Jos Lansink has a busy day when we arrive at his yard in Meeuwen, Belgium a Thursday afternoon. Still in his riding gear after numerous sessions on the horse back, he is now fully occupied with saying good bye to and welcoming clients, trying out possible new horses to add to his stables, helping out his riders as well as building jumps. Lansink – former World Champion, Olympic and European team gold medallist, as well as World Cup Champion – runs a big dealing yard and sports stable. There are over fifty horses in his barn, and three additional international riders next to Jos – nevertheless you cannot detect any stress in the stables.
Perhaps it is due to the fact that most of the horses are turned out in the surrounding paddocks and fields unless they are busy being hacked out or flatted. Because as we are soon to discover as we sit talking on a cavaletti in the middle of Lansink's beautiful outdoor ring, Jos is all about the happiness of the horses.
Lansink's philosophy is simple. "It is very important to do something different with the horse every day," he says. "One day I will use the footing here in the sand ring, then the next day I will take the horse on the grass ring over there and then the next day in the forest. I think you can make the horses unhealthy by riding on the same flat surface all the time; the footings used on the shows are often so hard and you have to take care of the health of the horse by not riding them on the same hard footing at home every day. We try to vary their work as much as possible." This is not just something Jos says. During the hours we spend in Meeuwen, horses and riders leave the stables for the neighbouring woods to get some change of scenery and varied exercise.
Not only that, horses are in the fields and paddocks enjoying the last sun rays of the autumn and chewing grass as the summer comes to a close. The mix – foals, sport horses and retired former super stars – quiets the busyness that characterizes a dealing yard and gives it a rare tranquil feeling.
"I think the horses need to be outside, and as little as possible in the box," Jos replies when we ask about his approach to letting the horses out. "All my own top horses go in the paddock or in the field – every day. I have always had this approach; I think it gives a happy horse and a healthy horse. Instead of standing still in the box the entire day, they are outside moving – it is what is natural for them," he says.
"A lot of people are scared of injuries when they put the horses in the paddock and field, I also had a few bad experiences – like with Valentina. But to be honest, when it happened with Valentina I was happy it occurred here at home in the field and not in the ring after the jump or something like that. I also think that as long as you put them out every day and it is done regularly, it will reduce the risk of something happening compared to if you let the horse out every now and again."
Speaking of Jos' former super star Valentina van't Heike, she is still at Lansink's yard enjoying her retirement together with the former World Champion Cumano. "They deserve to stay the rest of their lives here. Every day I can pet them, and spend time with them," Jos says affectionately of the two that enjoy quiet days in the field. "During the dry summer months they go out in each their field in the evening and during the night, it keeps Cumano quieter when other horses don't pass him by as is often the case during the busy daytime. Even though he is 21, he is still a real stallion," Jos smiles.
"Cumano was always wild; a tough and strong horse," Jos explains of the horse that won gold at the World Championship in Aachen in 2006 and silver at the European Championship in Mannheim the following year. "When I started with when him he was eight, a lot of people said 'What do you want to do with that tractor?' But I am very happy that I had this tractor in my life!" Jos laughs softly. "Cumano always had a little bit of a funny technique, but the longer I had him the better he jumped. I also wanted him to go a different way than his previous rider did, I wanted him more in my hand – and in the beginning he did not like that. As a result I could have three or four down with him during one round. And back then, even when I was clear, I could still have the feeling I did not have a good round. One day, it clicked! I have to say, with those kind of horses it is important to believe in one system, stay in the system and don't go crazy with changing things when it don't go your way," Jos explains about his way to success with Cumano.
"Although we won the World Championship in Aachen in 2006, the best feeling I ever had on him was at the European Championships the following year when we got the individual silver. Cumano jumped even better there than at the World Championships. We were one more year together at this point, and knew each other even better!"
As to Valentina, she might not be as famous as her retirement companion – but she has an equally special place in Jos' heart. "She had an unbelievable character that horse," Lansink says when speaking about Valentina. "She had the same fighting character that Libero had, but she made her life quite difficult at times I have to say. Instead of clearing the fences by 20 cm, Valentina liked to do it with half a meter. And when the fences are 1.50, well then it gets difficult! But she always tried so hard at every fence, and gave me as a rider an unbelievable feeling!"
