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The Next Generation: Jos Verlooy

Tuesday, 27 June 2017
The Next Generation

Photo (c) World of Showjumping Jos Verlooy and his former super star Domino.

He is only 21, yet he has competed at two senior European Championships – in 2013 and 2015, at the 2014 World Equestrian Games as well as at the 2015 and 2016 World Cup Finals. When he was 18, he won the Nations Cup of Aachen with the Belgian team and the Longines Grand Prix of Los Angeles – both aboard Domino. Meet Belgium’s Jos Verlooy.

As a little boy, Jos did not pay too much attention to horses. He was into football, preferring that to riding. Growing up in a stable, his parents Axel and Nena Verlooy run Euro Horse in Grobbendonk, Belgium, it was however hard to avoid ending up in the saddle at one point or another. “They took me to some bigger shows to watch Harrie ride, and that got me a bit more interested. So, I started riding more at home and also began to compete a bit. When I turned 12, I got quite serious about it. My father bought me a good pony, and I ended up third in the Belgian Championships as well as going to the European Championships,” Jos tells.

Being born into the showjumping world, with a father that competed at the 1984 Olympics and a mother that also was an active showjumper, an equestrian career has been something that has come naturally for Verlooy. “I never really knew anything else, it’s just such a big part of my life,” Jos says. “It’s not that I decided that ‘now I want to do it professionally’, I was just always thinking about it because of everything I have around me here. However, after the European Championships for juniors in 2011 I really started to be sure that this was what I want to do. Also, I was never a big fan of school – I did not really want to go to university, so I knew that I had to do something with horses,” he laughs.

It’s not only Jos’ parents that have been influential on his career. Harrie Smolders, long-time rider at Euro Horse, has according to Jos been his “biggest advantage” in making a push onto the international showjumping scene at such an early age. “If I did not have Harrie, and if I did not have Domino, I don’t think I would have made it to where I am today. Perhaps at a later stage, but not as early as I did,” Jos says referring to jumping his first senior Europeans at the age of 17.

“Harrie has been so important for me. What he learned during his entire career, he has put back into mine in a range of a few years. I am lucky: I ride with him every day, so I watch him a lot. Also, he always keeps an eye on me. If he sees me doing something he thinks is not correct he will tell me so, he keeps me on the rails. It’s also good for advice, if I have a new horse, if I want to try a new bit – he is always there to ask. But, it is not like he is next to me every step of the day – I also have to stay independent,” Jos says. “Just watching him ride every day has taught me so much. I just try to copy him as much as possible, doing the same,” Jos adds.

In the early days of his career, Jos would also get help from his father but quickly discovered that keeping that part out of the family was wiser. “It did not really work,” Jos laughs. “Getting a lesson from my own dad was just not the best idea! So, we decided to move away from that.” 

Photo (c) World of Showjumping Harrie and Jos at home in Grobbendonk, Belgium.

The third important ingredient in Jos’ career, next to his parents and Smolders, has been Domino – the horse that catapulted him into showjumping fame and on who he won the 2014 Longines Grand Prix of Los Angeles. “We actually found him through our neighbour. Which sounds easy, but it’s not because we don’t have many neighbours here,” he jokes. “One day he came to us and said ‘I think I found a good horse’. My father asked him to bring the horse, and so he arrived in a one-horse trailer here one day. Harrie went on to try him, and for every jump he just got better and better. He just jumped everything as light as a feather, so my dad bought him. At that time, I was just moving up to the juniors and I did not really have a horse with the scope for that level – so I got him to ride with that in mind. So, on I went and that is how it all started.”

At that time, Domino was 7-years-old and Jos started to jump him around in the 1.30 meter classes at the regional shows. “Then at one point we put him in a national Grand Prix, and he won it,” Jos says. “Then from there on it went very fast. Domino is so easy and straight-forward, I did not even think about the heights or what we were jumping – nothing felt difficult for him. I think another big advantage was that we grew into that level together, we were both inexperienced – I learned from him and he learned from me.”

