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Willem Greve - “I try to never put pressure on my horses"

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Willem Greve with the stunning Carambole
Willem Greve pictured at home at his yard in Markelo with the stunning Carambole. All photos (c) Jenny Abrahamsson.

Willem Greve cannot stand it when things are done half way. If he is not able do it 100 %, he is the type who would rather not do it at all. As we come around the corner of Greve’s beautiful yard in Markelo, every single detail that reveals itself reflects exactly that. It’s perfect; not too big but not too small, beautiful but not fancy, traditional but not old-fashioned, cosy but nevertheless professional. The place if flawless, a testimonial of the Dutch rider’s taste for getting it just right.

Greve’s 100 % mission in life, is also one of the explanations to why you will not find this Dutch rider at every single show there is. Willem likes quality, and not quantity – also when it comes to his own performances.  

“The situation is as this; the showjumping sport has been given a huge boost with the Global Tours, and the increase in prize money. Jan Tops shook it all up – and did a great job to raise the game in the sport, which also has served the riders as well as other shows well,” Willem says referring to the huge increase in international shows offering tempting amounts of prize money and world ranking points. “But, if I would jump on to that carousel and chase ranking points and the top thirty – or even fifty – I would have to go for it in every class I ride on every single horse, experienced or not, and jump the life out of my two top stallions. I don’t want that,” he says referring to the tough trade of the sport at the moment where it takes serious horse power and financial backing to make it to the top and then stay there.

“I believe if I took that approach to the sport, I would risk to blow up my small team of top horses. Then the ranking would become an obsession, which it should not be. At the moment I don’t even know here I am on it,” the 32-year-old rider laughs as he shows us around the stunning property – that even in pouring rain looks like paradise.

After just a few minutes with Willem, we can already establish that he is a bit different than the rest. He chose his own path and way to do the sport, which he is very happy about – and we willingly admit we like it too. If he wanted to, Willem could probably have given the five star circuit a real shot with his current string of horses – but he prefers it with one or two bigger shows every month and then prioritizing the younger horses for the rest of his time. “If you want to be at the top, you have to focus only on this – every ranking class counts. That is not where I am. You will never see me try to win an opening class,” he laughs.

Willem Greve
Willem and the six year old mare Elien, a daughter of Carambole x Mermus that Greve bred together with his father. Elien is a cousin to AD Uceline.

If you weren’t Dutch - nor hugely involved in the sport – it might be that Greve’s name did not use to ring a bell. But, this year he certainly got some well-deserved attention winning the Grand Prix of Amsterdam on the stunning Carambole – only one week after taking the Grand Prix of Drachten. “To win in Amsterdam – for us Dutch riders one of the biggest indoor events there is on home soil and in the capital city – well that was unbelievable, unreal and like a childhood dream. To win there in front of the home crowds, on a horse you produced yourself – it was just amazing. I got so many reactions – even a letter from the queen. It was really, really, really cool. I still get goose bumps when I think about it,” Willem smiles.

His riding skills are without doubt within the finest in the world, but his eye for quality and talent has also served him well – and this is what certainly has made his business flourish. Silvana HDC, AD Ucelin, Sterrehof’s Voltaire, Uptown Boy and Brainpower – what they have in common is the fact that they are top horses and that they all were in Greve’s stable or ownership at one point.

“It’s hard to find a balance between the sport, the dealing and educating and developing your own horses. Finding time for all is not easy,” Greve acknowledges. “You have to find the right balance somehow. Without one big sponsor that allows you to focus only on the sport, you have to develop horses and also sell them in the end to make it go around financially. This is a process that is time-consuming; you have to find the horses, make the horses and sell the horses – and the ‘make them’-part you have to invest a lot of time and patience in. But don’t get me wrong; I love this and it gives me so much. Seeing a horse you produced do well in the ring with another rider can give me the same pleasure as winning a class,” Willem smiles.

Willem Greve and Carambole
Willem describes Carambole as an "amazing and very intelligent horse".

With the two stallions Carambole N.O.P. and Eldorado vd Zeshoek TN in his stable – Greve is well equipped for the top sport at the moment. And Greve is grateful to have two horses of this calibre in his stable.  

