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VDL Stud – a family business with heart and soul

Thursday, 31 March 2016
Interview

Wiebe-Yde van de Lageweg and VDL Douglas. All photos (c) Jenny Abrahamsson.
Wiebe-Yde van de Lageweg together with VDL Douglas. All photos (c) Jenny Abrahamsson

World of Showjumping went to visit the VDL Stud in the Netherlands; owner of famous stallions like Nimmerdor, VDL Cardento, Indoctro, Emilion, Quasimodo v.d Molendreef, VDL Douglas, Jus de Pomme, VDL Bubalu, VDL Zirocco Blue N.O.P. – just mention some. Wiepke van de Lageweg started the company that is now run by him and his three sons, with his daughter and daughters-in-law also working in the family business.  

It all started in 1972, when Wiepke van de Lageweg – who was big in the cattle business – decided to buy a mare to breed with as a hobby. Wiepke went to the mare-show with her, but the mare wasn't that good so he bought a few better ones. Fast forward to 1975 and it was time for one of Wiepke’s stallions to go to the stallion selection, but he was unsuccessful at an early stage so instead Wiepke spend the day on the tribune. It was on this very tribune that Wiepke van de Lageweg spotted the 2,5-year-old Nimmerdor. “Dad really wanted to buy Nimmerdor, but the owners didn't want to sell. So the Monday after the selection, he went to their house in the evening and many hours later he walked out having bought the stallion,” Van de Lageweg’s oldest son Wiebe-Yde tells us.

Soon, the hobby grew into a business. In the beginning the stallions were placed at different studs, but when the family’s oldest son Wiebe finished school they decided to build a stallion station and keep most of them at home. And that was the start of a new beginning. 

The 30-year-old Emilion coming back after a walk through the village.
The 30-year-old Emilion coming back after a walk through the village.

Today, VDL Stud owns about 800 horses with around 170 of them being kept on the main yard and around 300 young horses on associated stables situated close by. This year there are 105 mares in foal at VDL Stud, but as they have 75 foals a year as a maximum some mares need to be sold. “We can't keep every horse. We are trying to keep the stallions that are doing best in both breeding and sport, as well as a good group of breeding mares. Let's say that we sell 70% of our horses. We don't want to sell, but we need to. It is important for us to know our mares and have a feeling for them, otherwise the mares will just become a number and we are not interested in that kind of breeding. So 75 foals a year is the limit!” says Wiebe-Yde.

The VDL Stud does not only sell horses, they also buy around 125 colts every year. “Some we buy as sport horses and some as stallion material. We buy foals from different blood lines for breeding, but we are always trying to buy from pedigrees that we know make good horses. It is important for us to broaden our breeding, so we buy colts from stallions that are either good in the sport or high on the WBFSH sire ranking. We also breed some of our mares with other stallions than our own,” explains Wiebe.

To select the young horses, the team at VDL Stud looks at all the 2-year-olds free jump in August and at the same time x-rays will be made. “We have a few options, either they go further to the stallion grading where the first selection is in December, or if they are not stallion-material but good sport horses we castrate them and let them out on the field again and leave them there until they are 3,5 - 4 years old,” Wiebe-Yde continues.

When it is time to start the horses up under the saddle, the youngsters go to VDL's yard in the east of Netherlands where they have three riders for the young horses until they are ready to start showing. After this, they come back to the main yard where three riders bring them up to 1,10-1,20 level before either James Billington or Ernesto Canseco take over the rains.  “We also have a co-operation with other riders such as Jur Vrieling, Suzanne Tepper, Malin Baryard-Johnsson, Magnus Österlund, two national riders in Germany, two national riders in Belgium, a rider in Ireland as well as with local riders,” Wiebe-Yde says and explains that the riders they work with have to ride well, be normal and hard working people as well as easy to discuss and arrange practicalities with.

The fantastic championship horse VDL Bubalu, that was competed by Jur Vrieling.
The fantastic championship horse VDL Bubalu, that was competed by Jur Vrieling.

Many of VDL's stallions are successful in the sport, which is very important to the stud. “Sporting success is not only of commercial importance for ourselves. This also makes it easier for the breeders to sell their offspring, and makes the pedigree stronger. And if the stallions show the ability to compete at a high level, the chance that they bring this ability on to their offspring of course increases,” says Wiebe-Yde.

What the team at VDL looks for in a stallion is a type with good movement, elasticity, a good mind, a proper jump and of course a quality pedigree. “For the mares it is the same thing. Most of our mares don't go into the sport, because we believe that you have to breed with your best mares. Even though this is a business, we are still breeders in our hearts so we don't use so much embryo transfer,” Wiebe-Yde states.

Unlike many big studs, the VDL Stud prefers to breed in the traditional way and only use embryo transfer when they have no other options. “Last year we took embryos from some of our horses. We had a fantastic mare that had an accident, so we had to put her down – and in this case we took an embryo. The same was the case with a mare that got damaged having her last foal so she could not get any more foals on her own. Then we used it on two mares that are in the sport and that we knew would be sold."

The 26-year-old Indoctro was bought when he was two weeks old.
The 26-year-old Indoctro was bought when he was two weeks old.

“We have been dealing with for example Guatemala for 20 years, and Cuba for 10 years, and it is all about finding agents in the different countries that trust you and believe in the horses - then they come to us with clients. You need someone to open the doors for you in the different countries. When Jus de Pomme won double gold at the 1996 Olympics, and shortly after tragically died due to colic only aged 10, everyone wanted to talk to his owner. Although the stallion was dead and couldn't do anything himself, he gave us a lot of clients. We also go to many different horse shows with the hope to find new clients,” explains Wiebe-Yde about how the business has expanded over the years. 

The VDL Stud has around 50 stallions in breeding with 20 of them in the own stable. The other stallions are based in countries like Germany, Sweden, Belgium, France, England, Ireland, Cuba, America and Australia and throughout the Netherlands. “We're trying to find the right place for every stallion - the country where he will suit the best. Then we work active with about 20 different countries, when it comes to semen, breeding and sport horses.”

The VDL Stud also organize auctions in different countries, with the one in the US being the biggest one. “My brother Janko takes care of that auction. We always bring good jumpers there with focus on their rideability, and it is also important for us that they are healthy.  This year we sold 15 horses. That is a great way to sell many horses in one day and to get new clients – and this was the 5th year we did the auction,” Wiebe closes off.

The horses are stabled in groups during the winter, and from April to October they are out in the fields.
The horses are stabled in groups during the winter, and from April to October they are out in the fields.

Question and answers:

When does the horses get VDL in their name?

“We prefix VDL is given the horses if they are born here, approved or when they compete internationally.”

Which of your stallions have been the most successful breeding stallions throughout the years?

“Nimmerdor, Cardento and Indoctro.”

And in the sport?

“VDL Cardento, Jus de Pomme, VDL Bubalu and VDL Zirocco Blue N.O.P.”

Proudest VDL moment?

“There are so many with our stallions becoming European Champions, Olympic Champions and World Champions. But there are also many proud moments when it goes well on stallion selections and mare tests.”

Which of your stallions do you think will be most popular this year?

“I think it will be Zirocco, Arezzo, Harley, Carrera and Cohinoor.”

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