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WoSJ Exclusive; Maarten – the groom of a champion

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Maarten and Valentina during the vet-check at the WEG. Photo by Jenny Abrahamsson.World of Showjumping met Maarten Roels, Jos Lansink’s groom, at the WEG in Kentucky in October 2010. We spoke to him about his own career, and the two most famous horses in his hands; Cumano - world champion from Aachen 2006 - and Cavalor Valentina van het Heike - team bronze medalist at the WEG in Kentucky 2010.


Maarten started his carrier at the Torhout horse school in Belgium. After his schooling Maarten was in practice, and started to work as a groom in a stable in Belgium for Axel Verlooy. Maarten stayed there for three years until it was time for him to see something else, so he went to the States. “I was in California with a Japanese girl - Yuko Itakura - for six months, and then I worked for Laura Kraut in Florida for half a year. But my experience in the US wasn’t that good, so after that I went back home and started to work at Zangersheide and Jos.”


That was eight and a half years ago. When Jos left Zangersheide Maarten stayed, and didn´t start to work for his earlier boss until a year later. Seven and a half years later Maarten explains; I have been doing three world championships and one Olympic games with Jos.”


Valentina with her mask that protects her from the flies. Photo by Jenny Abrahamsson.At the WEG in Kentucky Valentina was Maarten’s protégé. This is the first time Jos rides a mare in a championship.” And it for sure was a long way for Valentina to get there. Jos bought her as a six year old, and normally he leaves the younger horses to other riders as he doesn’t have the time to ride all the horses himself. But that didn´t work with Valentina. “She is difficult for a lot of reasons, and a lot of these reasons you can´t see at once”, Maarten tells us. “For example she is allergic to the sun and she hates dust and flies, and above all she is very strong,” he continues. 


As she has been having a problem with her mouth Valentina is always playing with her tongue, and it took eight years before Jos and Maarten finally found a dentist that could do something about it. “She had a problem with wolf teeth that never grew out, and because of it she got fibrosis to protect her mouth. The dentist cut it away and then we let her rest for a while and now it is so much better.”


Four years ago Jos and Maarten never thought that the mare would have what it takes to reach the top. They didn´t think Valentina would have enough scope, and they definitely didn´t think she would ever be rideable enough. “At a national show in Belgium we changed her bit six times and Jos still couldn´t ride her. It was a warm summer day with flies, so in the end we could just forget it.” Maarten explains that Valentina has been getting better, but they always work her with a fly-mask over her head. “We don´t want to make her unnecessary upset, and when she is ridden in dust or where it is flies she is shaking her head a lot. We just have to live with it.”


Valentina is really hungry when it comes to jumping, and Maarten tells us about a show in Valkenswaard about three years ago when Valentina and Jos crashed into a combination when the mare decided to jump on one stride in instead of two. That is just how she is. We now know that she has enough of scope, but her rideability can still be zero.”


Despite of all her issues Valentina is pretty easy to bring to the shows, which Cumano on the other hand isn´t. The white stallion always has to show off, and lets everyone know where he is. “But Cumano has never bitten me, Valentina has,” Maarten laughs.


Maarten has known Cumano since the stallion was eight years old, and you can really tell that Maarten means it when he says that the white dream horse is his favorite. “To have him with me on a show is always special.” And the 17 year old stallion just started to compete again after one year off, due to an injury - Cumano has a tendon in the front leg that has been causing some trouble. “We tried to start compete him in the beginning of the summer, but it was too early. So he got break for a few more months, and two weeks before the WEG we let him go to a show which went well.”Cumano and Jos at the WEG in Aachen in 2006. Photo by Kit Houghton/FEI. 


Cumano is for sure easier than Valentina, but even he has his peculiarities. “He can be very ticklish and some days it doesn’t matter where I touch him on the body, he screams and kicks with his front legs.” And the white stallion can look really dangerous at shows, and he is not a horse that everyone could handle. “But I know him inside out, and I know exactly what is going to happen before it does. He is usually nice in the box, but can be a bit wild on the way to the warm-up. At that point he knows that jumping is coming up, and he lives for the shows. Cumano really loves to be out and show himself off for everyone!”


When we ask Maarten to compare both horses when they are in the setting of a showground, he says: “Cumano is trained to the millimeter, but with Valentina it is all about giving and taking - which actually isn’t Jos’ normal style.”


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