A son of a horse-dealer, Jos is used to seeing horses come and go – but selling Domino was never going to be easy. “It was hard,” Jos says. “I knew that one day it would come; after all we are a dealing stable. But, when we had to sell him I prefer that it went like it did and that he was sold to Audrey (Coulter). I know her, she is a rider so nice to her horses and Domino stays much of the time here in our stables. Plus I still ride him and spend a lot of time with him. Now, I even get to show him a bit again. So, for me, when it happened it was the best this way,” Jos says.

Losing Domino did not keep Jos out of the spotlight for long though, as next in line to do the big classes was Sunshine – that went on to jump the 2016 World Cup Final with Verlooy – as well as Caracas that during the first months of 2016 slowly moved up to five-star Grand Prix level to push into the lead role on the team. “Caracas is a very careful horse; he loves to jump clear. I knew he was one for the bigger classes, as he already had done some good things with his former rider Jamie Kermond, so I never pushed it with him when he first came,” Jos says. “I took my time until he was ready, and during the winter season of 2015/2016 I jumped a lot of two-stars with him. By the time the outdoor season started, I took him with me to some of the five-stars as my first horse and he just took it in his stride growing into my number one.”

Photo (c) World of Showjumping Jos with Domino, the horse he won the 2014 Longines Grand Prix of Los Angeles with.

“Riding so many different horses is something that certainly has helped me, it’s been the advantage of being the son of a dealer,” Jos says. “You learn to feel how fast you can move with them, and usually they will tell you themselves when they are ready – mostly by doing things easier and easier along with the work you put in them.”

A normal day at work for Jos consists of riding around seven horses. “Sometimes it ends up being more. Perhaps I start a day with those seven on the board, but then horses show up to be tried or there are clients and suddenly I rode eleven. It never gets boring here, we are always busy” he laughs.

Jos is a part of a strong young Belgian generation, that includes the likes of Nicola and Olivier Philippaerts as well as Constant Van Paesschen. “It brings a good team spirit, being in the same age group – we know each other for a long time and grew up together. The depth we have on the Belgian team at the moment is unbelievable. There is another young generation at the age level over us with Gregory Wathelet, Niels Bruynseels and Pieter Devos to mention some. Then you have some that are even younger than us coming up at junior and young rider level, also making their mark against the seniors. For sure, Nicola, Olivier, Constant an myself had a big advantage as our parents were in the sport already but I also think the fact that Belgium is a real horse country helps us constantly grow riders from grass root to Grand Prix level.”

For the future of the sport, Jos has some clear thoughts – being a regular on the Global Champions League circuit for Hamburg Diamonds as well as competing on the Belgian Nations Cup teams this season Verlooy is of the opinion that there are room for both series. “I think the Global Champions League has been – and will continue to be – very important for the development of our sport. For me personally, I must say that I think it is a fantastic concept – that I as a young rider can compete on the same team as a living legend like John Whitaker. It’s fun to have a team with the riders I work with every day, like Harrie and Audrey. I think the Global Champions League is bringing the sport to a whole new level, and their innovative thinking is also bringing a lot of media attention to the sport – which I think is great.”

“That being said, the Nations Cup events are for me the classics of our sport: It is something special to ride for your own country – I love these events. The venues are full of history and tradition: Hickstead, Dublin, La Baule – they are all prestigious shows.  To win there means a lot! Still, some riders chose the money and at the moment the money is in the Global Champions-circuit. I think we should think about putting the prize money from both the Nations Cup and Grand Prix together at the CSIO events, and have one team competition that also counts individually – and move everything to the Sunday where it would be much more attractive for sponsors as it is the day with the most public. Perhaps then we can lift the Nations Cup competition to a new level, and safeguard it for future generations,” Verlooy closes off. 

 


Text and pictures © World of Showjumping by Jannicke Naustdal

 

(No reproduction without permission)

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