THE FARMER, THE COAL MERCHANT, THE BAKER... , from Amor to Valegro
In Cornwall, I do not have to travel very far these days in order to find Dutch Warmbloods with decent breeding. Show-jumpers Andrew James and Adam Ellery, for example, breed, buy and sell horses of which many are quality warmbloods. One of my favourite pupils Martyn Humphrey is in the process of backing his lovely young horse by the famous stallion Johnson (standing at Team Nijhof and competed at Rio with Hans Peter Minderhoud) out of one of Claire Rushworth's mares, how exciting is that? Oh, and I met Lorna Wilson from Newton Stud in Devon this year in February at the KWPN stallion show and have seen some beautiful foals with excellent breeding pass by on her Facebook page.
Further up the road are Edward and Clissy Bleekman with their competent daughters involved in the eventing sport. Edward in his younger years was often behind the wheel of the lorry with stallions such as Amor and Pericles, belonging to Johan Venderbosch at stud 'De Radstake'.Over the years Edward has had several good performing Dutch stallions at his stud in Devon with the stallion No Limit being the latest addition.
The States have been importing Dutch horses for many years and so are now Russia, China and Qatar, and with good results, too.
So...when the post delivered a flat book-size package the other day my heart beat just a little faster. I knew that in there was the first touchable result of quite a bit of research and long talks with great people.
In February 2015 I spent three whole weeks in my home country the Netherlands, first visiting the Dutch national KWPN stallion show and after that several international renowned studs, with stallions such as Heartbreaker, Johnson, Clinton, El Salvador, just to name a few, and also some top trainers I knew from my youth. I wanted to hear their great stories. Stories of how they lived in those early days, how stallions such as Voltaire, Pericles and Amor came to their studs and of how early competition life was an adventure without the luxuries of today.
When I knew these people in my adolescent years none of them had the slightest inkling they were part, even instrumental, to the development of the Dutch Warmblood into the international phenomenon it has become today. The province of Gelderland, the 'stomping ground' of my youth, happened to be the hub of this exciting time and it was normal for me to watch one of these great stallions jump off the lorry in the farm yard of some of my friends in order to cover their mare. The mare probably still competing up to a few weeks from having the foal and back at it a few weeks later with the foal waiting impatiently in the trailer for a drink between classes, as that was how it was done in those days!
It was the time of lots of excitement in the world of the Dutch Warmblood with Gelderland in the very middle of it. From the moment the thoroughbred had been introduced the results were breathtaking. When Henk Nijhof Senior showed me the picture of the stallion Heraut from grandfather Nijhof, taken in 1946, it really did bring home to me how in just a relatively short spell of time the heavier horse transformed into the sport horse which we now all have learned to love. We have just seen Valegro win the freestyle in Rio, their second Olympic victory; we have never forgotten Totilas. They, however, are only the tip of an enormous iceberg of great competition horses.
Nick Skelton's Big Star, who won in Rio with such a brave and daring round,is another great one worth mentioning. KWPN-registered and with that the prime example of what the breeders who tell their stories in my book have achieved, Big Star is the ultimate result of an open studbook with only one thing in mind: breeding the best sport horse ever, no matter where the stock to produce this can be found. He is a mix of Selle Francais and Holstein with only the father of the dam, the great stallion Nimmerdor, being KWPN registered. But then again, also Nimmerdor is already a mix with only his mum being Dutch and his sire Holstein.
So why were the Dutch so very successful with stallions they found in Germany, France and England? It was the regime of daring to cull. An open but very strict studbook with extremely high standards which made anything which had not performed, both in the sport and producing consistent offspring, useless and a waste of time and effort. I once read an interview with a highly regarded German breeder who said: 'If it doesn't do the job we eat it', and that is more or less the hard and slightly uncomfortable truth, but it worked!
I so loved writing this little book. It is such a great story and the many lovely pictures I was allowed to use are quite private; a little bit of gold dust, adding such atmosphere and making the book 'alive'. And I very much hope that many of you who have learned to love the Dutch Warmblood will enjoy reading 'my Personal Impression of the Development of the Gelderland Horse World'.
Top picture: Book 'THE FARMER, THE COAL MERCHANT, THE BAKER...
Bottom picture: Henk Nijhof Senior with the stallion Naturel winning the championship at the National KWPN stallion Show in 1979.