Jos also has Valentina's son in his stable – Epleaser van't Heike, which is ridden by Lansink's stable jockey Frank Schuttert. The two won the Prize of AachenMünchener this summer, and are on their way upwards. "Valentina's son also has a special character – but not like her, I mean she was a mare in every possible way. I think the son is easier than she was. But the quality from her combined with For Pleasure – well that's not too bad or?" Jos laughs. In addition to Epleaser, an heiress is also ready to carry forward her mother's genes as a foal out of Valentina by the stallion King Julio was born this spring.
Cumano and Valentina are just two of the many great horses Jos has been lucky to have during his career. The Dutch turned Belgian rider was also on the back of Egano, Libero H, Calvaro Z and Carthago Z – to mention some. Egano brought Jos an Olympic team gold in 1992, back when Jos was still flying the Dutch colours. Libero H was the one that took Lansink to World Cup glory on home soil in Den Bosch in 1994. Back in the days, these two where equine super stars.
"Libero I started with when he was six," Jos tells. "We grew together. The good thing with Libero was that he had other really great horses next to him, so he was never rushed into anything big and he really got the time to grow into jumping at Grand Prix level. Libero always had a small class after a big class, and after a few years he was experienced and confident enough to just do the bigger classes," Lansink explains of Libero's progress.
"When you saw him jump the 1.40 classes you would maybe not think that he had the quality and scope to jump the Grand Prix classes, but he did it on his character. Libero knew my weak points, and I knew his – so we really always helped each other out. That made us a great combination in the end," Jos smiles when remembering the stallion that sired famous horses such as Libertina, Maike and No Mercy.
"Egano was a completely different horse than Libero," says Jos. "Egano had all the scope, he also had a more special character – not just in the ring, but in the stables. In addition to the scope he was fast, and really careful – and with his qualities I think he would have been on top of the sport today as well," Lansink reflects.
Today, new stars fill Lansink's stables. Like twenty years ago, many of them are stallions – King Julio, Zerlin M and Aganix du Seigneur are some of them. "I have some good horses at the moment," Jos says when asked about his current string of jumpers. "I have Ensor de Litrange – he is my best horse at the moment, and was unlucky when he couldn't jump at the World Equestrian Games this year. I also have Electra van't Roosakker who I sold as a seven year old to Janika Sprunger, but got back this year. Electra is a quality horse, but she needs time now – I took her a little bit back and down the classes. I hope I can do a little bit bigger stuff with her this winter." Then there is Zerlin M, a horse Jos describes as 'a very competitive horse that I like a lot' – 'maybe not a horse that can jump the big stuff all the time, but he does a great job'.
Up his sleeve Jos also has two very talented younger ones; the eight year old Aganix du Seigneur and the seven year old Horizon de Regor. "I really believe in Aganix," Jos says. "He is eight, but more like a seven year old in his mind and experience. I bought him as a six year old, he was very green at that point. Aganix is a big stallion, so he needs a bit time – but I really think he is my horse for the future, together with Horizon," he says while laughing "I can't stop riding soon!"
Does he ever get tired we ask him, of the non-stop shows and travelling – the endless circus-like life of a showjumper that he has been a part of for almost three decades? "Sometimes," he says. "I like to stay at home a weekend here and there instead of being all the time on the road. When I have weekends off, I still come here on Sundays though and ride the horses in the forest – I love that. It's good for the horse's head and good for the rider's head!" That's Jos Lansink in a nutshell it feels like; get on with it, give it a twist and most of all don't complain – it doesn't help being negative!
That Jos is a hard worker, is apparent everywhere you go as you move around on his beautiful yard – it reflects Lansink's success and commitment as well as his demands for himself and those around him. The yard is flawless, and even though it's a hectic work place it feels like a place where it's time to breathe. Maybe not for Jos on this day, as he has to run a little bit in between his different commitments – with his riders being busy giving each of their horses the daily work.
"We are a sports stable, but we also sell and buy horses," Jos explains and today it is quite apparent that the latter is in focus as horses come and go – to be tried by Stal Lansink or to be tried by clients. "In the beginning here we also did a bit with the stallions, but I don't do that in a big scale anymore. Still we can collect semen and we have a lab here," Jos explains.
