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Inside The Dutch Masters: Pieter Devos wins the Audi Prize

Sunday, 13 March 2022
CSI5* The Dutch Masters 2022

Pieter Devos wins the Audi Prize

Photo © Rolex/ Peggy Schröder. Belgium’s Pieter Devos applied the pressure, displaying a masterclass in horsemanship to record the first, and only, double clear, stopping the clock on 37.20 secs. Photo © Rolex/ Peggy Schröder.

Thirty-eight competitors representing 14 nations made up the impressive start list for the 1m50 Audi Prize – the feature class on day two of The Dutch Masters 2022.

Show jumping legend, Marcus Ehning (GER) was the first rider to post a clear-round on the score board, showcasing the harmonious partnership he shares with the stunning grey mare, Calanda 42. A total of a nine horse and rider combinations, four of which flying the flag for the Dutch, followed suit to set-up a thrilling jump-off in front of the supportive crowd.

Belgium’s Pieter Devos applied the pressure, displaying a masterclass in horsemanship to record the first, and only, double clear, stopping the clock on 37.20 secs. With a strong line-up still to enter the ring, tension built among the home crowd hoping to witness the second Dutch victory of the day. The penultimate rider to face the challenging course, Willem Greve, produced a lighting quick round, but with four faults at the last fence had to settle for second place. 

Pieter, how was that jump-off course this evening, it looked tricky?

"To be honest, it was a strange jump-off course, it was not really fluid, and I didn’t think I had too much of a chance, because with my horse I can leave out strides but it’s not so easy to do the short turns, and this was all about turning, so I was not really confident before I went in. I must say though, he did everything he could to leave the fences up, he did really well and I’m really happy with him."

What is your horse, Kannabis van de Bucxtale, like? 

"He’s a very special horse, he’s ultra-careful. In the warm-up he’s quite nervous with all the other horses around, but in the ring he really is a trier, he really wants to go clear and he tries his best. If you get him relaxed, he tries everything for you, but it’s not easy to get him relaxed."

What is it like to have to spectators back at The Dutch Masters this year? 

"It’s super to have the spectators back, that feeling that you are supported by the crowd again. We have got so used to riding by ourselves and not feeling that atmosphere when you go into the arena. Now you go in and you see the people and you feel again one of the reasons for doing what we are doing."

How are you feeling ahead of the Rolex Grand Prix tomorrow? 

"The Rolex Grand Prix is a different level, but I hope my horse is in good shape tomorrow. I am riding another one, I am riding Claire Z, so we will see, we will do our best and see where we end up and tonight gives us a lot of confidence."

Rider Interview with: Maikel van der Vleuten

Photo © Rolex/ Peggy Schröder. Maikel van der Vleuten. Photo © Rolex/ Peggy Schröder.

This weekend is extra special for you with the retirement ceremony of Verdi TN – how are you feeling about it?

"To be honest I am really looking forward to the farewell ceremony for my old top horse Verdi TN. It was supposed to be two-years-ago but because the pandemic unfortunately it has not been able to happen until now. It is so wonderful to be able have the ceremony infront of The Dutch Masters fans."

Can you tell us about him – what made him so special?

"He had an amazing character; I travelled the world with him, and he was always so straightforward and never let me down. He is so special to me and all the incredible results and medals that we have won together are moments I will never forget."

Is he enjoying his retirement?

"He is enjoying his retirement. He goes in the field every day, hacks out and he is busy as a breeding stallion. He is in very good shape, his body looks very good, so hopefully he will continue in this way for many more years to come."

What do you miss most about competing with him?

"He could jump any of the biggest tracks in world so easily. I think that now I am more experienced and have ridden more horses, I truly appreciate how special he was and how easy he found everything. It didn’t matter what kind of track or arena it was; he was so talented, and I think it will be hard to find another horse quite like him in the future."

Are there any horses in your string now that you think could follow in his footsteps?

"Beauville Z is my top horse, and he is extremely talented. With him I can jump in the biggest classes in the world and compete against the best horse and rider combinations. I won a team bronze medal at the Olympic Games last summer with him and I really think a lot of him. Besides him, I have a couple of other nice horses competing at this level, I have a great string of horses at the moment."

Why did you decide to host the retirement ceremony here at The Dutch Masters?

"It was a very easy decision for me. Verdi TN was bred in this city – his breeders are from Brabant. Myself and his owners are both Dutch, so really there was nowhere else that would be better for this ceremony."

The show has evolved a lot since it became part of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping, have you noticed the changes that have been made?

"Yes definitely. I think that you can really feel that the organisers are very experienced and have made sure that everything is perfect for the horses and riders. As riders, we really look forward to this event because the facilities are so good and the level of competition is so high." 

The spectators are back this year, does competing in-front of your home crowd spur you on?

"Of course – when you feel the crowd cheering and supporting you it makes you so motivated to perform your best and give it all."

What are your main ambitions for 2022?

"The FEI World Championships is my main aim. It is a qualifier for the next Olympic Games, so it is very important that as a country we perform well to ensure our qualification."

If you weren’t a professional rider what would you be?