You can order my book by emailing me at email@example.com Cost: £7.50 + delivery
Below an extract of:
THE FARMER, THE COAL MERCHANT, THE BAKER....
Picture:How times have changed...the stallion Heraut approved by the studbook in 1946 and sold by the grandfather of Henk Nijhof Senior for the amount of 45,000 guilders to the regional studbook association. That was a lot of money in those days!
3 STUD, BREEDER AND TRAINER; EACH CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT THE OTHERS
The first riding clubs in The Netherlands started to appear just before and during the Second World War. It amazed me time again, when listening to so many different stories, how, despite all the terrible things that happened, the hunger and the fear, people still carried on trying to achieve things and some even tried to have fun.
I guess, from listening to the arguments of my own parents, my mother a little girl in a city, my dad a youngster growing up in the east and more agricultural part of the Netherlands, that life in the country was somewhat less stressful than life in town - but on the other hand, any farmer or person relying on their horse for their livelihood ran the risk for their horse to be taken by the Germans.
After the war, when life gradually took on a more normal pace and with the relief of freedom freshly ingrained into every single person, businesses and agriculture started to grow and with that, for many, wealth grew steadily. The tractor gradually replaced the workhorse and, for many farmers, the opportunity arose to use their mares, now without a job, entirely for breeding riding horses in the hope that this would be profitable.
Initially, most who bred also rode their own horses. More often than not, the breeding started on old-fashioned mixed farms where the main income came from milk and keeping pigs. If the farmers could not ride themselves for whatever reason, there were always sons or daughters who were happy to do so. Also, youngsters from villages and small towns found their way to these farms, begging for a ride. Often those who managed to find their way like that, turned out to be talented and they were certainly driven.
This is exactly how, for example, trainer Roeli Bril found his way into his uncle's coal-merchant yard and, using the horses that pulled the coal carts during the week, started his own riding education on a strip of grass in the middle of the small town of Zutphen. When his professional riding career was established, he became crucial to the development of many a great horse and rider, directly and indirectly adding to the success of studs and breeders such as Henk Nijhof and Johan Venderbosch.
Jan Oortveld, son of a baker, was supported by his parents in his desire to become a professional horseman. He had the opportunity to take his formal education at the, then, new and famous equine centre in Deurne in the south of Holland. His youth was very different to most people’s because of it and most of his contemporaries would have walked away from such a tough and lonely existence as he lived in his younger years. Jan, as trainer and instructor, has put his stamp on the Dutch horse world with tremendous dedication.
This was the beginning of yet another era. Now that many farmers were in the process of fully converting to horse breeding and studs had moved a similar direction, there was room, no, a great need, for good riders with a decent riding education. The professional rider was now a fact and fully part of the horse breeding and producing business that the Netherlands was creating.
The time has come to move on and learn more of the personal lives and dedication of some of the entrepreneuring horsemen of Gelderland.
4 JOHAN VENDERBOSCH
Close to the German border, in 'de Achterhoek', a rural area in Gelderland, farmer Venderbosch was a proud man when he walked around his fields to check the livestock on his fifty-acre farm, 'de Radstake'. The fields were managed well and the stock fencing was in good shape. He liked a tidy yard as well and so, on Saturday, the broom came out and every corner was swept out meticulously so that everything would look pristine for the Sunday. Sunday was a rest day and family or a friendly neighbour might visit for a cup of coffee, often followed by an 'advocaatje' for the women and a ‘jonkie met suiker' for the men.
It was a decent-size farm for the area situated on a centuries-old trade route from Germany, hence the fact there was also an ancient tavern on the premises. Although Venderbosch kept some pigs and chickens, the main income came from the tavern and from the milk produced by his thirty-odd dairy cows. There was also a fine team of Groningen work horses and the little pony Liesje, which pulled the cart with the milk churns to the corner of the lane, from where they were collected to go to the milk factory.
Often his young son Johan would play with this pony, teach it tricks, sit on it or tie it to his little sleigh during the winter when the snow had arrived. He was certainly the son of his father and loved the smell of a horse equally, which gave Venderbosch tremendous satisfaction.
From early on in his life, from well before the war and before he became a husband and a father, whenever the work was finished for the day farmer Venderbosch would always spend time with the draught horses, even when they'd already been all put away for the night. He would give them an extra brush, talk gently to them or have put their beds to right once more; he would dream of being able to ride properly and he hoped one day to breed a riding horse using his best draught mare.