"Last year I had fourteen foals, but that is not something I normally would like – it was far too many!" Jos laughs of his 2013 breeding program. "I like to breed though, I also have a little space at home where I live in Lanaken and I keep a few foals there as well. It's nice to wake up and the first thing you see outside is a foal running across the field. Then the day starts good!" Jos has a big smile on his face when talking about his foals that obviously bring him a lot of joy. "I breed mainly with my own stallions. I have two foals by Cumano this year, then I have one by King Julio out of Valentina and one by Aganix du Seigeneur." Jos' ever growing group of youngsters stay in Holland, and when we ask how many he has he quickly replies while laughing "Also too many! I have enough!"
"So at the moment we have horses enough for all," Jos states when we talk about his group of international riders that consists of Frank Schuttert, Tim Hoster and Therese Söhol Henriksen. Schuttert has had huge success after joining Lansink's stables and says while he walks off a horse that coming there "was the best decision I ever made". Jos is also happy about having Frank riding for him; "I have to say so far, so good," Lansink says. "I hope he is happy, as I am happy. For Frank's age he has come a lot further then I had at that point, I mean basically I was still riding ponies," he laughs. "Frank already won a class in Aachen, and he is only 19. But this is also the thing with the younger riders at the moment, they have so much more experience than we had at their age."
That is not the only thing that has changed since the early days of Jos' international career. "The sport is changing a lot," Jos says as we have moved inside to a beautiful room with views to the indoor hall and outdoors – decorated with paintings of Cumano and Valentina, pictures of career highlights, medals and trophies. The room captures what a successful rider Lansink is, and we are drawn back to his words on the developments of the sport. "Maybe not the height of the fences changed that much," he continues "but the material of the fences have changed, they are much lighter than they used to be and also the cups – a few fences are always on flat cups now during a course. The time allowed also plays a much bigger part now, and is usually quite tight."
"With changes such as these, you need horses with blood – otherwise you will never make it. Still I believe that you cannot say that a horse like Egano would not have made it today though, or Libero – with the quality they had they would still have been top horses today and had the chance to win. The same goes for horses like Ratina and Jappeloup – that kind of horses would still be among the winners today," Jos reflects on the past and the present.
"The quality on the riders is also something that brings them closer together than what was the case before, when there was a handful or two of really good ones. Twenty years ago, maybe you had five or six riders from the start list that could win the Grand Prix. Now you have three to five that have no chance, and the rest can all win," Lansink says.
With almost thirty years of success on international level behind him, what has been Lansink's key to staying on top of the sport? "I was lucky to have very good owners from the beginning of my career," Jos says. "Both Hans Hoorn and Zangersheide gave my good horses to ride. When I started for myself, I was also lucky to have owners like Jean Verlinden – who owned Cumano. That was important for me when I started up on my own. The owner had some good offers to sell him, but kept him for me. I also bought some good young horses myself to build up, and gave them a chance – that also worked out well for me," he continues. "But it has taken a lot of work and investments to make it to where I am today, and to stay at the top level of the sport. And it is not always that it went according to plan. Sometimes you buy a horse that does not turn out to be what you expected, so things can go in another way than what you hoped or planned for."
After years and years in the sport, Lansink has also learned to master its ups and downs. "I think when you have the downs it is very important that you have a good system that you believe in. When things don't go right, you have to be able to go back to the basics. Go back to the most important thing; the dressage work. The showjumpers who are good with their dressage work, they always come back strong after a down-period. In the end that was also what made Cumano better and better for every year I had him; the dressage work I did with him – and that takes time. You cannot change that in two or three months, you need years for that sometimes. On some horses, the click comes earlier than on other ones. But, that is the most important thing – and to have patience with that work."
Lansink is also the proof that the best showjumpers believe that they never can stop learning. "I still look a lot towards the other riders at the shows, and what they do – for example when they do their dressage work. There are many good riders I like to look at when they flat, and I pick up a few things here and there. It's also good to talk to the other riders for tips. I believe, if you think that you know everything in this sport – well then one day it will hit you very hard on your nose!"
And with that we leave Lansink's yard feeling that we learned the Showjumping A-Z from one of the true legends of the sport!
Photos and text by Jannicke Naustdal - copyright © worldofshowjumping.com 2014.
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