"I would be football player. Football was something that I really enjoyed growing up, but there came a time where I had to choose which sport I wanted to pursue. I always loved being with the horses, so I chose to pursue show jumping."

When you are not riding, do you have any other hobbies that you take part in?

"Most of my time is spent with the horses, but if I do have spare time, I like to spend it with my family. I have two young children, and l love being a good father to them. My eldest daughter is just over four-years-old, and she has started school this year, and my youngest is nine-months-old. They both like being in the stables with the horses."

Who do you think is your biggest competition for the Rolex Grand Prix on Sunday?

"When you look at the start list, there are so many good riders, and they have all bought their best horses here. I have no idea who will be the best on Sunday, but it will definitely be a very exciting competition for everyone."

Walk the course with: Louis Konickx

Photo © Rolex/ Peggy Schröder. Louis Konickx. Photo © Rolex/ Peggy Schröder.

How did you land the role of the Rolex Grand Prix course designer at The Dutch Masters?

"I think that everything must start with passion. I was passionate for horses and the sport; I was an amateur rider, but I could not afford to ride and have the proper training. Course designing allowed me to stay in the sport that I loved so much. When I was around 14-years-old, I helped a course designer at a small national show, and that is where I first started my journey to become a course designer.

I have been lucky to have some amazing teachers in Holland, and I have had the opportunity to assist some of the best course designers in the world, including Linda Allen, Bob Ellis, Arno Gego and many other amazing designers."

Do you have assistants or people that you currently mentor and train?

"Yes. I am also in the process of retiring, so it is nice to be able to pass my knowledge onto the up-and-coming designers. In the Netherlands, I have two incredibly talented people I mentor, Henk Linders and Quintin Maertens. Henk has just started working as a lead course designer and now is working on 3* courses in Europe. Quintin is very similar to me and is always searching for a solution. He has some genius ideas and I really like working with him. We work very well as a team; I will come up with a course plan and he makes it better. He will be lead course designer for the Nations Cup™ in Rotterdam.

I am passing the reins over to him at the moment. I think that it is the best way to stop; knowing that you have someone there ready to take over. Over the years, I have nurtured his career, and now we have a relationship filled with trust and respect, so I feel confident to pass the reins to him. There are a lot of great course designer assistants in the world, but to take the next step, you must feel the pressure of designing a course by yourself. That is the last step, and this is where I feel I can help pass my knowledge."

Can you give any hints to what Sunday’s course will be like?

"Last year I was so sad because we had such a beautiful course, which produced an amazing jump-off but there were no spectators there to see it in person. I almost wanted to do the same course again so the fans could see it!"

"We started planning this year’s course in January, and it has taken me a long time to come up with the perfect course. This week, I have finally created a course that I am happy with, so I shared it with Quintin, and we worked together to improve that course. The arena at The Dutch Masters is quite small so you have to be careful how you plan the lines of the course and makes sure it flows with balance. The course also needs to be able to produce a good and exciting jump-off. Ideally, as a course designer you want around eight horse and rider combinations in the jump-off; but you cannot manage the drama and the excitement it follows its own fate."

Do you get nervous when riders are jumping a course you have designed?

"Yes, I do. Most people say that I do not seem nervous, but I do I get nervous. Designing a course takes a lot of time and effort, and we are totally committed to making sure we create the best and most fair track for the horses and riders. It can be very stressful, but it is my passion. I think that you need nerves to make sure that you keep improving."

How do you decide the time limit of the courses you design?

"Setting the correct time is very important, especially since the rule change in January. Now, one second over the time is one penalty; so, you need to create a time that is tight but also achievable, as now the riders can collect so many time penalties and they can be very costly. We measure the course two or three times using a measuring wheel, and we will aim to get an idea of the time by Friday night."

What type of horse and rider combination will do well with the course you designed?

"In an indoor arena you need fast and agile horses, as the space is so tight unlike the big grass arenas such as CHIO Aachen. The horses and riders will have to have lot of control and will need to be able to communicate well with each other. Marcus Ehning always rides in such a smooth and harmonious way – there is a total understanding between the horse and rider, and I think that this course will suit that."

If you could compare your role in another way, how would you do that? 

"As a course designer you almost create your own language and then the riders have to try and understand that language in order to ride the course how you imagined. Some riders will understand it and others will struggle and it is very interesting to watch. It can be a tough challenge, but we do it because we love it and it is so fun to innovate constantly and almost create a puzzle that the riders have to solve."

 


 

About the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping

The Rolex Grand Slam is considered by the sport to be the ultimate equestrian challenge, primarily due to the sporting prowess required to achieve this feat. It is a quest taken on by the world’s top riders, vying to secure the legendary status associated with winning the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping.

The format of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping is simple: anyone who wins three Majors in a row receives the Rolex Grand Slam trophy and a €1 million bonus on top of the class’s prize-money. If that same rider then continues their success by winning a fourth Major in succession, they will be rewarded with an additional €1million bonus. If two shows are won in succession, the bonus is €500,000 or if an athlete wins only 2 majors in a period of four successive shows, the bonus is €250,000.



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