Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping


PEDIGREE STORY - LEONE JEI By Adriana van Tilburg


(Photo : Beeld Werkt) (Photo : Beeld Werkt)


Leone Jei – ‘It takes one horse that can make all dreams come true’

The story around the KWPN-bred gelding Leone Jei (Baltic VDL – Dara x Corland) is filled with emotions. His breeder Gijs van Mersbergen passed away before he could witness the success of Leone Jei under the saddle of Martin Fuchs. His birthname Hay El Desta Ali was found on the internet by his breeder.


It started with Pardous

Maartje van der Velden is the granddaughter of Gijs van Mersbergen. From a very young age, Maartje was involved in her grandfather’s breeding business. She recalls: “My grandfather purchased the Peter Pan daughter, Pardous, as a young mare, and she became the foundation mare of the line. She was always a special mare – she was a gentle, quiet mare, but you could see her blood coming through when something was about to happen. She was also very gentle with us when we were little. We could connect with her foals. My first memory of Pardous is when I was six-years-old and she passed away when I was 16-years-old, and so I basically grew up with her [Pardous]. I think she passed her character on to her offspring – most of them were easy going and showed a lot of willingness to perform. The mother of Leone Jei, Dara, was a bit of a different story. She had a lot of character, not in a bad way, but my grandfather didn’t let us as small children go in with her alone. I personally never saw Pardous jumping, as she was also only used as a broodmare with us so it is hard for me to say what she has passed on to her offspring. My grandfather was a real fan of the Holsteiner-bred stallion Cardento, he used him seven times for Pardous.”


Cardento competed with the Swedish rider Peter Eriksson at 1m60. They participated at the 2002 FEI World Equestrian Games in Jerez de la Frontera and the 2004 Athens Olympic Games. Also in two FEI European Championships: Arnhem in 2001 and Donaueschingen in 2003. He sired several top horses like Catch Me Not S and Katanga vh Dingeshof.


Maartje van der Velden continues about her grandfather’s stallion choice: “My grandfather liked the way Cardento and Corland performed in the sport. He liked the way they jumped. The cross with Pardous and Cardento worked. My grandfather bred four horses from this cross that jumped at 1m40 and higher. The gelding Impossible Dream jumped at 1m55 under the saddle of Kelly Arani. Impossible Dream was very sweet as a foal, he grew up with the other foals and was always very curious when we came into the field. It was also very important for my grandfather that the horses had a good character. As we were allowed as children to be with the horses, he really emphasised that the horses had to have a good character. He wanted to be able to trust his horses completely. The combination between Pardous and Corland resulted in the mare Dara, the mother of Leone Jei.”


“Dara is the exception in this story, she is quite a hot character. We were not allowed to just be with Dara, he [my grandfather] had to be with us. She has also passed that ‘hotness’ on to her offspring. We can proudly say that what she produced with Leone Jei is a truly exceptional horse - she is indeed the most special mare in this line. Dara and her mother Pardous were together for a few years with their offspring. My grandfather bred about five or six foals a year. He also bred dressage horses for a while, but his heart was with showjumping. That gave him much more excitement and he thought it was very special that the horses were able to jump the high fences. We also watched every big competition. He really liked the sport. Unfortunately, I never went to CHIO Aachen with my grandfather, but the plan is that I will go to next year’s Paris Olympic Games with my grandmother. We would also like to watch Leone Jei at another Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping Major, that would be very special – this year we went to The Dutch Masters. I keep the whole family informed about where Leone Jei is going to jump or his results. I try to keep track of all the horses from this line that my grandfather bred. I also have a mare whose grandmother is Pardous. This mare, Chantal, jumped at 1m30 under the saddle of Koen Leemans. Pardous sadly passed away, so that is why we have decided to use Chantal for breeding. My grandfather sold Dara, so Chantal was the only mare left that he had. She had her last foal in 2019, sadly my grandfather passed away before the foal was born. Ad van Hal helped us a lot in that year, he was my grandfather’s best friend. We might start with breeding again with Chantal, but I really had a hard time selling Chantal’s last foal because they were the last foal my grandfather bred. Chantal is also very special to me; she has been with us her entire life except when she was with Koen Leemans.”


Leone Jei

Maartje van der Velden continues about Leone Jei: “My grandfather always liked Baltic VDL. He thought that Cardento was not a good match for Dara and that is why he decided to use Baltic VDL. Breeding is always a bit of a gamble, but it worked out well. We really liked how Leone Jei was as a foal and we used Baltic VDL again and that became the mare, Idara. She is now in the USA, owned by Dark Horse, funny enough Martin Fuchs competed with her in the USA at 1m45. She was purchased first by Team Fuchs who sold her on to Dark Horse. Idara was not as hot as her mother and Leone Jei.”