As soon as there was talk of setting up regional associations in order to organize the breeding of horses in a more professional way, Venderbosch put his name forward so that he could have some input. He had put a lot of thinking time into what he thought was the way forward and wanted his ideas to be used. Like other associations in the country, his association 'De Toekomst' sold shares to the vicars, doctors and notaries in their area, in the hope that they would grab the opportunity to one day have a smarter and faster horse to pull their carriage because that was their means of transport. It was hoped the more well-off farmers would buy shares as well because the work horse could also do with some organizing. The studbook VLN was for the Gelderland horse, the finer-framed work horse. The NWP studbook was for the Groningen horse, the stockier of the two, used for the work on the heavy clay ground.
The first stallion to arrive for the Association was the Gelderland horse Amburg, an exciting start to a whole new era. From then on, all associations agreed on a universal selection process, with regional grading shows to be held regularly. All information was gathered nationally in order to create much greater control on what farmers were up to with their mares and stallions. Soon, the penny dropped that breeding from a mare without papers had no future and did not make any money, and stallions were cut as soon as their progeny did not perform to the required standards.
On Saturdays not just the yard was swept but also all tack got cleaned because often, on Sundays, there would be a carriage-driving show somewhere in the area and Venderbosch would be on his way, often before dawn, with carriage and horse gleaming from tip to toe and Venderbosch in his best suit.
But he still wanted to ride and there were other young farmers with the same aspirations as him; some meetings were organized and soon the riding club 'Varsseveld' was the second official riding club in the country with farmer Venderbosch being one of the founders. All would meet up on their horses for weekly group lessons in a fenced-off piece of land. More riding clubs were formed and soon driving and riding competitions were combined and organized regularly all over the country with a national championship at the end of every year.
The war had been over for several years now and young son Johan was growing up fast, helping his dad on the farm after school. The little old pony was retired out in the field with the calves because it wasn't needed any more for shifting the milk churns. The tractor, by now a common sight in the fields, did all of that rather than the loyal work horse.
Just after he passed his exams, when he was fifteen years old, his father sent Johan to international show-jump rider, Troop Captain Gruppelaar for several months. Venderbosch was extremely keen for Johan to have every possible chance to develop his horse skills and Gruppelaar had a name for being an excellent teacher. This was an exciting time for Johan because he was allowed to travel with the horses on the train to many different international shows all over Europe and the train journeys were nearly as exciting as the shows themselves. When going to Paris or to Marseille their coach had to be reconnected to another train. Normally this would happen with a big bang, enough to throw the horses over. Hence why a specially assigned young lad was instructed to stick his head out of the carriage and call out: 'Attention! cheveaux!'. This was to ensure that the person in charge of the change-over of the carriages would take care and slow the procedure down as much as possible.
Johan had to work hard because 'the old Grup', as the lads used to call him when he was out of earshot, liked things perfect. He was a typical cavalry man, extremely punctual, well-organized and liked things spotless, with his white glove often sending the lads back to the brush. Still, young Johan had a wonderful time and came home full of stories that his father loved listening to.
Johan was eighteen years old when he lost his dad but there wasn't much time to dwell on this sudden tragedy because from that very day he had to run the entire business by himself. His responsibilities were huge: there was not only the dairy herd and the tavern, but there were also the broodmares and their offspring, which had become a significant part of the farm, and, on top of all that, Johan took on the position of his dad within breeding association 'De Toekomst', which was heading for turbulent times...........
Picture: The stallion In Between with his proud owners, after winning the championship at the 2016 National KWPN Stallion Show. From the left: Johan Venderbosch, In Between, brother and sister Andre and Henriette.
Top picture, chapter 4: Young Johan with pony Liesje in harness.
So much for a little taster!!!
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About Liz Barclay
Her love for horses together with her dedication made her into the trainer and dressage rider she is, today. She is versatile and inventive and likes a challenge; whether it is a technical training question, a confidence issue or a problem involving the management of the horse or pony.
THE FARMER, THE COAL MERCHANT, THE BAKER...
My book 'THE FARMER, THE COAL MERCHANT, THE BAKER...' with the subtitle 'A Personal Impression of the Development of the Gelderland Horse World' has been received with more enthusiasm than I possibly could have hoped for. Click here to contact me and I will send you a copy. £7.50 + postage, or click here to order from Amazon.