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From youngster to Olympic Vice Champion: Don Juan van de Donkhoeve

Wednesday, 13 October 2021
From youngster to international Grand Prix horse

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ "He is a true horse of a lifetime!” Jessica Springsteen says about 12-year-old SBS stallion Don Juan van de Donkhove (Bamako de Muze x Heartbreaker). Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.


Text © World of Showjumping



With Jessica Springsteen in the saddle, the now 12-year-old SBS stallion Don Juan van de Donkhove (Bamako de Muze x Heartbreaker) jumped home the team silver medal at the Olympic Games in Tokyo. Discovered by Carlos Pinto as a three-year-old, the talented stallion was then purchased at an auction by Eleonore Lambilliotte, who produced him until he was sold to Springsteen at the age of ten. To learn more about this stunning stallion’s rise to stardom, we spoke with the Quintelier-family – the breeders of Don Juan – Pinto, Lambilliotte as well as Springsteen.

Decades of careful consideration

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ Gustaaf Quintelier has been breeding for over 40 years, and Don Juan van de Donkhove is a result of decades of careful considerations. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Katrine Quintelier’s father Gustaaf Quintelier has been breeding for over 40 years and Don Juan is a result of decades of careful considerations. “His main purpose is to use young stallions that he believes in,” Katrine tells about her father’s breeding philosophy. “He likes to see them perform well either in sport or in free jumping.”

Another important factor in the Quintelier’s breeding is a strong damline. “The great grandmother of Don Juan is Ramona van de Gaver. My father thought the genes she had were very good and used Robin II Z on her. This resulted in Utopia van de Donkhoeve, who performed well in the sport: She was selected for the Wold Equestrian Games in Kentucky with Pieter Devos. Sadly, she got injured while there. My father then used Heartbreaker on Utopia, because she was a big mare with a lot of scope and could use more blood and reflex. In today’s sport, it is important that the horses have blood. The combination of Hearbreaker on Utopia gave the mother of Don Juan; Diva van de Donkhoeve,” Katrine explains.  

“As a foal, Don Juan already looked great and my father was happy with him – the only downside was that he was a male, so he decided to sell. My father is not interested in stallions; he sells them easily but keeps the mares. He still has a sister and a half-sister of Don Juan,” Katrine tells.

“Don Juan is a horse with a lot of blood,” Katrine continues. “He has always been ridden by women, and I think this suits him the best. He needed a rider who gave him trust and time though, which he got – and now he can show his true skills."

For the Quintelier-family, seeing Don Juan come home from the Olympics with a medal was a great honour. “My father is very happy and proud,” Katrine says. “This is a reward for all the work he has put in the breeding during the years. This is the first horse he has bred that took part in the Olympics."

A natural talent

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ "He was a natural talent: Light on the jump, very careful and had an instinct on the fences," Carlos Pinto tells about Don Juan as a 3-year-old. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Carlos Pinto discovered Don Juan when the stallion was three. “At the time I was working for Christophe Ameeuw and we bought the horse from Joris de Brabander,” he tells. “Already then, he free jumped amazing. He was a natural talent: Light on the jump, very careful and had an instinct on the fences. He was elastic, a true athlete from the beginning.”

“From a three-year-old to a ten-year-old, a lot can happen,” Carlos says when asked if he believed Don Juan would be an Olympic prospect when he first saw the stallion. “But this horse had all the talent to make it to the top – and luckily, he has been well managed. As a youngster, when he went to shows, he was always clear: He was a smart horse."

Taking the time

Photo © Tiffany Van Halle Eleonore Lambilliotte with Don Juan van de Donkhoeve. “He is smart, full of confidence and learns really quickly,” Eleonore says about the stallion. Photo © Tiffany Van Halle.

Carlos Pinto told Eleonore Lambilliotte’s father about Don Juan and they bought the three-year-old stallion at an auction in Belgium. “At the time I was studying, and we wanted a horse that would be ready when I was finished with university,” Eleonore tells. “Don Juan was the type of horse that should fit me: Light and bloody. We bought him from the auction, and Carlos kept following him while Paul-Emile Blanton rode him at regional shows. We did not want to rush things with him, and our aim was not to sell – we really took our time with him.”

“I started riding Don Juan when he was six,” Eleonore continues. “I remember the first time I jumped him: The feeling was great; you could feel his scope. When I had Don Juan, I was training with Pedro Veniss. He was adamant that everything had to be perfect before we moved up the heights. I think that gave Don Juan a lot of confidence. I also worked with a dressage trainer once or twice a week, which helped us improve a lot. I am so thankful to everyone who has been involved in his career and have helped him become the horse he is today!”

“He is smart, full of confidence and learns really quickly,” Eleonore says about Don Juan. “When he trusts you, he gives you everything. He also has a playful attitude, and he enjoys being in the ring. I always knew he had a lot of scope but jumping at the Olympics is something different. I jumped him up to four-star level, and I knew he was a once-in-a-lifetime horse for me. He could jump anything, he always wanted to give his best.”

When Don Juan was ten, he was sold to Jessica Springsteen. “I am glad he is in such a good place where they take good care of him,” Eleonore says. “He looks so happy and Jessica gives me news of him. She has done an amazing job with him; I am really impressed. My hope was that they would come back from Tokyo with a medal, because I thought they both would really deserve that.”

A horse of a lifetime

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson/WoSJ “Don is everything I would want in a horse,” Jessica Springsteen says. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

“When I tried Don, my first impression was that it felt like he could jump anything,” Jessica recalls. “He has so much power, the height of the fences always feels effortless to him, which immediately gave me a lot of confidence with him in the ring. I’ve never felt so comfortable with a horse as quickly as I did with him.”

For Jessica, Don Juan is a dream horse. “Don is everything I would want in a horse,” she says. “He’s light, lovely to ride, brave, has a tremendous amount of scope and is very smart. He always wants to do the right thing and has a great attitude. In the stable, he is incredibly sweet and puts a smile on your face every day!”

“I feel so lucky to have been able to go to Tokyo with him,” Jessica says about their Olympic experience. “To be at the Olympics, walking each course and knowing I could rely on him 100% was an incredible feeling and something I am very grateful for. He is a true horse of a lifetime!”


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