Maikel van der Vleuten has certainly made his mark lately; together with VDL Groep Verdi he was a key player on the winning Dutch team in St. Gallen. And this is only the beginning when it comes to the good results; Maikel and Verdi were also third in the Longines Grand Prix in Falsterbo, aboard VDL Groep Sapphire Maikel won the Grand Prix in De Steeg back in June, in May the talented 23 year old was third in the Global Champions Tour in Valencia and he also won the Grand Prix in Lummen in April together with Verdi.
For such a young age Maikel has sure been successful, but how did he get there? “I started out quite young riding ponies, and went to two Europeans as a pony rider. I gained international experience already then, which I think has been important for me. When I was fifteen I left the ponies to ride the horses – and also rode two Europeans as a junior. It’s a big step up from junior to young riders, so when I was 17 we decided that I would move on to young rider level two years before I really needed to – just to get the necessary experience,” Maikel explains humbly about how he has worked his way up to where he is today. “I also rode the Europeans as a young rider, and was quite successful,” he smiles carefully – not even mentioning the team gold and bronze medals he got as a junior and young rider in 2005 and 2007.
VDL Groep Verdi – a nine year old KWPN stallion by Quidam de Revel x Landgraf is Maikel’s top horse at the moment. “I have had Verdi since he was five. In the beginning of this year my father bought a part of him so we could keep him. Verdi does everything asked of him, and is just the right horse for me,” van der Vleuten says. “He is really nice to ride, but is a horse who is build in a way that makes him drop his head down a little too much sometimes – which made him a little difficult as a young horse. Now his balance is much better, but Verdi can still get strong and display that he is a stallion,” Maikel explains. “But Verdi has all the scope in the world, and he really wants to jump clear. I have a lot of fun with him,” the Dutch rider smiles.
Sapphire is another top horse for Maikel, but now holds the role as his second horse; “With Sapphire I did a few Nations Cup before Verdi stepped up to that level. She is a very useful second horse for me, and is careful and quick,” Maikel says about the grey Mr. Blue-mare.
Starting with the horses when they are young is something Maikel clearly enjoys, as he explains to us that most of his horses came to him as four or five year olds. “When you get them as early as this, you get to know them better. I think it’s the best way to do it; I like to ride my new horses up my self,” the sympathetic rider explains. “I have some nice seven year olds coming up; Eureka [Chin Chin x Quidam de Revel], Zacharov [Clinton x Lord Z] and Zimba [Mermus R x Hemmingway],” he continues
“I have had to work hard for everything,”Maikel lets us know when we ask him who it has been growing up with Eric van der Vleuten – one of the world’s best riders – as a father. “It gives me a lot to be able to ride along side him every day though, and I have learned so much from him. But when I’m in the ring, I’m all by myself,” Maikel points out. “It’s nice to work together with my father though; we make plans with the horses together and work well as a team. My father keeps an eye on me, but he lets me do my own thing. He’s been my trainer all my life, and I’d like to keep it like that,” Maikel smiles – adding that he also gets dressage lessons besides the help he receives from his father.
Getting into the Dutch Olympic list with Verdi earlier this summer was the icing on the cake for Maikel after his hard work and excellent result; “That was big for me, but the hardest part will be to stay there – all the riders are assessed every nine months and you need strong results to stay in,” van der Vleuten explains. The big question remains; will we see Maikel on the Dutch team at the Europeans in September? “Well, Rob Ehrens has been very happy with my two Nations Cups performances, but it might be a little early for me with the championship this year. Maybe next year will be a better time, but we just have to see how it all goes,” Maikel explains. “I won’t do any more Top League teams this season as it looks now; we don’t want to ask too much of Verdi at this stage. My plan is to go to San Patrignano, Vaalkensward and Rotterdam – then we’ll see,” he smiles.
Photos by Jenny Abrahamsson/Text by Jannicke Naustdal - copyright © worldofshowjumping.com 2011.
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