly. We increased the dimensions of the arena and enhanced the competition facilities which all make a huge difference to The Dutch Masters. This is our second year as part of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping, which gives a whole new dimension to the event and makes it even more exciting for spectators.
The Rolex Grand Prix at The Dutch Masters is now one of the Majors, how has becoming part of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping enhanced it?
Being part of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping has certainly enhanced the event. There is now bigger prize money and we know for sure that the best jumping horse and rider combinations will be here, so we certainly feel that we have grown positively since becoming one of the Majors.
Why did you decide to become such a big part of The Dutch Masters?
I actually didn’t want to become a big part of The Dutch Masters originally, but I was asked by Gerrit-Jan Swinkels and at first, I said no, as I am a rider and I want to be active and I am not so good at the socializing and other elements that the role involves. But he really pushed me into it, and I am so happy he did. I actually really enjoy it, it is a different way of looking and going to a competition and I always love a new challenge, so it fits me well.
Has life changed since you stopped competing?
I am still riding, and my kids are competing, so my life hasn’t really changed too much except that I am not competing myself. I still have some stress, especially making sure I am organized for this event, but it only lasts for a few weeks, so I certainly feel more relaxed.
Where do you keep your Olympic gold medals?
I hide my gold medals as I am always scared someone is going to steel them! Every once in a while, I grab them, and I look at them and I am really proud. For me one of the most important things is that feeling of achievement and when I am holding my gold medals, I go right back to that moment I won them and just feel so proud.
What is the best piece of advice you have been given?
I am not sure if someone gave this advice to me, but it is the advice that I give to people… The reason I think that I was so good is that I really enjoy what I am doing, so the major thing in life is that you do something that you really love and work hard, then you will achieve great things.
Who do you think will win the Rolex Grand Prix on Sunday?
I could probably tell you who is going to win the Dressage but Show Jumping, I don’t have a clue! For sure I know it is going to be a really exciting competition because all the riders here really want to win. But, a fence down changes results fast and Louis Koninckx, our course designer, is already really thinking about the course so it is going to be a great competition. I am sorry, but I do have to say, I hope a Dutch rider wins!
Behind the stable door with: Denise Moriarty, talking about flying horses!
Can you explain how flying with horses works?
It depends on if you are flying from Europe to America, or America to Europe. With America to Europe the horses must go through quarantine in Miami beforehand. They are in quarantine for a couple of hours before they start the process, then we take them to the loading centre from the quarantine facility, and they are then loaded onto the pallets. For us, we like to put a well-travelled horse with a not so well travelled horse to keep the other one company. They have hay and water in their pallets and there’s not much room for the grooms to move around, but if the horses have what they need, that’s what matters.
The pallets are then loaded onto the plane in the order of stallions, mares and geldings. The stallions must be upfront. We watch the process to make sure the drapes are hung up so they have air, and so we can figure out where each horse is. We then make sure the horses are settled, and depending on the plane, you either go and sit upstairs or you sit right in front of the pallets, or if it’s a commercial plane you go through a small door and sit with everyone else. You do get some funny looks because you smell of horses. We sit at the back of the plane and then once you take off and are at the right altitude you go back to check on the horses and give them water. If they are happy, we leave them to sleep and eat for a couple of hours. We check on them two or three times during the flight and do a final check before we descend. It can be shocking for the people who don’t realise they are flying with horses.
Have you had passengers asking where you keep going?
Yes, all the time people get confused as to where you are going, because we keep disappearing and then come back smelling of horses through a small door at the back, covered in hay, water and carrots. So, the public wonder where we come from and ask questions. They do see the plane get unloaded though, so they do see the horses at the end.
How long does it take for the horses to recover from flying?
Every horse is different, the more well-travelled sleep, they know what’s going on, so they are quite relaxed. The younger, more inexperienced ones take longer to recover because they spend a lot of the flight feeling tense. So, on the other side they sleep for a lot longer. The main thing is to monitor the water intake that they have, if you know that they aren’t going to drink much water we give them extra fluids before or after. If you pay attention to this the recovery time can be quite quick.
Are horses like humans, where some are nervous flyers, and some are not?
Yes, some get tense and the box is small, so if the horse is slightly claustrophobic, the box can feel quite small for them. That’s why we like to put a relaxed, experienced horse next to a nervous one, so they don’t work each other up. The only parts where they have to steady themselves is the take off and the landing, the rest is quite smooth, so they can sleep. It’s easier than a truck, they don’t have to balance themselves all the time so they can sleep standing.
Do horses ever get jet-lagged?
They can be tired on the other side but as long as you keep their feeding routine normal, telling them when it’s breakfast and dinner and putting them to bed and waking them up at the right times then they get into the rhythm. It’s easier for them to swap around because they are told what to do, whereas it’s harder for humans as they can stay up and watch TV.
What’s your favourite competition to be at?
Definitely CHI Geneva. It’s one of my favourite venues, it’s a great show with an amazing atmosphere. It’s the end of the year, so it’s our final goal and it’s always been quite a successful show for us.
Who are your favourite horses to work with?
Honestly, I love them all equally, they all have great characters. Creedance is slightly crazy and naughty, but he’s only a little guy, so he’s allowed to do whatever he wants. Gazelle will try her heart out for you every single time, she’s a bit of a princess but she’ll give you what she has. Voyeur and Uceko are both amazing horses, they have done a lot for Kent’s career and are a pleasure to take care of.
Are they all good in the stables? Do they have funny characteristics?
They are all good, Voyeur likes to talk to the other horses, he makes cat noises and gets really jealous when you spend too much time with the other horses. Creedance likes attention, he likes to play with the other horses, but they don’t really like to play with him. Gazelle hates the other horses, Creedance is the only one that Gazelle will let anywhere near.
What’s your secret grooming tip for keeping the horses in such good condition?
The horse comes first, they are athletes so you have to take care of them and treat them with respect. They are not machines, they are all individuals, so it's about getting to know each horse and making sure they have what they need.