Carambole is described by his rider as extremely talented. The now 11-year-old stallion that already jumped at the 2013 European Championships, is a result of Greve’s patience alongside his eye for quality – and has been with his rider since he was four. “Carambole is an amazing and very intelligent horse – from the first time I sat on him I believed in him and I feel so lucky to have him in my life. He is maybe a bit underestimated though, as he doesn’t necessarily get the opportunity to jump all those big Grand Prix classes with me in the saddle. Carambole deserves to be winning those classes though – and he deserves to be jumping against the best horses in the world, because he is that good!”

Getting Eldorado to do the big stuff alongside Carambole was a much welcome development for Greve, although he was a bit anxious about the stallion’s reputation as the ‘big boss’ before he arrived. “He is like the big guy in the bar with lots of tattoos, but the one you should buy a beer, get to know and then fight alongside him and not against him,” Greve laughs.

Willem’s attitude towards his horses and their development has roots in how he grew up. Greve’s father is a well-known vet and breeder in Holland, and his son had ponies and horses around him from an early age. Willem competed at four pony Europeans and at six as a junior and young rider, but as he points out “the ponies and horses were never the expensive sort – it was out of my dad’s breeding program or something that was traded into the business”. That certainly taught the Dutch rider a lot. “I had to try to understand the different horses I was given to get the best out of them. That is how I was raised to do it.”

Willem Greve and Girlpower
Willem Greve takes the talented nine year old Darco-mare Girlpower for a walk.

Greve’s education continued in the most valuable way, as he as an 18-year-old went to Henk Nooren. “My father wanted me to gain experience somewhere else. I had a great 2 ½ years working for Henk, and learned so much there – he is such a disciplined man. That was also were I developed the taste for being independent and for running my own business,” Willem says.

After his time with Henk, Willem started his own business. First running it with his father, before he went on to base himself with Jeroen Dubbeldam where he stayed for three years until 2010. “Jeroen taught me even more, and to work with somebody like him was fantastic – it is the best school there is,” Willem says of the man whose influence has been significant of how Greve sees and reads his horses.

“I look up to classical riders like Jeroen; Olympic Champion in 2000, and fourteen years later World Champion. Maybe he was not world no. one or won countless Grand Prix classes, but he always took his time developing horses for those very big tasks.”

What Greve has in common with Dubbeldam is patience, and he uses it wisely. “I try to never put pressure on my horses, nothing good comes out of this. For example if I have a five year old that jumps easily and what it is asked, I would rather then put it back in the field for a few months and let it be a horse – rather than to ask even more. You get back what you give to horses.”

“But – I am also lucky, I have really good people around me; my owners, my sponsors, my staff and my family. They all know how the sport works and how difficult it is and I never have to worry about them to ask too much of me or the horses. Also, I have had great supporters in Jimmy and Danielle Torano - they have been very important for my business career and step up in the US, and have also become very good friends.”

Stable life
Happy stable life at Willem´s yard!

Over time Willem has also learned some valuable lessons. “When you push the limits too soon with horses, you will have to pay for it later – that is just how it goes. I made my mistakes, and have learned from them. So with time I have become way more relaxed and I don’t have the feeling I have to prove myself. I try to listen to my horses, and nothing else. Again, look at Jeroen, he is the master at that. If he does not have a good feeling, he will not even go to the show with the horse. He just goes back to basic, and takes his time,” Willem says.

As for most of the other Dutch riders, Willem’s main priority when it comes to the sport is to pick up the phone when Chef d’Equipe Rob Ehrens calls. And like his compatriots and team-mates, Greve highlights the team spirit as the key to success for the Netherlands. “We are straight with each other, and if there is a problem we deal with it and Rob is always there to handle it. There are no black sheep, we all know how difficult the sport is and respect each other. For us team activities are not obligations – we all go for a team dinner because we actually like it,” Greve says.   

As to what counts for him, Willem is clear: “For me the most important thing is to be valuable for the Dutch team. That is always my ultimate goal.”


Photos by Jenny Abrahamsson / text by Jannicke Naustdal - copyright © 2015.

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