“We always had to laugh about Leone Jei’s birthname. My grandfather called him Hay El Desta Ali – we told him to choose a normal name, there are so many nice names with an ‘H’. My grandfather searched the internet for a nice name with an ‘H’ and came out with ‘Hay El Desta Ali’. Eventually, we found out that it meant something like ‘it is what it is’. So, in the end, it was a special name after all. As a foal, he was just as hot heated as his mother. He had a super character, but he also showed a lot of blood especially when he got started under saddle. The first rides under saddle were an adventure. Koen Leemans had difficulties with Leone Jei in the beginning but they built up a partnership. Plus, now he [Leone Jei] really knows how to use the blood he has. The way he carries his tail is exactly the same as he did as a young horse - it is typical for him. Due to the friendship between my grandfather and Ad van Hal, Ad purchased Dara. We still had Pardous and Chantal at the time as broodmares – there were not many mares that were being used for breeding. I know I have a very unique mare here.”


“This line has for me and my family a lot of emotional value. My grandfather tried to follow where his horses went. It is very special to see the development of Leone Jei with Martin Fuchs. The success that Leone Jei has is always something that he dreamed of. He always said that it only takes one horse that will make all dreams come true. Our grandfather used to sit behind his computer and find all the information about his horses and look at all of the information on stallions. He went to many different stallion presentations, stallion competitions, etc. We never dared to dream that Leone Jei would become the horse that he currently is. We owe all the success to the Peter Pan daughter Pardous. My grandfather passed away shortly after Leone Jei was sold to Martin Fuchs.”


Ad van Hal

Gijs van Mersbergen travelled with Ad van Hal frequently. It was actually the plan to have Leone Jei’s mother, Dara, compete in the sport, but that turned out to be too expensive. So, van Mersbergen sold the Dara to Ad van Hal after she foaled out Idara by Baltic VDL – the full sister of Leone Jei. Ad van Hal recalls: “I always passed the field, where Dara was when I came from work on my bicycle. I thought one day she would be mine. One time we drove together to the KWPN stallion approvals in Den Bosch and I asked van Mersbergen if I could buy her. He mentioned a price and it was so high that I said please stop the car, this has to sink in. I have tried several times to buy her and eventually, I did. I always had a good relationship with van Mersbergen. I am still very sad that he passed away. I went to many shows with him. I saw Leone Jei several times as a young horse under the saddle of Koen Leemans. He was really passionate about the equestrian sport.”


“I bred seven foals out of Dara. The first foal I bred by Harley VDL was supposed to be only one foal, but she gave birth to twins – luckily all three survived. The year after, Dara had another filly by Harley VDL that I sold to Belgium, but she passed away when she was only one-year-old. She has a four-year-old stallion by Colman and a three-year-old stallion by El Barone 111 Z. As well as a two-year-old mare by Verdi TN that I would like to keep, this year she had a full brother to Leone Jei. I sold Dara to Mares of Macha, they wanted to use her for ICSI. I have one daughter out of Dara, and they offered me a lot of money for Dara, and I could not resist it. Dara is a mare that is quite long and stands well in her frame. She has a good character, but she is also very sharp. It was this combination in her character that I liked. She was always the first in the herd of horses, she has a lot of blood. Van Mersbergen already bred several good show jumping horses out of this line. That was also one of the reasons that I purchased her. She had an interesting damline. It was actually a very short performance line, not much is known about the line. However, I was at the mare approvals with van Mersbergen in Esbeek when Pardous was young. They had to free jump and around the free jumping arena a fence was built about two meters high. I said to van Mersbergen watch this she is going to jump out and he thought I was crazy. Guess what, she jumped the line and then jumped over the two-meter-high fence that was supposed to keep the horses in. She didn’t even touch it.”


Ad van Hal also reflects on how difficult it is to judge a mareline that does not have many generations in the sport: “Breeding today is only about horses that have been in sport. This line did not have much sport in the damline, but the ones that made it to the sport were very good. Today ICSI is becoming more and more popular, but it is not known if five full brothers and sisters will all perform well in sport.”

Every mareline starts at one point. The story of Leone Jei started with the mare Pardous. The passionate breeder Gijs van Mersbergen took great care and pride in finding the right crosses for his mare.


The victory in Spruce Meadows through the eyes of the breeder

Maartje van der Velden says: “I watched Martin Fuchs’ and Leone Jei’s victory the day after with my grandmother. We try to watch every competition live but this was a bit too late due to the time difference. I have watched it twice because I did watch the livestream. It was so exciting, especially when they had a touch on the first fence! It was unreal to watch how Martin put his arm up when jumping the last fence. I was overwhelmed with a proud feeling. It is very special that a horse like Leone Jei was born in my grandfather’s stables. I always connect with Leone Jei’s old rider Koen Leemans. We are all part of this story.”

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